Run the Blades Ultra Marathon

A month ago you may remember me saying I was having a tough time of the post-marathon blues. I was having such a hard time with it that I contacted the organisers of the Run the Blades Ultra marathon to see if I could step down to the 1/2 marathon distance. 

Before I made any decision though, I decided I'd run 20 miles and see how I felt. I met up with Edinburgh AC club mate and fellow ashmei ambassador, Robert Turner and after the run I decided the Ultra was still on. Robert is a very experienced ultra runner and it was great chatting to him and working out what I should do. 

With the decision made to run the 50k race I was then mentally ready, even if I wasn't as fit as I had hoped. 

My first ultra, what do I pack?

I looked at the weather forecast on Thursday, with the race on the Saturday, and it looked like summer had taken the day off and Winter was making an appearance! I decided that I was going to wear my Edinburgh AC club vest as I wore that for Stirling marathon, however, with the heavy rain forecast I thought I better pack a jacket just in case. 

My kit list grew and grew and before I knew it I had packed:

  • two pairs of socks
  • shorts
  • club vest
  • ashmei short sleeve tshirt, lite jacket and beanie
  • 6 High5 gels
  • baseball cap
  • foil blanket
  • 1 stoats porridge bar
  • 1 litre of water in the running vest bladder
  • mobile phone
  • 2 pairs of shoes

I think I've covered all eventualities. The weather for tomorrow's race says anything from sunshine to thunder so it could be an interesting first ultra for me. This week has been super busy at work so running has taken a back seat, I'll call it a super taper! 😊 Really looking forward to seeing how I cope with running 50k, it could be the start of more ultras or it could be the first and last. 🏃 This will be the final test for my new Inov-8 Trailroc shoes. 50k of wind farm tracks. I'm hoping to get some photos while out running as well. Just planning to enjoy the race. No matter what, it'll be a personal best. . . . . #ashmeirun #teamiamrunbox #fitnessmotivation #trailroc #happyrunner #instarunners #instarun #instarunners #ultramarathon #runnersworld #run #runchat #ukrunchat #runhappy #runner #runners #running #runtoinspire #seenonmyrun #time2run #runtheblades #trailrunner #trailrunning #training #runtagit #runplanet #runshots #runthroughuk #runnersofinstagram

A post shared by Owain Williams 🏃 (@scottishrunner) on Jul 20, 2017 at 11:38pm PDT

On the morning of the race I looked out the window of the apartment we had stayed in on Friday evening and it looked grey but dry. I pulled on my club vest and decided that was what I was going to run in. 

Mandy and I were able to head straight to the wind farm as Lee, the race director, had kindly said I could collect my race number from there given we had been there late the night before. Since Mandy was going to be going to the wind farm visitors centre while I was running this made things much easier for us. It meant I didn't need to get to registration as early and Mandy didn't need to worry about logistics of leaving the apartment and getting to the wind farm in time to take anything off me at the last minute. 

We arrived at the wind farm in plenty of time, collected my race number (minus safety pins which Lee had forgotten to pass on with my number) and waited. The wind was blowing but the rain was staying away. 

Before I knew it the race briefing was getting announced. Just as it started, the heavens opened and a quick change of clothes was required. I pulled my hydration pack off, pulled out my lite jacket from the hydration pack and then realised I still didn't have pins for my race number! Luckily a fellow runner had spares and so I quickly pinned my number on to my vest, pulled on my jacket and hydration pack and made my way to the start line.

The race

For the race I had decided to put the new Inov-8 TrailRoc 285 shoes to the test. I was sent them a month or so ago by Inov-8 and I've been loving them for hard packed trail runs. The longest I'd ran in them was 20 miles and I hoped the extra 11 miles wouldn't be too much for my feet. More on that later. 

The race started and I made a real effort not to go off too fast. I sat back but within the first mile I was out in the lead but cruising at 7:10 pace. The position wasn't what I had planned but, looking at my pace, it was comfortable. I was soon joined by two others who passed me and I was happy to just sit behind them. They took the lead until about mile 2 and on the first small incline I went past them and didn't see them again. 

2 miles in and I was having flashbacks to the Antonine Trail race I ran last year. I went out too hard, lead for a mile or two and then faded fast. I really didn't want that to happen. I decided to ignore my watch pace and run by feel. If it felt comfortable then ease it back a little more so that it felt easy. 

If you ever think you're not capable of something, you've already lost. Believe in yourself and anything is possible. When I started running in 2008 as an 18.5 stone plodder I never even knew about such things as ultra marathons. A marathon was my challenge and I believed I could finish one, which I did. Now I've finished my first 50k ultra I believe I'm capable of running further.... How far? Who knows! ....... Pull on your trainers and take your first steps to being awesome today!! ..... #ashmeirun #teamiamrunbox #fitnessmotivation #furtherfasterstronger #happyrunner #instarunners #instarun #instarunners #marathontraining #runnersworld #run #runchat #ukrunchat #runhappy #runner #runners #running #runtoinspire #seenonmyrun #time2run #trailrun #trailrunner #trailrunning #training #runtagit #runplanet #runshots #runthroughuk #runnersofinstagram

A post shared by Owain Williams 🏃 (@scottishrunner) on Jul 24, 2017 at 12:04am PDT

Everything was going brilliantly, the miles were ticking by but the weather was getting worse. The wind was picking up and the rain was getting really heavy. I was hoping someone would come up behind me and shelter me for a bit but on a tight turn in the course I glimpsed behind me and there was no-one to be seen. 

My watch beeped and I looked down, 10 miles done, only another 21 to go. 21 miles to go! Wow, the reality hit me and I had a bit of a weak point. At mile 12 I honestly thought I'd blown up, gone out too hard and resigned myself to wait for the runner behind me to catch me, pass me and leave me in their dust - well if it hadn't been so wet!

After maybe half a mile of panic I soon worked out why I was feeling so rubbish - I was heading up a hill and it was into the wind and rain. I hadn't blown up, I was just having to work a bit harder to get up the hill. The organisers even gave us words of encouragement with signs on the course when they knew we would be feeling a bit low. The first sign was simple - Run Forest Run! 

From this first hill I made a new plan with myself. Walk all the hills and walk when I need to take a gel and don't think any further than the next 5 miles. This plan worked very well. I did run some of the hills, the short, not too steep ones and also the long gradual incline ones but the hills where I had to lift my head up and look up to the heavens, I walked.

The checkpoints

Prior to the race, we were told we could have our drop bags taken to the three checkpoints around the course. Having never used drop bags in the past, I decided just to carry my own supplies but the teams on the checkpoints were really friendly. I didn't stop at any of them but as I passed they would give a cheer and shout words of encouragement over the sound of the wind and rain! It was really appreciated and thanks to every one of them for standing out on the hills in that weather. 

The first checkpoint (12.5k) came and went and because I wasn't planning to use them I hadn't made a note of where they would be on the course. When I stumbled across the second checkpoint (25k) it was refreshing to see someone else on the course! Running out front with no spectator support or any other sign of life allowed me to have a lot of thinking time in my head and I started to treat it like just a long Sunday run. The pace was comfortable and my legs were still feeling pretty good. 

For the most part, the terrain was good, hard packed, easy to run, trails. The hardest section was probably heading towards the final checkpoint at 37.5k. The trail had some big stones, loose gravel and was generally less used I guess. It felt like you were running on sand at times. This zapped the energy out of my legs. 

What I expected to do was run the marathon distance as if it was a marathon. In my mind that means run the first 10 miles, then the second 10 miles and hold on for the final 6. During the ultra it was completely different. From mile 15 I was focusing on 5 miles chunks so when 26.2 miles popped up on my watch, I didn't even think, well that's a marathon done, I was still counting down until I hit 30 miles. This 5 mile section felt like it went past the slowest of all the miles. It was into the wind and rain and the end was so close you could almost see it but I also knew it was 4 or 5 miles away. I think the cold was really starting to get to me by this point. 

The final stretch

So with what I thought was going to be the final stretch in to the wind and rain now behind me, there was one last challenge to face. The final hill! Mandy and Lee had warned me about it the night before as Mandy had ran up the hill during the 10k race. I'll be honest and say I thought Mandy was exaggerating how long the climb was. Her hills are my undulations, however, this was a hill and with 28 or so miles now in my legs, it was a tough climb. 

I'd caught up with some of the half marathon runners, who started an hour or so after us and tried to give them some encouragement.  I came around a corner and then saw this sign. 

This was the final climb of the 50k ultra yesterday. Still smiling because I thought I was almost finished. Got to the top and was told about a diversion due to a turbine going on fire. This wee diversion added 2km to the course and added in another hard run in to the wind and rain. Smile was quickly washed off my face. Crossing the line in 1st place though soon put it back. Very happy to now be an ultra runner!! .......... .......... #ashmeirun #teamiamrunbox #fitnessmotivation #furtherfasterstronger #happyrunner #instarunners #instarun #instarunners #ultramarathon #runnersworld #run #runchat #ukrunchat #runhappy #runner #runners #running #runtoinspire #seenonmyrun #time2run #trailrun #trailrunner #trailrunning #training #runtagit #runplanet #runshots #runthroughuk #runnersofinstagram

A post shared by Owain Williams 🏃 (@scottishrunner) on Jul 23, 2017 at 3:49am PDT

 

 

I had to stop and get a photo in front of it! The course took us up and under the wind turbine that you can see in the distance in the photo.

I walked / jogged the hill and then the pain really kicked in. Not because there was only a mile to go but the unplanned sting in the tail. Lee was parked at the top of the climb and as I approached he jumped out of his car. I wonder what he wants, I thought to myself. He asked me what distance I had on my watch, 29.75miles I said. He quickly explained that they had had to divert us earlier on in the race due to a wind turbine being on fire and so we had to add an extra bit on to the course now, otherwise it would be short.

He said to just follow the signs and it would add on the extra we needed. As instructed I headed off following the arrows but I soon realised the diversion would give us the extra distance, and some. My watch clicked 31 miles but I couldn't see the finish and I was once again running head on in to the wind and rain. I walked.

My watch clicked up 32 miles, I still couldn't see the finish, I jogged and walked a bit more.

I came over the top of a small hill and I could see where Lee had stopped and spoken to me, I knew where I was, I knew where the finish was. I picked up the pace again and headed to the finish line. Come around the corner, with the wind and rain on my back I spotted Mandy standing out in these horrendous conditions giving me support. She was a welcome sight!

I made my way down the final straight, trying to pick the pace up a bit and I crossed the finish line. My first ultra marathon 32.4 miles, 4 hours 07 minutes after I started and I finished 1st overall!

 

Fantastic event by @breakingstrainevents - tough conditions with a 2km diversion due to a wind turbine going on fire but very happy to win my first ultra!! 52km done! Now enjoying eating everything in sight!! .... Thanks to @runbesidehim for being out in the rain and wind to support me and also a massive thanks to @ashmei for supporting me with great kit. The lite jacket and beanie were brilliant at keeping me warm throughout the race! ..... The @inov_8 #trailroc shoes were fantastic as well!! Review to follow soon ..... #ashmeirun #fitnessmotivation #furtherfasterstronger #happyrunner #instarunners #instarun #instarunners #marathontraining #runnersworld #run #runchat #ukrunchat #runhappy #runner #runners #running #runtoinspire #seenonmyrun #time2run #trailrun #trailrunner #trailrunning #training #runtagit #runplanet #runshots #runthroughuk #runnersofinstagram

A post shared by Owain Williams 🏃 (@scottishrunner) on Jul 22, 2017 at 6:14am PDT

What now?

Well, I've had a week of recovery and I'm now back to training with a focus. I've a couple of shorter trail races coming up which I'd like to give a good bash so I'm focusing on getting some speed back in my legs. I'd do another ultra but maybe not until the end of the year or early next year, we'll see. 

I'd highly recommend the Blades ultra, especially if you are stepping up from the marathon distance. A well organised event, with great marshals and volunteers, which I'd love to run again, maybe with better weather conditions though. 

I've now ran 93 miles in my Inov-8 TrailRoc 285 shoes and I will be posting a full review next week.

Owain Williams

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