Somewhere along the way I’ve convinced myself that I can knock out 50 mile ultras for fun. I’ve made the conscious decision to shake off the shackles of the training plans and trust in my proven endurance and experience come race day.
“How’s that working out for you?” I hear you ask incredulously. Well, as I’m not slavishly chasing times, pretty good, actually. I get to run, when, where and how I want and pretty much enjoy stacking up the miles in my legs in wild and interesting places.
So, as I lined up on the start line of the Chester Ultra, I was confident of a nice day trundling around the Cheshire trails. Cocky, one might say.
Nothing prepared me for the amount of mud out there this weekend. Wet, sloshy mud. Slippery, just-got-to-slide-with-it mud. Mr Whippy, McDonald’s thick shake mud. Gloopy, please-don’t-lose-a-shoe mud. Sucky, don’t-know-how-deep-this-is mud. Vivid, rusty sandstone mud. Make-your-feet-heavy, ploughed field, clay mud. There-must-be-some-gravel-under-here-somewhere mud. Acrid smelling is-this-manure mud.
There was towpath mud; shall I slip into the canal or shred my legs on the brambles mud? There was corn field mud; expanses of furrows with spiky cut shafts and wet, silten irrigation channels. There was mud in sodden sloughs alongside electric fences so there was only one shocking way to avoid a face plant. There was mud on seesaw, wobbling stiles. There was mud on steep, wonky steps through the forest, clagged with leaf mulch and rotting wood. There was mud on cheese grater style metal footbridges.
Yes. There was mud.
The day started ominously when my shoe started rubbing before 5 miles. Why? Who knows? A bit of sock readjustment and tightening of the laces wasn’t going to make any difference so, I just had to accept that it was going to get sore. Surprisingly, after an intense, painful period it eventually stopped hurting and I felt an oozing as the very large blister on my insole popped and seeped into my sock. Problem solved.
A little pleasant amble past Chester Racecourse, through the familiar streets and then an easy and well-supported canal stretch.
A fabulous almost mid-way checkpoint in a village hall had all the air of a children’s birthday party. Cakes, biscuits, crisps and pop and a bit of banter with Dapper, the mohican haired marshal about the possibility of party games. A luxurious real, actual toilet stop and stripping off of wet layers. Hey, I was positively jubilant!
What followed next was a quagmire. Foul, black, deep mud that caked my very soul. I was no longer as happy as a pig in muck; my mood got grimmer with every grimy step. Marshals dispensed hugs as I stood blank and tearful, clutching a handful of cold boiled potatoes. I contemplated getting into a stranger’s car at the last checkpoint, unable to meditate a march across yet another morass of mud. “The last bit is nicer running,” lied a lady with tender arms and a kind smile.
Lesson learnt. If something is on the mandatory kit list, it’s there for a reason, (unless it’s the OS map and compass in a be-ribbonned, well-marked GB Ultras race.) Do not stand in your bedroom weighing three different head torches in your hand, confident that you’ll be at home in front of Ant and Dec before you’ll ever need one. Do not shove the lightest, smallest, shoddiest one in to tick the boxes.
Running alone along a canal in the gloom of dusk, avoiding frogs and being swooped upon by flittering bats is not fun. Barge owners have no comprehension of distance, (they must work in nautical miles,) and encouraging calls of how far you have left to go vary up and down by a considerable amount. Feeling grubby, I grumbled my way along the final gunky miles. I passed six people in the last half mile, one was sobbing about the unbearable pain in his ankles another was being violently sick in a bush.
As I emerged, like a semi-preserved neanderthal corpse from a peat bog, onto the road I spotted Richard and the girls. (They had only been waiting for 2 and a half hours!)
“Which way do I go?” I grunted.
“Follow us!” cheered my two daughters.
“Do you think you can sprint?” asked Rachel, as Keira streaked ahead.
Chester Ultra was an unexpected challenge. A Dapper hug and a silver trophy at the finish didn’t quite make it worthwhile. I was fragile for a while. Nigh on 13 hours and nearly 53 miles of running takes it’s toll on the body and mind. But it’s nowt a good night’s sleep, a tube of Pringles and a pint of banana milkshake won’t fix.
Till the next one…