Sunday, 4 February 2018

Race | Country to Capital 45 miles - AKA My first Ultra

I'm standing at Marylebone station at 7:45am on a Saturday morning surrounded by loads of runners. The station is pretty eerie as we wait for both the first trains and first coffee shops to open and I'm feeling pretty green with nerves.

After a short journey out to the chilterns and Wendover Woods I arrive fifteen minutes before the start of what will become my first ever utlramarathon.

Classic question at this point: what's an ultra marathon? Well unlike half marathons and marathons it's not a set distance: an ultramarathon is any distance beyond a marathon. So I could do a 27 mile race and it would be an ultramarathon. Or I could do a 150 mile race (well ONE could, I couldn't!) and it would also be a marathon.

It's a long story but I'd 'accidentally' signed up for Country to Capital - I somehow thought it was 45km. It's actually 45 miles. Or 70km. Hmmm. But this had kickstarted my training for Transgrancanaria well: nothing like blind panic to ensure you follow your training plan!

So standing at the start line of the most chilled out warm up to a race I'd ever been at I was totally focused on one thing: don't throw up. I always suffer with nerves but this was so much further than I'd ever run before: would I make it?

The start of Country to Capital is pretty hilarious - the first 5km or so is a series of narrow gates and trails so it's basically a sprint finish downhill start to the first gate. So ridiculous and so much fun! After that tiny sprint on the road it's straight in to the woods and essentially the first half (or first marathon) is an off road trail marathon.



Those of you who've been following my progress for a while will know my first marathon took the painful time of 5:47 and since then I've become a decent runner most recently clocking a sub-4 marathon. Today I was planning on running a roughly 5 hour marathon - an hour slower than Berlin in October - but a gentle pace to get started with while hopefully meaning I wouldn't end up running too long in the dark at the other end.

The chilterns are beautiful and the most wonderful setting for some long miles. The course was pretty easy to follow even though it wasn't marked and I only got lost once adding about 2km distance to my total route. Even though it was early January the weather was fantastic - cold but crisp and sunny. About 30km I had to stop to deal with the niggling rubbing sensation in my shoes which turned out to be a grim blister. Luckily I had blister plasters with me so a bit of taping up my feet and I was off again.

30km-40km I was suffering with cramp in my feet and when I hit the marathon something in my body just seemed to think that that was it: we were done. Only 30km to go!



40km onwards was on the canal making this a real race of two halves: the second half is a slightly mind-numbingly tedious bland trudge to London. 30km is a long way to be so dull. The checkpoints were manned by the most enthusiastic volunteers but it was mentally tough to have to wait so long for each one: I'm used to every 5km someone offering me water and at one point you've got to wait 15km! At CP3 I burst in to tears when someone offered me a cocktail sausage: salt being the most exciting thing I'd seen all day by that point.

The blisters were getting worse and worse and come 50km I was really struggling. It was at this point that I ran in to CP4 greeted by my very enthusiastic husband who not only had come to run me in the final 20km but had brought with him a high level of morale and a change of shoes! JOY!

New shoes on progress was slow but I was trying to mentally break it down to attempt 3km running and then a 3 minute walking break. My body felt like it was falling apart and the pain in my left knee and feet was quite overwhelming. We cracked through the next 10km though and at 60km I was greeted with the grinning face of my friend Libby. 10km to go: I can do this!


The final 10km were both the best and the worst. The best because I could feel the end so achingly close. I had the rallying support of my friends around me. At 5km my Dad joined our little gang on his bike to cycle us in. The worst because I'm not sure I've mentally pushed through such pain ever. My body was screaming at me to stop. It was excruciating and mentally exhausting.

And just like that we hit the final kilometre - I could practically feel Paddington. As we approached the final bridge suddenly the most overwhelming wall of screams hit me. On the bridge were 20 Advent Runners - my crew - screaming my name and cheering with all their might. Those final steps were exhilarating and just like that - I'd done it.

And then (classic) I burst in to tears.


Turns out ultras are really, really hard. It was gritty and gnarly, and incredibly painful. But it was also humbling and joyous and I couldn't be prouder of myself or more overjoyed at the incredible support team around me.

Do I want to do another one? No. I really don't. But Transgrancanaria is in 3 weeks and I'm determined to see this through. I need some time to heal my blistery feet and my exhausted mind but I have no doubt I'll be back out there soon more determined than ever.

For now I'm celebrating my accolade as an ultrarunner. Gulp. That's right: I'm an ultrarunner now!



Total distance: 70.3km
Total time: 8:50:18

Finishing position:  204th (out of 305)
Finishing position for women: 30th (out of 72)
Runners: 328
% of runners who finished: 93%

Pros: Nicely organised, great CPs, can travel from London, cheaper than others, friendly, nice medal & t-shirt
Cons: End 30km is mentally tough on the canal, quiet race, no drop bags, course diversion could have been better marked
Likelihood of doing the Country to Capital race again:10% - it was tough. But I kind of loved it.
But likelihood of running with Go Beyond Ultra again: 50% - I loved the simplicity of their organisation. It felt like back to basics challenges and I'd be interested to try some of their other events.

To find out more about how to register for 2019's race go to: http://gobeyondultra.co.uk/events

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