Racing in 2021 got off to a delayed start for me today. I’d been hopeful some local races might go ahead after the March lockdown relaxation, but every event has now been rescheduled for one weekend in June. Ok, a slight exaggeration, but a four week period now contains 6 races I had entered/planned to do. The first one is my first 100 miler so the rest are very much dependant on how that goes.
This weekend should have seen me running around the Isle of Wight for my 100km target race for the year. It could have run but they opted to delay until July; they’re priority is to put on a good, full event that all can attend. I see their point but being selfish I’d have much preferred the original date! I hunted around for other similar distances I could do, there was one in Devon but the logistics weren’t manageable (yes I’m aware of the irony 😜). Hence I ended up in Winchester, running a “50km” race.
One of the things I haven’t got my head around with trail races yet is their loose relationship with distances. If a road race says it’s 50km, then it’ll usually be 50km precisely, trail races are happy as long as they’re close. It doesn’t matter much, times between races aren’t really comparable anyway as so much depends on terrain and conditions, just catches me out. This will become more relevant soon…
Race day (Early May bank holiday Monday) arrives and I’m up at 3:45am for the 4:30am ferry. It makes me over an hour early but the alternative was to risk being late and my pre race nerves would not tolerate that. I’d agreed to meet up with a fellow runner from twitter before hand, we had a chat and ambled to the start line. I wished him luck running on his probably hairline fractured toe and set off fastish, making the most of the flat even terrain through town.
I had a plan you see. I’d studied the course on Garmin and the elevation plot suggested I was going to struggle around the 30km mark as the course got very lumpy (yes I’m reading Damian Hall’s new book too). This is my usual mini-bonk territory anyway so I figured I’d go out hard and try to make up the time I would lose in the hilly section. The last 10km looked fairly downhill so I’d try and regain some time there if my legs were willing. There was some twitter debate in just how lumpy the course was; Garmin had it at 500m gain but OS had it nearer 900m. I’m quite relieved I had a bit of foresight that Garmin might be wrong, otherwise the 910m gains might have been too much of a shock to the system!
The first 20km went perfectly, I worked through the fleet with a steady 5min/km average for the first 10km then flew through the next 10km at nearer 4:30min/km. At one point I think I was running in a small group with only one or two runners in front of us. One of the runners with me was doing the marathon, but had accidentally taken the turning for the 10km additional loop that made it an ultra. He was absolutely flying and decided to just crack on with the ultra distance instead. I thought the split was relatively well signposted but people in glass houses and all that…
After 20km the course flattened out and I couldn’t keep up so I let them go (I would later pass one of them). I managed to hold my pace and my place until 30km and the hills arrived. At this point I started running with a chap called Simon and we ran fairly close to each other to the finish. Predictably I struggled with the hills, I ran what I could and walked the rest; no shame in an ultra I know but I was hoping for a decent time (for me). When the incline switched to a decline I couldn’t find my previous downhill pace but I was happy with how it was going. I didn’t push too hard, saving something for the last 5km.
Piece of advice here, if you put the course on your watch to follow pay attention to those bings it makes. One of them could be to tell you that following the group in front isn’t the right way to go… The course route was already over 50km at 51.8km, after my detour around a golf course (much to the disgust of the golfers) I managed to make it 53.7km. The wrong turn occurred with about 7km to go, just as I was preparing to wind up a bit for a quick finish. I still pushed into an uncomfortable pace for the last few km but my legs had wasted that little reserve I’d been saving. Who knows how many people went past while I was playing golf (looking at the results probably two people), it doesn’t really matter, just means I can’t gauge how my run was compared to others.
Still, I’m not disappointed, all part of ultra running fun right? I crossed the finish line in 4:46:04, 10th place overall and 4th senior male. I’ve never raced 50km before so my Strava PB is from the first 50km of my 47 mile race along the Thames last year (4:56) and this smashed that. My 50km Strava PB is now 4:26:55 which I’m very happy with.
As always; Strava link if you’re interested.