Ultimate Trails Ultra
Saturday 27th June 2015
I spent one of my most memorable Saturday last weekend when I ran my first ultra at the Ultimate Trails 55k race starting and finishing in Ambleside, Cumbria. I was in good company as I reckon half of the pack at the start line was tasting the 26.2+ distance for the first time and indeed the race organisers market the event as “a great stepping stone into the world of Ultra running”. Like other C&C club members going long for the first time this year I learnt a few things during the eight or so hours I spent on my feet.
The first is that if you can answer three basic questions during an ultra you will never run out of company or conversation: “is this your first ultra?”, “how are you feeling?” (a potential conversation killer),”how much longer you reckon?” (you know you must have got something right with your training when your legs can go much longer than your GPS watch!). The other is that however well you prepare your body and your mind for a first ultra, there is an awful lot that is out of your control once the actual race starts and this is both the scary and the attractive thing. Main lessons for me next time include: sort out the nutrition (what to eat, when, liquid vs solid), ditch all speedwork during the month leading up to the race and stick to long slow miles, do more training races closer in distance to the main event in order to minimise the portion of the race that is spent in the “never run that far before” territory, keep the backpack light and, last but not least, it really is fine to walk during a long race.
And for those who know the Lakes, this is where our marshalled and waymarked guided tour took us. Out of Ambleside the first 6km saw us hot and sweaty to Kirkstone Pass, our first CP and drink station, then down a very runnable and exhilarating path towards Bayswater and Hartsop, soon onto the A592 into Patterdale and, sadly leaving Ullswater on our right mainly unseen, into our second CP and food and drink station in Glenridding (23km). It was time to take a deep breath and a few more of those flapjacks before facing our longest climb and the hottest hours of the day as we ran/walked/stumbled on the rocky path towards one of my favourite spots in Cumbria and a frequent encounter for me this year, Grisedale Tarn. All downhill from here, in more ways than one, along and then across the A591 and into Grasmere where the local school was doubling up as CP3 for the weekend (29km, roughly half-way since 55km was in fact 58km). I strongly suspect that there were some hidden demons preying on feeble runners in that school, in my case I think there was one in a bowl of cold noodles I took and although I successfully patched a nascent blister and dutifully changed my socks, the whole loop into the Langdales (CP4 at 37km) is just a hazy (and burpy!) memory. We knew that there was a feast laid out for us at our last check point on the route, Stickle Barn (46km), but I wasn’t going to risk it with sandwiches, chips, potato and leek soup and the rest of it, so just had my bottles refilled for the umpteenth time and shuffled my way the best I could back towards the finish at Ambleside, greeting the valiant 110km runners along the way. Most were walking at this stage but the mere fact that they were standing after 19 hours on their legs remains an awe-inspiring mystery to me.
I wasn’t alone in this adventure as fellow club members and ultra newbies Jan De Rydt and Bernie Shannon were also of the party, as were seasoned ultrarunners Katie Samuelson and Darren Gilman (in the long race). With my main event this year behind me, it is now time to enjoy the summer that has just started, do other things than slow miles for a few weeks, and then start ultra training all over again. Winter ultra anyone?