Apocalypse 50 2017

My third running of the Apocalypse 50. As the name suggests this is a pretty brutal 50 mile race. Plenty of short sharp hills both up and down with almost 10,000 ft of elevation in total. The route consists of four different loops all starting and finishing in Church Stretton. This was also the location of the 12 Labours of Hercules for a few years (now moved back to the Peak District) so I was fairly familiar with the area.

Race director Richard Weremiuk (Beyond Marathon) is known for putting on great value fun races, often with a twist. Check out his site and enter an event, you can thank me later.

I decided to tackle the loops in the same order, in the same direction as last year. My strategy this year was to try a new plan. Instead of going out easy and finishing strong, I would go out a bit harder and keep pushing to the end or blow up trying. With the SDW100 in 3 weeks that might not have been a great plan.

My training had gone well ahead of the race. The only niggle was whilst stretching out in bed a few days before I managed to strain or do something to my intercostal muscles on my right side. It initially hurt so bad I considered if I had cracked a rib, no I was just being a wimp. It hurt to breathe and bend over in certain ways. So naturally I ran each day a little to see how that went. Two days before and the run was OK apart from when I pushed harder and had to breath more, but it was really just a dull ache. Saturday morning as I got up before the race it was almost 100%, still a bit nervous to start a day of running with sore ribs though.

We arrived nearby in Little Stretton the evening before at Small Batch campsite. Walking to one of two local pubs, The Green Dragon, for a lovely meal and of course a couple of pints.

The next morning, we realised that Steve, a familiar face from the Offas Dyke which we had helped at, had camped next to us. He was helping today and we gave him a lift to the venue around the corner where Sally was also helping. A quick registration and briefing and we were off just after 8am.

It was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch with runners going in different directions. You could do the 4 loops in any order and in any direction, it was hard to know how you were doing compared to everyone else.

I’d normally load the GPX files onto my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch, my laptop was out of action in the days before so I didn’t bother. I knew the route and the area.

I went out hard and straight up the first hill, Ragleth Hill. I could see Chris with his two dogs Sam and Jess just ahead and followed them up and over the hill and caught them up at a stile. We chatted and ran together for a few miles before Chris stopped to give his dogs some water and I headed off on my own, down a muddy track into the woods. Soon after streams of runners came towards me having taken the loop the other way around.

I made it back to the school about 15 mins quicker than last year.

The ground underfoot was a mixture of grass, some muddy sections in woods, some wet rocky paths and some tarmac roads. I have worn Inov8 Roclite 290’s for years as a good mix for when there are road sections as well as hard ground. My previous pairs had all seen too many ultra’s and so I got a new pair that arrived a couple of days before the race. The first time I wore them was on race day. I think someone once suggested you shouldn’t do something like this, but it wasn’t the first time I wore a new pair of shoes for an ultra so that made it alright, surely?

Up and over the awesome iron age fort of Caer Caradoc and a few of us came together on the top to run a little way together. One chap and I chatted and ran the rest of the loop in sync, I felt great heading back about 35 minutes ahead of last year.

Sally and I headed out for the 3rd loop, War! Up Carding Mill Valley to the Long Mynd. By now I was regretting the joke I made the night before about Sally not being able to keep up with me. As I was going so slowly up the hills, walking and having to stop a few times on the way up. Once I got to the top I managed to talk my legs into moving and we managed some good running apart from up the hills. Ending the loop about 30 mins ahead of last year.

It had been tough going and I was clearly fading, I had already had a great day out and hadn’t anything to prove or gain by continuing and stopping now wouldn’t be a DNF.

So of course, I went out for the last loop, aptly named DEATH!

I had saved the best for last, a short sharp climb out the valley and it was mostly flat and downhill (OK there was another short hill half way round, but that would be a nice walk break).

I had gone up this hill a few times before. As I neared the top I followed the path that contoured around the hill. The path narrowed and I thought by now I will be able to see the road I would join up to near Pole Bank. Something seemed off. I stopped to check the map just as the heavens opened, so good time to get the waterproof on too.

The path I had taken turned out to be one for the sheep, the one I wanted was straight above me. I decided to keep going on this track, a decision I kept debating every few hundred meters when there was a tricky section and I thought I’d end up falling down the hill. I finally saw the path for the first time and climbed up to it. Relived I carried on knowing it would soon hit the road. Only, it didn’t. This path is cursed. It was torrential rain now. I looked and couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind. I thought someone must have passed or caught me up as I stumbled along the sheep path. I could see the road but it was getting further away not closer. I backtracked to where some sheep had had a meeting and realised their meeting was on the path spur I should have taken. I was happy to finally know where I was, be on tarmac, heading to the highest point Pole Bank. The rain stopped, I looked back to see a massive rainbow. I pushed on to find some reception to let Sally know I was OK, worried she was watching the tracker, seeing me go off course twice and not move very far.

Turns out she hadn’t even noticed my difficulties.

I made reasonable time after that drama, apart from the last decent which I had to be walk down due to trashed quads. As I ran into Church Stretton I was starving, earlier I had suggested fish and chips would be nice to Sally. As I neared the Fish and Chip shop I checked the opening times, until 2am. I would return later!

I finished in a time of 13:13 unlucky for some I guess! I was fine apart from that my quads felt trashed from all that steep downhill. I was also starving. After getting a brilliant medal Sally pulled out some (still hot!) fish and chips! I pretty much scoffed most of them there and then in the hall before shuffling off to get sorted.

 

 

SDW50 2017

My 3rd running of the SDW50. The South Downs Way 50 (miles) is a point to point course from Worthing to Eastbourne (finishing with a lap of the running track!). This year the race was on Saturday 8th April 2017. I initially ran this as a warm up for the SDW100. I had entered the SDW100 so I could qualify for WS100, I enjoyed the runnable course so much I keep coming back.

The course has 5,700 ft of elevation. However, it isn’t very technical and is mostly very runnable. A good first time 50 miler and it was Sally’s first 50 mile point to point ultra last year when we ran it together. All had gone well last year until just before half way. Her glutes had worn out and led to knee problems on the downhill. So we reversed the common ultra strategy of running the downs and flats, to running the ups and flats and walking down the hills. Last years time was a very painful 11:30:21 and took a long time for Sally to recover from.

This years plan was just to take it easy, have fun and finish in one piece. Although never spoken, I had a secret hope Sally would get in under last year’s time. The main aim though, to finish in one piece! We would run together as I was happy to take it easier and let me recover faster and get back to training for this years SDW100.

My training had been going spot on. For Sally, training had initially gone well, but some ankle pain had forced a rest period, then a lower training block, building back up to this race. Ashby 20 had been a bit of a tester for us both 3 weeks earlier, it went well for both of us.

This year the forecast looked like an almost perfect running day, dry, mild and with a light breeze.

Traveling after work Friday, we passed right by the start and they were open for registration. Whilst we planned on turning up early the next morning, we figured it would help take the pressure off both us and the volunteers at registration.

Top tip for ultra registration. Don’t bother to pack your race vest properly before you have passed kit check. Take it all in a separate bag or box all unpacked. This makes it quick and easy to check off mandatory kit.

I have a Suunto Ambit 3 peak. So I was happy to leave it in the normal 1 second GPS lock. This should last about 20 or more hours. Certainly longer than the 13 hour cut-off. I had uploaded the GPX file of the route to the watch ‘just in case’.

Apart from mandatory kit, food and water, I packed some sunscreen to reapply later on. Whilst I use all day sun cream and I’m sure it is OK without reapplying. If I can, I like to reapply on the move to try and be safe. Also due to the heat, some s-caps to help keep my stomach ok as I tend to drink a lot more than others as I am always hot. I noticed this as we lined up at the start and I was in shorts and a t-shirt. Many others had jackets and leggings on.

The course is easy to follow and even has markings for an extra bonus. So makes navigation a no brainer.

Just before the start at 9am James gives the pre-race briefing. Everyone is silent and listens. A little congested at the start as it was narrow single track for a mile or so. Not a bad thing being near the back as it lets us take it easy as you climb for the first 3 miles.

After that, it is undulating. I normally take a fairly standard approach of hiking up the hills and running the flats and downs. Now there are plenty of relatively flat sections,. There were a few sections that Sally and I had a debate about as it was slightly uphill. I suggested we ran these as it was fairly gentle incline.
I tend to run by feel or heart rate (under zone 2) at the start of an ultra. Only stopping to hike briefly if I felt it was using too much effort early on in the race where I would be trying to conserve energy for later on.

Underfoot the course was mostly very good, this year had been dry before and during the race so no mud. Wide smooth paths for the most part, a lot on grass too. We commented that last year we had been dodging puddles early on as it was much wetter. Today was probably the hottest day of the year so far.

Many people run checkpoint to checkpoint or break a race down in other ways. The first checkpoint (at Botolphs) was 11.2 miles from the start, the longest distance between checkpoints, as they came closer together in the later half. A theme was about to develop, down a big hill to reach a checkpoint, back up a big hill straight after. But meters before the first checkpoint, a bench was spotted and gave Sally a chance to fish out the optimal sized stone that found its way into her shoe. Disaster averted we could refill our bottles, grab some food, thank the volunteers and head off (up the big hill).

SDW 50 leaving CP1, photo credit Stuart March

Not long after getting most of the way up the hill we found a decent sized and well placed rock that Sally could sit on whilst she applied a compeed blister plaster as a preemptive move. I took the chance to reapply the sunscreen. A lot of supporters were at the top of the hills as we passed by the Devils Dyke pub and down the hill to the next checkpoint at Saddlescombe farm only a little over 5 miles from the last checkpoint.

This checkpoint had a familiar face I’m sure I have seen at previous events. The skeleton in the chair holding the sign to beware the chair. So true, I avoid sitting down at all cost unless I need to take a shoe off or similar task that’s pretty difficult unless on your ass.

So avoiding the chair, I put my Hydrapak Speedcup to the test. This year Centurion made a cup part of the mandatory kit in order to save on all the waste of plastic cups at checkpoints. The Hydrapak speedcup is a lightweight collapsible cup that you can fit in an easy to reach pocket or lash it on using the loop. I poured in some Pepsi, sipped on it whilst grazing on some food and grabbing a handful of more food to eat as I left the checkpoint, which was up a big hill!

Although 10 miles to the next checkpoint at Housedean Farm, this passed very quickly. I used to be fine with cows, then after an incident in the Peak District I have taken a much more cautious approach and tend to slow down, give them as much room as possible. I’m happy to say that true to form on the South Downs, the cows were all pretty chilled out. The few in front of a gate we needed to get through shifted on approach. As I got closer I could see that’s where their water trough was and felt bad that on a hot day they kept getting ‘mooved’ out the way of their water from all us runners and other users of the South Downs.

Just before Housedean Farm checkpoint we spotted a couple of guys up ahead walking down hill, I commented this was a bit odd. Sally pointed out that was her last year, fair point. As we approached it became clear one was feeling the effect of the heat or something and was clearing things out with being sick. Not an unusual thing to see on an ultra, or in town on a Friday night. In both cases I’m sure we have all been there and done that. I’d have stopped but it seemed his friend had it under control and they weren’t far from the checkpoint. At the bottom of the hill you go along to a wood and what is probably one of steepest climbs on the course. It’s pretty short and you are soon out of the wood and down the last hill before the farm. It was this downhill last year that Sally had really struggled and was forced to adopt the walk down hill strategy. This year, thankfully, all was well.

The checkpoint at the farm was in a barn, the shade was most welcome at this point and we could see a few others taking some respite from the sun. On the way out (up a hill), we saw the chap we had passed earlier who had been sick, volunteers were attending to him and all seemed well for his pal who was going to keep going. Looking at the watch we were about on the same pace as last year.

By now runners were spreading out and no doubt the front of the field were finishing. We had less than a marathon to go, less than we had already done. At this point I still like to count up the miles until around 40 when I can start counting back down, less than 10 miles seems like a manageable number. Less than 26.22 still seems like a long way. We played some yo-yo with other runners as we passed each other a few times depending on our respective highs and lows. Thinking I recognised one lady from another event I asked if it that was the case. It wasn’t, but she explained this was the start of the grand slam for her as she had signed up for all 8 Centurion races this year, 4 x 50 milers and 4 x 100 milers. And those weren’t the only races on her calendar this year. That would blow the mind of most non-runners, most runners who don’t do Ultras and it’s still pretty high and the ‘nuts’ level of crazy for ultra runners. Finishing that is certainly going to be an achievement to brag about for some time. I sheepishly explained I was only doing one more, the SDW100 this year too and would see her there.

By now Sally had needed a wee for several hours, always on the look out for a suitable bush to hide her modesty. Unfortunately, we knew too well that the South Downs is generally a very open landscape, made worse by it being the middle of a sunny Saturday and everyman and his dog were out, coming from both directions too. I managed to find a suitable spot for myself to have a sympathy wee, it was still pretty open and so Sally had to hold it for a bit longer. We discussed the merits of a shewee, some sort of plastic funnel from what I understand that turns a lady into a man. I’m not sure after using one I’d like to then carry it round the rest of the way covered in my own piss. I have on several occasion been in a race and had a girl just squat down on the path right in front of me. Whilst I appreciate your situation ladies, at least move off to the side of the path so I don’t have to run through a puddle of your wee.

We slowed down a little on a hill to let a group of runners pass us and make some space. There was a chap not very far back though, but this was the best gap between runners we had had for a while. We turned a corner to go down a hill and saw a little mound off to the side that Sally calculated should allow her enough privacy and time before the chap behind caught us up. I started walking down the hill whilst she nipped off to the side of the path. Whilst the mound covered her from the chap behind, she had to be quick before he caught her up. As I walked down the hill I also realised it allowed her no cover from the front, which was now unfortunate as the group we let pass us earlier, were now nearing the bottom of the hill and turning back up it to take photographs. I suspect when they later post them on Facebook and someone spots a girl squatting in the distance there will be much amusement!

The heat is starting to get to us and as we catch back up to that group and head up the final hill before the checkpoint, everyone is talking about how hot it is, especially out of the breeze we had enjoyed along the tops of the hills. One last down hill and over the railway at Southease (where it turns out there was probably a toilet in the Youth Hostel next door). Leaving this checkpoint, yes you guessed it, up a hill. Rather than straight up the steep bit, the path winds around and then up the hill, a much more gentle and pleasant climb, although one that seemed to go on past the trig point at the top.

Alfreton is a fab location for a checkpoint and is indoors. As I enter I spot a familiar face on the other side of the buffet table. Graham had been helping out at the King Offa’s Dyke Ultra last year. A quick chat to see if we will bump into each other again in September, and we establish we will both be at the Lakeland too, Graham at the 100 and myself at the 50. We thank everyone and head off on what feels a bit like the final straight. Just pay attention as you leave that you follow the marked route back onto the South Downs Way, which of course, is up hill.

On the way to the final checkpoint at Jevington we realise we are likely to finish around the same time as last year. We thought we had been doing much better than last year as Sally was in one piece still. We agree to push on as much as possible with no need to stop for anything at Jevington as it is only about 4 miles from the finish. I suggest I run on ahead to grab a cup of coke for Sally and she should keep going and I would catch her up. After over 10 hours of running my sub 8 minute mile pace to catch up Sally felt like a sprint. As it was just after a checkpoint, there was a hill, which I caught her up on. Last year at this point we had been trying to get up the hill and back down the other side to the road before it got dark and before we needed to get out our head torches. Once at the final summit, the descent is a narrow track down to the road. This can be slippery and tricky in places, I’m not the quickest at descending and so take it easy until we hit the road.

From there, only around 2 miles left of mostly flat tarmac. We pick up the pace as we try and finish quicker than last year. We round the last corner to see the running track just as the light starts to fade. We keep picking up the pace as we hit the track and finish in 11:08:02, 22 mins and 13 seconds quicker than last year, and in one piece. We take a bow to let Mimi Anderson pop those huge medals around our necks. And pose for a photo by Stuart March who had been out on course all day long before heading back for the finish line photos. Always great to see Stuart at Centurion events taking pictures. He offers great support and the price of the quality photographs are in my opinion very reasonable and offer good value for money to capture the memories of the event.

SDW 2017 finish 11:08:02, photo credit Stuart March

We had some food, a shower and then headed back on the bus to the start, where we had left the van in the morning.

Thanks to everyone who made it a great day out. My next ultra is likely to be the Apocalypse 50 on the 20th April 2017, another warm up race before the SDW 100 this year. Sally is likely to be running the 12 Labours of Hercules in July.

Massive medal, SDW50 medal and finishers t-shirt

Do you log your training? How? Why?

Whilst many of my running friends are on Strava, use a GPS watch or log their training somehow, some do not record their training.

I am keen to know if / how / why runners log their training. The survey takes less than 30 seconds. I would be most grateful if you could click the link and answer the three multiple choice questions.
Many thanks in advance!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YK9G7VS

Strava

Strava – Syncs with your GPS watch, or you can run the app on your phone. A social site you can share your workouts and races on. Great to see how your training compares to your friends. Strava has a match your run feature allowing you to see how you have improved since you last ran that route. There are segments created (you can add your own) which let you compare your efforts with everyone else who has run that segment, this might be up a local hill, or a loop of the block.

Beyond Marathon recommended Ultras

Beyond Marathon run many ultra events in the UK. They are great value for money, friendly and fun. My first ultra (26 October 2013) was Dusk til Dawn and I have gone back to run it every year since. I have volunteered at many of their events and they have a great community spirit. Some of their events are below, check out their website for more, and the full details.

  • Dusk til Dawn, 50 miles circular route in the peak district, in the dark.
  • The Millennium Way Ultra, good for a first ultra, fairly flat and easy to nav for the most part, following cycle paths, river, canal for much of it.
  • Apocalypse – a 50 and 100 version, set in the hills of Shropshire around Church Stretton, steep but short hills and plenty of them.
  • Gritstone Grind – 35 miles, so again another good first ultra, following one trail along a liner route, a great day out.
  • King Offa’s Dyke – 185 miles from the bottom to the top of the Welsh/English border – helped out, but not run this one.

RaceDrone

RaceDrone allows you to be tracked by family and friends at events, can be via a smartphone app that is super battery efficient you won’t notice, or a physical tracker can be hired. Excellent value and your crew or supporters will love it. You can even use it yourself to steer you back on course if you get lost.

Eat and Run

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Reading this book was my introduction in ultra running, boy was it an inspiration! Scott is a legend in the Ultra running community, his list of achievements are long. His book was also my introduction to the Western States 100 mile endurance run, which he won, 7 years in a row!

The book goes through the journey of Scott’s life, his highs and lows of endurance racing, and is interlaced with original tasty yet healthy vegan recipes.