If I could only do one race a year, it would be an ultra. Loosely defined as anything further than 26.2 miles, for me, at the very least, it is a good solid 5hrs plus doing what I love.
It goes without saying that ultra pace is way, way slower than your 5k belter. My favourite “if you think you’re running too slow; slow down,” mentality. Ultra running is joggling along enjoying the scenery. It’s like a day out with the Famous Five; tumbling through the hills, having a jolly old time and enjoying lashings of ginger beer, (flat coke.)You get to eat cake and snacks at the en route buffet stops, (I mean aid stations.) In essence, ultra running combines my two favourite things; running and eating.
Now, let me tell you about the Liverpool 2 Manchester Ultra (L2M) which was none of the above.
This was 50 miles following the Trans Pennine Trail. We had to buy the map. I don’t know why because there were great whopping royal blue signs at every turn. Not that there were many turns. The TPT is extraordinarily straight for long sections. (Imagine running endlessly towards an interminable horizon.) The route was additionally marked with tape. Lots of tape. If you were numpty enough to get lost I doubt you’d be sharp enough to read a map.
I’d been told the TPT was surprisingly pretty. The many bluebells in bloom on the litter strewn, dog walkers alley between Aintree and Speke didn’t work their magic on me: but with a start time of 6am, perhaps I wasn’t at my most forgiving. It does get sweepingly scenic when you hit the Mersey estuary and the sewage stink around Widnes only detracts from this for a short while.
The final 30 miles are straightforward, follow the tarmac path through the woods till someone shouts stop. In my case, keeping my eyes peeled for a shrub with dense enough foliage for a modesty preserving widdle, (whilst running past urinating male ultra runners who don’t have this problem.)
I believe we ran under the Irwell Viaduct; I didn’t see it. I did see the finish line through the trees, and the little snicket leading down the grass verge towards the funnel. I skittered down gleefully and aeroplaned my way under the gantry. Amazed, I queried why my clubmate was running a lap of the field. How keen was he? Was he doing a cool down? It turns out I’d knocked half a mile off the route with my shortcut through the bushes and was duly sent back out with slapped wrists. (What was I saying about navigational numptiness? Never stray from the tarmac!)
My training for L2M had been concise. Far less miles and long runs than I would normally be happy with. My long runs had been accompanying Mr S around Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, (no prizes for guessing which race he’s doing next,) a recce of the Howarth Hobble and a nice little trail half with two ascents to touch the trig at Darwen Tower. Lots of off road running: lots of hills.
My Garmin recorded 455ft of ascent over the 50 miles of L2M. That’s an average of 9ft of climbing per mile! It’s unrelenting running. No dig deep, quad burning climbs and no take-your-foot-off-the-pedal fast descents. It’s pick-a-pace-and-stick-to-it running. (My average pace was quicker than most of my run commutes from work!) This is the first ultra that I’ve felt like I was racing. It didn’t feel like a relaxing day out, rather, a test of my endurance and tactical abilities. (I didn’t stop at the ice cream van for a 99 like the gentleman I overtook at 43 miles!)
I had chosen this outing to test a new nutrition strategy ahead of Isoman. What could possibly go wrong? Having run my last ultra in a pair of borrowed and entirely unsuitable road shoes, I was keen to spice things up with the possibility of diarrhoea and stomach cramps. I figured that if the highly recommended Tailwind stuff gave the slightest of issues, I could tip it and have the backup of the aid stations, which I wouldn’t have in training.
This stuff did exactly what it said on the packet. “All you need, all day. Really.” Which was brilliant until I rolled into the buffet stops (oops, aid stations,) and wanted to picnic on the array of goodies on display. For someone who loves food, it was very disappointing to find myself not hungry! 2 packets of Tailwind, a few wine gums and a handful of peanuts were my fayre for the day.
All in all, a brilliant day out. Fantastic organisation from a social media savvy race director. Superb people, great camaraderie, plenty of banter and marshals who fill your bottle and hug you when you need it, (people with blue hair and plaited beards.) With a trio of medals on offer I was surprised and very proud to earn my first ever gold and knocked a fair chunk off my previous 50 mile best. This is a road runners ultra with a flat, fast course that isn’t for the faint hearted. Would I do the double? Watch this space.