The London Ultra 50k

My first big challenge of 2011 – The London Ultra 50km… Just over 31 miles around the nice, flat, dry Capital Ring from Streatham Common to Wembley – it was going to be easy, wasn’t it?

Up early on Saturday morning and I looked longingly at my Parkrun barcode pinned to the kitchen noticeboard… Could I squeeze in a 3.1 mile easy run the day before – after all, it was only 10% of the distance I’d be doing tomorrow. No probably best not – after all I’d PB’d a week before and knew I’d be off chasing my nemesis if I went!

Registration was in London on Saturday at the finish location in Wembley – and there was an Ultra expo going on at the same time. I arrived mid-afternoon, registered and listened to the remaining speakers – all of whom were quite inspiring, very informative and motivational.

After the expo finished, as I was staying at the hotel I’d spotted a Dominos on the way in – so wandered up and picked up a medium Pepperoni Passion, came back to the hotel and had a quiet night in – how glamorous.

6am Sunday morning – breakfast at the hotel, vaseline applied, waved goodbye to the gingerbread man :-) and we were packed into a couple of buses to the start line – who managed to get lost and only just deposited us 400m away with 10 minutes to go! 100-or-so anxious, well hydrated runners jumped into the bushes and ensured Streatham Common’s flora was adequately hydrated!

We all got to the start line with 5 minutes to spare, Rory and Jen stood on top of a Land Rover, gave a great motivational speech and told us to follow the green “Capital Ring” markers. The start pack seemed tiny, (around 250) – about the same size as Cardiff Parkrun, but Rory told us we were taking part in the UKs biggest Ultra! 3-2-1, a cheer and we were away…

The first 10k was a lap around Streatham Common and then running through the back-streets of Wansworth, crossing roads and trying to follow the Capital Ring signs! Fortunately – everyone wasn’t too spread out yet so it was easy to keep following someone.

The first 10k checkpoint arrived – my pre-race strategy was to run, (approx 10mm) to the checkpoints and walk for 5-10 minutes refuelling afterwards, so this was my first break and chance to assess how it was going… Hmm – pretty well so far!

The back-streets of London faded away, and turned into Richmond Park – this is more like it, though where did these hills come from? and the mud? Oh well – a chance to test out the “walk up, run down” ultra strategy. Before long, the 20km checkpoint was there – everything still fine, yep – just keep running, just keep running…

The course then headed up the Thames and onto a canal – a group of us had to stop and do a bit of map reading at one point to make sure we were heading in the right direction – but eventually we were back onto the Capital ring and heading North up the Brent canal. We passed halfway and things took a turn for the worse…

I started to become aware of a niggle in my left hip and a wave of apathy and despair suddenly washed over me – I’ve no idea where this came from, I’d only done 16 miles FFS. Maybe it was the realisation of only being halfway through, I don’t know. Anyway, the next 4 or 5 miles to the 30km checkpoint weren’t good but I told myself to HTFU and keep putting one foot in front of the other and got there.

SOREEN MALT LOAF – energy food of the gods was at the 30km checkpoint and wolfed down with a couple of ibuprofen and a healthy chaser of electrolytes… Then, something magical happened – whether it was the ibuprofen, the food or a mental breakthrough… Suddenly, the pain disappeared, my energy levels returned and running was easy again.

The hills got bigger, the mud got muddier but I didn’t care any more – I knew I’d cracked it and I was going to finish. London threw more hills and mud at me, Harrow, (on the Hill – no kidding) and the 40km checkpoint came and went and we were on the final leg home :-) We went through 26.2 miles (hooray) in just over 4:30 – a chap training for MDS and I celebrated a marathon PW (boo)

I must have missed a turn off somewhere around 29-30 miles because I suddenly became aware that I’d lost everyone in front, couldn’t see the arch of Wembley stadium and my Garmin was reading 30.5 miles… Bugger! A group of 4 of us, (they were following me – oops!) stopped and assessed the situation – nope we definitely weren’t where we were supposed to be. We asked a bemused dog walker which direction Wembley was in and headed off in that direction, only to find 1/2 mile up the road it was completely wrong – Grrrrr.

Fortunately – thanks to the iPhone GPS, one of the lads got us back on track and I cruised in through Wembley to the finish in 5:55 – though I think it would have been closer to 5:30 had we not got lost, but who cares about finish times?

Retrospectively – a great day out and a massive learning experience on pushing through discomfort and negative feelings and digging in. I’ll definitely be there again next year! Legs feel tired today, but no more so than the day after a hard 5k – nothing a couple of easy days won’t sort out.

Next weekend – my first Duathlon!

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