Monday 18 February 2013

London Ultra (race report)

(I've done a brief report on the low carb/high fat thoughts for the race here - this is the fluffy race report)

6am on Sunday 17th February 2013 and I'm waking up to a day with the longest run of my life so far, having run further than 21km only twice before this day.  And today I'd be running 51km.

MrTOTKat (on race support duty) and I got up and breakfasted on scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, baby plum tomatoes, coffee and cream before packing water bottles, post-race clothes and shoes into the car and off to pick up @abradypus and head to the race start near Grove Park station in East London.  At 7am on a Sunday, traffic is pretty OK crossing town from South West to South East and we made good time, arriving at registration at 5minutes to 8am despite setting off a few minutes late.

Registration was quick and easy and the room was filled with people munching on chocolates being handed out, bananas and various chewy bars.  Pointy-looking, fit-looking people.  Not like me (or so I think).  It's pretty chilly, so I'm in a few layers: Under Armour base layer with long thumb-hole enabled sleeves and a 1/4 zip, Under Armour long-line compression knickers (both from Sport Pursuit), my old Nike Run To The Beat t-shirt (best running t-shirt ever!), Under Armour fleecy beanie (£8 from T K Maxx :o)), Bridgedale running socks, some lovely warm Thoosa running tights (again from Sport Pursuit), Nike running gloves and a buff from Blacks (own brand, I think, 2x for £10 on sale a while back).  My support kit - a Camelbak Delaney Plus run belt which has 1x closed pouch (holding iPhone and extra battery pack for safety and being able to upload position to GarminFit), 1x mesh pouch (holding "emergency salami" and a middle-warming haramaki in case I got cold), 1x bottle holder (plan was to swap in a bottle at each check point if I felt I needed it).

We stood and chatted for a bit, listened to the race briefing (you really need to look up "tyre girl") before strolling to the start, a wave of the flag by Rory Coleman and we were off.

The plan was to start out at around 07:40 at a nice high cadence to warm up and then turn it up from there to keep my heart rate on or below 170BPM.  OK, I didn't quite do that as that meant falling off the back of the entire field and that would have been too depressing at the start, so I picked up to keep up as the rest of the runners swarmed down the middle of the road and held up a bus for about 5 minutes before thinning enough to fill the pavements without too much problem.

I thought I'd get space to myself pretty early on, but it didn't really happen and  I fell into a bad habit of following people in front of me.  You don't do that.  You can't be sure the people in front are going the right way (and I hear later on from "3 guys in blue" that they did it, ended up 1.5 miles off course before realising, sorting themselves out at the others carried on going the wrong way).  But I did keep an eye on signs and got tuned in to the various combinations of Capital Ring signs on high posts, little logos on low posts, "Ur" stickers and yellow spray-painted arrows that marked almost the whole route (more on the "almost" later).

So, despite not really wanting to talk to people as I generally prefer to run alone, I find that talking uses effort I'd rather spend on the actual running and I either end up running too slowly or too quickly when with others, I ended up running and talking to people.

Bits of London came and went and I recognised parts of the route from having read the Capital Ring leaflets and plotted the course to load onto my Garmin 910 watch (which I had on).  Check-point 1 came up pretty quickly and I took a bottle from MrTOTKat, glugged down half of it, ditched my hat and gloves as they were too much now, and carried on without taking a bottle with me.  On entering Crystal Palace Park I spotted loos and decided it would be a good idea to make use of them and took my leave from Dave-the-teacher who I'd been chatting with to that point.  I spent a bit long in the loo, due to making sure that all of my layers went comfortably back in place without wrinkling, and ended up running alone for quite a while after that.

See the little scribble just inside the East side of the Park? Loos :o)

I don't remember much of the next bit of the route.  There were quite a few sharp little hills and I walked up those to manage my effort level/fuel burn, paranoid that I'd run out of carb and have to slow right down (probably to a walk) before I got to the end of the race, and there were a few odd little bits like where the route wriggled around the back of a kiddies play-park.

Then I overshot a turning by a few metres due to a bus being in a bus stop and obscuring a sign I caught sight of briefly then misplaced where it was...

Very quickly recovered from that and carried on alone for a while longer and up came check-point 2 and MrTOTKat was ready and waiting with a smile on his face, a full bottle in one hand and a half full one in the other.  I think I made a mistake at this point as I put the 1/2 full one in my bottle holder, swigged a bit of the full one and carried on.  I wasn't all that thirsty, so I thought it was OK.  Quite quickly I regretted the bottle I was carrying as it changed the weight distribution that I'd got used to and it tempted me to swig frequently like I used to on long training runs last year.  Not good.

Onwards, still alone, past Tooting Bec Lido and up another mean hill before my Garmin shrieked at me half way down a road I'd been following Capital Ring signs into, with no turnings that I'd spotted, telling me I was now off course.  And it kept at it, so I stopped, turned around and headed back to see if I'd missed a turning, to see "3 guys in blue" (3 of the other runners, dressed in the same blue shorts and tops and apparently running for a testicular cancer charity - Dave, Ian and Nick) thundering towards me.  I asked if I'd gone wrong and they were sure I hadn't, so I carried on with them for a little bit, chatting away before I realised their pace was too high for me and I let them go on ahead without me at Wandsworth Common.

Memory fades again at this point a little until I saw signs for Earlsfield and recognised bits of local territory and I motored on towards Wimbledon Park, through the building site mentioned in the race briefing which meant I was at about the half-way point and on into the park, around the kiddies play-park, alongside the lake and then down the side of the athletics track where I'd set my 5km PB only 4 days earlier.  Check-point 3 hove into view and I chatted to MrTOTKat a bit about my stiffening right quad, sore feet and achey glutes which had come on noticeably since check-point 2, and dropped off my buff as that was making me too warm too now.

Digging the empty bottle out of the holder - attractive pose!

I ditched the empty bottle, drank half of another bottle and went on without a bottle for the next section of the route.  And this next bit of the route was going to be nicely familiar, but I knew it would be muddy and a detour from my usual routes across/around Wimbledon Common.

Brooks Pure Cadence
Asics - Fuji Attack
I did go off course just past the windmill as I missed a low-level Capital Ring sign, but realised really quickly, swore a bit until I saw it and set off down a steepish, muddy descent.  The mud had begun in earnest and this was the section that made me worried about footwear for the previous two days.  Trail shoes?  Road shoes?  I'd plumped for road shoes in the end because most of the course is on pavement, tarmac, gravel or paved paths and my cushioned trail shoes (Asics Fuji Attack) are appreciably heavier than my cushioned road shoes (Brooks Pure Cadence).

The next part of the route across Wimbledon Common and then across the A3 (where I bumped into @abradypus who very kindly stopped me from heading off on totally the wrong heading at the junction) into Richmond Park was very muddy.  Very very muddy bridlepath at the beginning, then once in Richmond Park just a boggy field in which I lost my right shoe right at the first edge of the field, accompanied by a sucking-popping sound from the mud and a loud squeak from me.  From here on in, my already abraded feet were scraped further by the gritty mud that got squeezed into my shoes and socks in this section.  My feet were soaked through and I squelched on through Richmond Park.

I got complacent following a few other runners up the little hill and we all missed a left turn just past Jubilee Plantation.  After a while my Garmin yelled again "off course!" but I couldn't see a path so assumed I'd just plotted the route from the leaflets in a way that disagreed with the signs (which had happened a few times before so far).  But when it got to over 500m off course and we were coming up on one of the park gates I was certain we were all wrong and off course by 1/2km.  We agreed on a route to join the course that seemed sensible (and didn't end up short-cutting) and we all trotted onwards towards the river and the Richmond check-point.

Once alongside the river, it got really really busy; loads of people out for a Sunday afternoon stroll with baby buggies, pushchairs, toddlers in tow, low-slung bicycles, sit-up-and-beg bicycles, scooters, couples strolling hand-in-hand... a normal busy Sunday by the river.  I let the other runners I'd got a bit off course with go on ahead as they were quicker and then we crossed the river again and I was alone.  But I started to overtake people.

Check-point 4, the last checkpoint, 24.5 miles into the 31 miles  and I was sore and it looks like it was showing (though I was slowing to walk when this photo was taken so I could pick up water).  And here I made a big mistake and didn't realise it for a little bit.  I just picked up a half-full bottle of water and ran on with it.

The next stretch was really quiet, long and impossible to get lost on even when it diverged from the river and then dove into Syon Park.

See the line of trees to the right of the red line? That's where the path is...
I had "fun" in Syon Park as I followed the "Ur" stickers along the tarmac road, running on the right as you do when there is no pavement.  There was a little path a good 30-80m from the road at varying distances along its length, but I figured that the stickers were along the road and there was no need to run further than I needed to, so to speak.  The traffic handled it perfectly fine, as it should, until a very angry woman driving in the opposite direction gesticulated at the path and yelled at me to get on the damned path.  I ignored her as long as I could and then cracked and flipped her some Vs.

Under the A4 and down the canal a bit, waving and "good afternoon"ing the boaters along the tow-path, over the river again and overtaking a good few more people who were now walking even on the flat, my legs were really starting to get pretty sore but my feet were drying out, but the worst part was that I got thirsty.  I drank the rest of my water and still had a little way to go.

I realised I'd need to beg for some water from someone else and started to check every bicycle that went by for bottles; there were no other runners in sight.  And then I found someone... who had water and plenty of it left and kindly let me have a drink, then filled half my bottle with it.  I could taste something faint and sweet in the water and asked what was in it.  I feared the answer (it could easily have been a carb mix), so the relief was immense when the answer came "Nuun tablets".  Phew!  No sugar!  I thanked the guy and trotted on as he was walking, but then he started running again and we ended up running together around the massively frustrating paths/bog/quagmire of Brent Lodge Park and then Brent Valley Park and stayed together, chatting along as I counted down the distance still to go.

Frustrating, looping part of the route.
Steve, as was his name, was in quite some discomfort and was grunting with the effort of each step and I joined in occasionally on up or down slopes and steps as my right quad was by now really quite painful.  The OK kind of pain though, the pain of use rather than injury.

Things were really sore now for me too and every time there was a little hump-backed bridge to go over a stream, or steps up or down or a little slope became very difficult.  It was hard to control the descent more than the rise, but the rises were difficult too.  We were so close to the finish and for the first time I had mild thoughts of wanting to walk.  But I wanted to finish in under 6 hours and do as well as I could with the fuel and fitness I had.  Steve and I encouraged each other on in our own ways, his more vocal than mine and I felt so much better after the water he gave me that I ignored the "go on, just walk" thoughts and carried on trotting.

Then we crossed that final road and saw the sign for Perivale Park where the athletics track and the finish line were!  We were so close!  We turned right into some trees and my Garmin announced we'd got to the finish a little prematurely, but we picked up another runner and headed for the track.  Steve ducked in through some more trees to the track and he and the other guy sprinted down the track to the finish, leaving me for dust behind them with nothing left in my legs but I still carried on running and ran over the line.

Me, finishing!
Got a medal and a goodie bag presented to me by Rory Coleman and I triumphantly produced the square of snickers I'd picked up at check-point 4 where I told MrTOTKat I thought I was in serious danger of running out of fuel as I was burning my heart rate too high too often.  It was untouched from check-point 4 and I'd not had to eat it, nor any of the nuts or salami I'd carried with me in case I felt uncomfortably hungry.

I'd done it.  51km on a breakfast of salmon, eggs and tomatoes with coffee and water with electrolytes while on the route.  No gels, bars, sweets, snacks from the check-points, energy drinks, cola or sugar in any form; no food or calories; just water and salts.  I didn't run out of fuel, I ran out of endurance strength/form/support in my legs.  And I felt fine!  Perky!  The lady who massaged my legs said I didn't look tired at all.  51km in less than 6 hours, at an average moving pace of 06:45/km.  3 PBs in 4 days - fastest 5km ever by 91s, fastest 42.2km ever, and longest run ever by 9km.  The only disappointment was lack of hot drinks at the finish and it was quite a big disappointment as I was really looking forward to a cup of tea.

My shoes and feet were caked in gritty mud...

But hey... I had a medal and I'm now an Ultra runner, no matter what people think about the 50km distance.

And thanks to MrTOTKat for making me a yummy dinner (bacon, eggs, tomatoes, cheese and no-carb "bread") that wasn't giving in to the the convenience of a Dominos pizza.  And for the fantastic support through the day, ferrying to and from the race through the awful traffic on the way back and being there at the check points with everything I needed at the right times and words of encouragement and pride.  <3

The results are out and my official time was 5 hours 51 minutes (Garmin which auto-pauses says I was on the move for 5 hours and 41 minutes).  I was 18th lady across the line of 38 that started, 178th across the line of 246 people that started, two didn't finish.


  1. Oh wow, that is amazing. I still gasp at the thought of 42km. CONGRATULATIONS xx

  2. Fantastic running and a great race report. Well done!

  3. Thanks ladies! I really need to focus on the 70.3 triathlons for the next few months now though and not get distracted by thoughts of going further towards the end of the year maybe.

  4. I am in awe, ultrarunner, you were phenomenal.

  5. @abradypus:- You weren't too shoddy yourself, young lady!