Tag: ultrarunning

Back to the trails: SBU35 (UKan Trail)

‘You’re running from Keswick to where?’
‘Back to here.’
‘Back to here.’
‘Never heard of it!’

Ukan Trail 1D

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.

UKan Trail SBU35 2015a


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.

UKan Trail A2

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!

UKan Trail SBU35 Honister ascent

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!!!

UKan Trail SBU35 Top of Honister Mine (2015)

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)!

Ukan Trail medal

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.

UKan Trail SBU35 Finish Line Tent 2015

And for an extra treat? Got to recommend the Ennerdale Country House Hotel. Delightful.

And now …………. where’s the Deep Heat?

The right kind of support …

During September’s High Peaks 40-mile ultra marathon I had the amazing fortune to run alongside an inspirational lady called Kelly T (I’ll keep the surname back just in case). Kelly left me in total awe as I watched her battle valiantly with shin splints for most of the race while she simultaneously regaled me with her training plan stories in readiness for the Himalayan 100 mile stage race (http://www.himalayan.com/) a mere six weeks later. It only took about ten miles, though, to realise that here was a lady who had a headspace much akin to my own; in other words nothing short of a broken leg would permit the letters D, N and F (in that order) to creep into our running alphabet, mind or body. Yes, we were both slow, back of the pack, just about the furthest from ‘elite’ (or even ‘good’ – haha) that it’s possible to get, but we were on a journey and that was all that mattered.

Perhaps I’ll run into Kelly again sometime in the future? Perhaps not. As is normal in these ‘one-off’ meetings, we’ve had no contact since. That said, the running bond is still in place and yesterday morning I felt I just had to text her and wish her well on her incredible Himalayan multi-day challenge (in case you don’t click on the link I’ll just add here that the Everest Marathon is on Day 3!!). The text was simple: Amanda here from HP40. Thinking of you embarking on an amazing journey. Wanted to wish you success.Take care, stay safe, run well. Don’t stop when you’re tired; stop when you’re done!

The text I got back? OMG thank you so much for remembering and thank you for being the only person who understands! Everybody’s advice has been the other way round, but I’m going to smash it!

I wonder is it an ultrarunner’s nemesis to be surrounded by what I think is not so much a ‘lack’ of support but rather unintentionally misdirected support? Non-runners don’t care too much whether you’re running 5k or 50k, but whereas your 10k running buddy will tell you to go for it and push to the limit at the next race, this all changes as soon as the distance increases. Marathons? Yup, you’re already pushing boundaries running a marathon but marathons are so common nowadays – and more and more people are starting to realise that if you can walk then you can actually run a marathon if you want to, so supportive comments tend to be along the lines of ‘Yeah, go for it, Nutter’ or ‘Don’t forget to pace yourself’ – but nothing more than that.

Utter the word ‘ultra’, though – or talk in terms of anything over 26 miles – and suddenly, to the non-runner you’re a weirdo and they don’t want anything more to do with you, or they simply don’t know how to respond. ‘Standard-distance’ runners (as I’m going to call them) are suddenly at a bit of a loss, too – and the end result seems to be a bit of an impasse where everyone just gets on with what they’re doing and no-one really speaks about it at all. It’s funny. The subject of ultrarunning becomes the elephant in the room and there doesn’t seem to be any way of explaining that that step from marathon to ultra (in my super-limited and exceedingly subjective experience) becomes so much less about the running and so much more about the journey, about discovery, about learning.

This leads me back to Kelly’s reply to my text and the obvious misguided support for her incredible adventure, because it’s ultimately incomprehensible to the majority that endurance events aren’t about the run, the injuries (variable lol) or the pain (inevitable). They are all about learning – and the last thing an ultrarunner wants to hear before hitting that start line is the voice of concern (difficult as that may be for close family). ‘Be careful’, ‘Don’t push too hard’, ‘It’s not worth the suffering’, ‘When it gets too hard, don’t be afraid to stop’ or ‘I’m worried about you, why are you doing this?’ … Grrrrr – all voices of concern and of course they have their time and place, but leading up to an endurance event isn’t either the time OR the place! Hmmmmm. The more I write the more I’m realising just how crazy that sounds. However, during the 40m High Peaks Kelly slowed down massively for several miles and moaned about her stomach, how ill she was feeling, how everything was going tits up. Cruelly (or not?), I refused to express any kind of concern. The last thing you want when you hit the wall and are ready to sniffle and curl up and die – is for your running buddy to curl up and die with you. I offered water and confirmation that it was only X km to the next checkpoint. An hour later I was in the same position. Kelly’s words of comfort were ‘I know how that feels. Just keep going. It’ll pass.’ Perfect.

So, you get the idea? Crazy as it is, ultrarunners need the same ‘support’ as you’d give to someone going out for their first 5k! I’m incredibly and unbelievably lucky. I seem to be surrounded by people who just ‘get’ this – but most people, including Kelly it appears, are not.

So Kelly? GO SMASH IT – just as you’ve planned!! I read an article the other day which said that ‘having fun isn’t always fun’. They were talking about ultras, of course, and I think it’s the perfect description of ultrarunning – fun without fun LOL With that in mind, Kelly Thorne, I hope you have a LOT of fun on Everest.

But what do I know? I know nothing! I’m building on my philosophy here and loving the new outlook on life that even ‘training’ for an ultra has given me. It’s very special. It’s new, it’s exciting, I aspire simply to just not come last … and I think I love it most of all because it’s so far out of my comfort zone and there is SO much to learn. Now … I wonder if I can afford a bus to the Himalayas …

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