‘You’re running from Keswick to where?’
‘Back to here.’
‘Back to here.’
‘Never heard of it!’
My introduction to St Bees was both challenging and entertaining! Thought I’d landed in an alternate universe for a mo – but then I landed in my gorgeous hotel, set out my race kit, tucked into a delicious pre-race dinner … and realised this was no alternate reality. Yikes! Here I was, preparing to embrace another start line.
A result of my guest visits to Talk Ultra, I was invited to race the St Begas Ultra (http://ukantrail.co.uk/sbu35.html) by the wonderful RD Jon Raymond and I was only too happy to jump at the opportunity. Originally, this had been perfect timing, too. I was going to come back from Cairns Ironman, take a month off and then have plenty of time to ramp up some running miles in time for this fantastic 35-mile (obviously country mile measurements – definitely something over 36!!) trail. Plans went somewhat awry (see previous blogs) which resulted in my gracing this start line with about 10k in my legs! This was going to hurt.
I wasn’t wrong. It did. Actually, it hurt for 34 miles!! The race began with a short but steep descent from the Osprey Lookout in Keswick and by the time I’d reached the bottom my quads were already screaming!! They shrieked and howled from there to the end, but the Ultra Gods were on my side and pain levels remained the same throughout and didn’t develop into anything else. In fact, I was massively chuffed that I came away free of any injury other than donating another two toenails to the ultra Gods – small price to pay.
The race is classed as perfect for beginners and I know I questioned that at the end because I honestly felt it was the hardest ultra of the few I’ve done (London to Brighton, IOW 50k, Pilgrim Challenge, High Peaks 40 …). In hindsight, though, I do believe that this IS perfect for beginners – and the toughness was more a reflection of my lack of training! It was, however, a lot more technical than any of the above-mentioned ultras – but this just added to the enjoyment, the challenge and the overall experience. I LOVED the variety of terrain, the streams, the steps – and when the going got tough you merely had to remember to look up and all was right with the world again. The views? GLORIOUS, MAGNIFICENT, UNBEATABLE, SOUL-REPLENISHING, BREATHTAKING.
This race was an opportunity for me to clear my head of a summer of DNFs, rethink my training and my goals – and there was certainly no better place to do this. I had also made peace with the idea that I might just do 20 miles or so and leave it at that. Unfortunately, at Checkpoint 2 (22 miles) I thought I was going to have to withdraw whether I liked it or not. Carrying full kit – together with emergency water, etc. – had taken its toll and my back had seized up completely. It took some amazing marshalls, 3 cups of tea, salted peanuts and a Green & Black’s ginger chocolate minibar to see me tentatively back onto the trail (roughly 40 minutes later!). At that point I was walking more than jogging but there was a group of four just ahead of me and I focussed on keeping them in sight. By 25 miles I’d caught up with them and gate-crashed their party. (Note: THANK YOU – you were absolutely amazing!!!). Jog, walk or crawl, I decided to stick with them and was so glad I did. Mrs Happy, in charge of map-reading – would put Mr Motivator out of business in a second. Thoroughly awesome! You were just an incredibly wonderful group of runners!
The route had a total of 4k of ascent and this was largely divided into 2!! No, really!! Honister Mine and locally known Bummers Hill. Any other ascent was incidental. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed anything as steep as Honister Mine – WOW! This is where I felt my other ultras paled in comparison! I can’t believe there were people who ran up it! Am I really that inadequate? Ha! Fortunately, by the time Bummers Hill came along I was mid-‘party’. Had I not been with others at this point I would’ve sat down and had the biggest strop and probably called out a helicopter! Jeez! That hill is just MEAN!!!
But just after that came Checkpoint 3 … and that meant it was a mere 4 miles or so to the finish. Needless to say, there were no plans to ‘stop’ a CP3 (no time, either, since we were getting close to the cut-off by this time and Jon’s life might have been in danger if we missed a medal!!!). There was, however, just enough time to down (completely unplanned) SEVEN cups of coke! Yup! There you have it. What does THAT tell you that my body needed? Now, you all know that I really do NOT drink coke so it was very interesting that this was all I wanted – and then some!! On top of that came an energy guarana shot, a few mints and about 6 gel blocks, which I had packed for emergencies in my pack.
Whatever! It did the job. I crossed the finish just inside the cut-off – to be greeted with the most fabulous medal, made of slate from the mine – and lots and lots and lots of beer. And the bonus, of course, was breaking my DNF streak (a DNF hat-trick would’ve been just too much to handle)!
Fantastic experience! If you’re thinking ‘ultra’, then think SBU35. Fabulous marshalling, SUPERB map-book with 34 pages of detailed directions, wonderful variety of terrain, the most incredibly magnificent views and the best medals ever!! Can’t recommend enough.
And for an extra treat? Got to recommend the Ennerdale Country House Hotel. Delightful.
And now …………. where’s the Deep Heat?