Since my last post, I have run in two very different races. The first of these you know about, the Beacons Ultra. I was a little nervous about this one as it would be my first bit of proper off-roading since I wrecked my ankle during the UTSW. I remember from last year when I ran it that the footing is pretty technical for a few miles which I really enjoyed. This time I would be very cautious. I couldn’t afford to be trashing my ankle again. This was a test for it and some all important exercise. I’m sure that most therapists would not approve of my strengthening techniques, and I understood the risks, but it felt like the best method to me.
The Beacons Ultra is an end of season race and is a bit of a social including the infamous pub quiz late in the evening after the last runner has finished. I couldn’t make the quiz last year as I travelled back straight after the race. This time I was getting a lift with Sam Robson on the Friday after work. He picked me up from Gloucester train station. The weather was mild and dry, but during the journey it began to rain, and by the time we arrived in Talybont to register it was torrential. There was a huge amount of surface water on the roads so the going would be pretty boggy the next day. Now, I would normally thrive in such conditions, but I was a little concerned with the slipping and sliding around that would be happening the next day. My ankle really would be getting tested in extreme conditions. Was I making a wise decision to run? I decided to have faith in my thought out reasoning and not listen to this panicy reaction.
We checked into the youth hostel up the road with a third runner, Richard who was running his first ultra and was sharing the room with us. Then it was back into the village to eat in the pub. We met up with Jules here too while I ate loads and had a pint of ale while we talked about all things running. It was then back to the youth hostel to prep and sleep.
It rained a lot during the night but when we awoke, it had stopped. There was a bit of a chill but I decided to wear just my X-Bionic Fennec shirt with arm warmers and shorts. I remembered from the previous year that a few of the runners who had achieved some fantastic things over the year got a mention from Martin Like during the race brief. I knew that Martin and Sue had been following my journey across Europe and had sent some very positive messages while I was doing it, so was expecting a mention. Martin did mention it, and I got a round of applause from the rest of the runners which was very nice. It’s really rewarding when people show their appreciation for your efforts, especially when they are all ultra runners.
I pulled on my thin gloves as we walked to the canal where the start was, though didn’t expect them to stay on long once we began. I would normally go near to the front at the start, but wasn’t too sure what to do today. I wasn’t here to race and with my general weakness, post TE and my dodgy ankle I decided to place myself in the centre of the pack.
We were off! There was 5km down the canal before we turned off and started to climb. The pace at the front was predictably fast, which for a minute or two was difficult to watch, but sense took charge and I slid into a comfortable pace as the front runners disappeared out of sight. The canal was long but I was grateful for the easy start for my ankle before the more challenging terrain. Finally though I was directed off and straight into the rather long climb. I was really happy to be back out on the trails and the fact that is was wet and muddy just added to the fun. My fitness and strength felt very low though and I was soon puffing and panting and feeling the strain. I still had the mindset pre UTSW. The problem was that the body had been broken down slowly over the 64 days of TE. Today was a day where I would have fun, not take any risks, and hopefully make it through the without suffering any further damage to my ankle. I caught up with Jules as I power walked up the hill. We chatted a bit before I continued ahead. I said I’d see him again on the descent. Sure enough he caught me up on the downhill as he was getting irritated with the poor grip on his shoes. We stayed together for 10 minutes or so and once onto the fire track through the woods, which seems to last forever, a few runners ended up clumping together till there were around 6 of us. I felt as though the pace was a little out of my comfort zone so let the peloton continue without me. Today was not going to be easy by anyones standards.
I eventually made it out of the woods and after the little bit of road was back on the trail. Then it was the long but easily runnable climb up to the gap which is the highest point of the route. I found a nice steady pace and slowly made my way up. As I got to the top I realised that the next section was a fairly long and technical, rocky descent. Last year I enjoyed this part, but this year was going to be a different story with my ankle. As I went over the top I felt myself go rigid. I focused on staying loose and making very careful foot placements. My speed was stupidly slow, but as many runners glided smoothly past I told myself that this was not a race for me. I was here for the fun and the testing and exercise of the ankle… oh, and the social that night.
I awkwardly made my way down the everlasting and awkward descent. I must admit that I didn’t enjoy it too much and I was happy to finish with it. Well for the first lap anyway! There was a huge amount of relief too. I was very happy that my ankle could take such testing terrain though. I wouldn’t celebrate just yet though as I still had around 30 miles left! That is if I decide to do the second lap. Another reason why I wanted to do this race was that I could easily drop out at the half way point should my ankle be bad.
After the worst/best of the downhill, the weather was ideal for running and we even saw a little sun. I kept on plodding around. Unless something happened along the remaining relatively non-technical part of the first lap I would continue for a second. After a struggle on the road for a couple of miles it was back onto the canal for 8km. This was really testing. I felt exhausted and my quads were really sore. I was going to pay for this for at least a week! The good news was that my knees were absolutely fine. My feet on the other hand were very sore. I wish I could improve this issue. I passed the half way point cp, topped up a bottle and grabbed a couple gels before continuing. I felt good with the fact I was beginning a second lap.
The second lap was a fairly solitary affair which was nice as it let me slip into a slow and manageable pace that would get me to the end. I was looking forward to finishing a hopefully uneventful race, getting showered and putting on some warm clothes but I wouldn’t be happy till I crossed that line. It was a real struggle the second lap, but there was something different about it. The first lap was confusing to pace. My normal pace was non-sustainable due to my state so after much hard work, by the time I was on the second lap, I was confident that I had found the ‘correct’ pace for the day. It was slow, but I had no doubt that it would carry me to the end. I had a 30 second walk on the woodland trail and also on the steady climb up to the gap and probably a few more I have forgotten about. The downhill was really tough on the second lap as my feet were really sore. I again watched people seemingly effortlessly glide past me.
I had a few slight twists of both ankles, but they were both fine. I finally got to the bottom of all the technical stuff and let myself begin to feel some relief that the ankle had held up ok. The remaining section was pretty much all fields and road finishing off on the canal of course. I now fought off the urge to walk and kept up the pace as consistently as possible. I was guessing my position to be in the thirties. When I finished for the day I was exhausted but elated to still be in one piece.
During the prize-giving which I was of course well out of (I was told I had come 17th which I was chuffed about!), Martin called me up and presented me with a very generous gift token to his shop. I was gob-smacked. I so love the friendliness and the camaraderie of the ultra scene. Everyone wants everyone to succeed and will help them do that if possible. There is a huge mutual respect amongst us all. We know how much you have to go through to achieve in this sport.
The rest of the day was spent eating and drinking ale in the pub. The quiz finally began at around 11 and was great fun even though I was half asleep. I don’t like to repeat races unless there is a reason, but I can see myself doing this for a third time as it is just such a good laugh and a finish for the season (if such a thing really exists!)
The days after this were like the old days when I started this game. I was as stiff as a board! My legs were incredibly tender and my feet were agony. Trans-Europe seems to have built my fitness up to a point before my body seems to have deteriorated damaging my muscles as I couldn’t take on enough energy. It stripped me raw mentally and physically.
The following weekend was the first gathering of the 9Bar athletes. We all stayed at a hotel on the Saturday night and had a really nice evening having a slap up meal before returning to the bar to have a few more ales. The next morning we were all booked into a race called the mucky races. It is basically a 10km cross country route. The difference being that you are directed through some very deep puddles/pools and mud. I was still a little stiff form the Beacons but couldn’t resist it once I was there. I really enjoyed the race getting ridiculously muddy but somehow managing to come 8th out of over 400 (I think). Robbie Britton showed us his raw speed by coming 2nd by a fraction of time. A great weekend!
It is now 8 days later. I haven’t run since as my foot has been sore. I will probably rest it all this week as well though I am considering a Green Man at the end of the week!
I have also got a few possible opportunities that have arisen over the last month or so. I can’t divulge what they are yet, but if they do happen I will let you know. It’s very exciting though!