Holy Carp My First Ultra Marathon!


Well I know it’s been a long time since I wrote anything here and I’m sorry about that, especially to those who have recently followed only to find I’ve added no new content. Last Summer I was just so busy with work and never really had the time.

So what’s new? I still run. More than ever in fact. I’ve ran a couple of marathons, the last one being Edinburgh, UK with a half-decent time of 3:36 but I can’t say I trained particularly hard for it, which probably explains why it killed me!

These days I rarely run on the road, and spend all my time running in the mountains and boy I’ve had some crackers!

Despite the all out discomfort of Edinburgh, I’ve discovered that marathons are not long enough for me. Enter the ultra-marathon. I like to push myself physically and see how far I can go before I fall over, plus you can walk in an ultra 🙂

I have always been inspired by the ultra and fell running legends, such as Scott Jurek, Kilian Jornet, Dean Karnazes, Andy Mouncey, Joss Naylor, Kenny Stuart, Jasmine Paris and especially Nicky Spinks and really wanted to experience what they experience. Again, pushing  my endurance to its limits. I’ve spent hours and hours reading all the books, and scouring all the blogs for inspiration and looking for a good first ultra. I’ll come back to this.

Initially I started following a training program, but I disliked the rigidity of it and wanted to make my own decisions and run when I felt like it, anything up to 50 miles a week when I was ‘in the zone’, but all the miles were mountainous so by the end of the week I was exhausted, but I felt I could go for longer due to the varying terrain. So although my distance per week wasn’t massive, I was making great gains in strength, physically and more importantly,  mentally. My shortest runs in the mountains tend to be around 8 – 9 miles anyway, yet even these can be very tough; the Snowdonia mountains can be very unforgiving. In November alone I climbed a total of 10,600 metres / 34,776 feet over 16 runs.
The other issue I’ve had was fitting runs around work, as what I do is very physical (I’m a mountain and mine leader) thus after work I never had the energy to get out,  but I counted all  the work days as ‘time on feet’. I ran home after one such day, fifteen miles in the dark. Normally this distance is not a problem for me, but I was absolutely destroyed by the time I got home and could barely stand up. Which then had me questioning my ability. Doubt crept in. I rested for a week after this.

I’ve also been nursing a constant, niggling injury. In May 2016 I went to a friend’s wedding and whilst ‘dancing’ I went over on my ankle so badly I could not walk (I’d only had four pints, which is a lot for me!). Typically, I partake in a dangerous sport but hurt myself dancing a bloody jig!? From then on, I have struggled with it. Some runs I’ve had to walk down hills due to it or my fear of going over on it again, which I did on a run around Snowdon. The following video gives you an idea of how much pain I was in and I did it going uphill! :

It has felt persistently weak over the months and I am so bloody stupid for not sticking to my strengthening exercises! It’s not too bad now and I can go down hill faster/like I used to but I am still always on my guard. I think  the mountain running though has actually helped to strengthen it. Running on the road in highly cushioned shoes probably didn’t help. Thing is, there’s never been any swelling or redness. Yet when it goes, it really goes! So much so that I’m worried that too many more and the tendons will be stretched past their limit and it will break. I’d still hobble off the mountain though, I’m stubborn (stupid?) like that 😉

Over the past year I’ve tried different shoes with varying success; my La Sportiva Bushido lasted the longest so far at over 750 mountain kilometres and although a tough shoe, a little too snug and terrible on sloping grass and mud; then a pair of Adidas Kanadia TR8, not bad but only lasted 270 km before splitting and I’m now on a pair of Invo8 Roclite 280 at 32km, probably Inov8’s longest running (pun intended!) and reliable model. For lightly technical trails such as the Coed y Brenin Half I run in Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3, a highly cushioned trail shoe, think Hoka. These shoes will be used at my ultra this weekend, which I said I’d get back to didn’t I?

So I spent a lot of time researching ultras in the UK, and particularly Wales, where I live. I didn’t want anything over difficult technically, but I knew that a 50k/30 miles off-road wouldn’t be long enough for me, as I know I can already do that having run the Snowdonia Trail ‘Marathon’ (most of us measured it at 28.8 miles, technically making it an ultra) but I didn’t want to push to 50 miles. So, I found something in the middle; a 42 miler on steady terrain from Brecon to just outside Cardiff, in South Wales. So, this Sunday the 19th February, I will be running (and walking!) the Brecon to Cardiff Ultra and I’m now really looking forward to it. With it being my fist official ultra, common wisdom is to just aim to finish, however, I would be happy if I can complete it sub-8 hours. But as we know, things could go drastically wrong for me; all sorts of variables enter the fold over this kind of distance. Injury, fatigue, incorrect fueling, mental games…

As far kit goes, well I’ve ensured I’ve got everything I need. I’ll be running with a 10 litre Salomon sack with a 2 litre bladder full of High5 Electrolyte with all the mandatory required clothing/gear. For fuel I’m using a combination of Ella’s Kitchen baby food (as it’s all natural, really nice and easy to eat on the move), cold-pressed Paleo bars and a few squares of jam and peanut butter sandwiches for extra solids. All this will provide me with my required 60g of carbohydrate and hour. The bulk of the weight will be food! I will be using caffeinated gels in the latter stages of the event to keep my brain sharp.

I’ll have a drop bag at Mile 22 with a change of shoes and clothing, plus re-stock of food if the weather craps out; the Brecon Beacons in February, be naive not to think it won’t! For the first half I’ll run in my Skechers Ultra 3 and in the second, my Hoka Bondi 4. I’ve done my research on the route and the second half is largely on surfaced terrain; basically, the route follows what’s known as the Taff Trail through the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park and is steadily uphill to Merthyr Tydfil then gradually downhill to Cardiff.

In an attempt to prevent blisters and chafing I’ll tape up my little toes as they often get tucked under the adjacent toe and I may even cut a small section of insole out just so the little pinky can drop down a little. Any body who knows about Hoka shoes  will know they are notoriously narrow; my feet are not super-wide, but I did go up a half-size for the Bondi 4. During Edinburgh, my feet fared quite well with nary a blister. It took me a very long time and lots of cross-referencing reviews before I bought a pair, especially as there are no stockists near me. The Bondi 4 help to roll the feet back to front quite nicely, plus they make you about a foot taller 😀
I’ll also be wearing Injinji toe socks (think gloves for your feet), but probably not until I change into my Hoka. Vaseline is also a godsend to prevent chafing on toes, insteps, heels and any other skin-on-skin areas. Also nipples, NEVER forget to protect your nipples! And later on today I’ll be sorting my feet out; cutting toe nails, and filing them down to remove sharp edges (always file towards the ground) and yes, shaving my legs! Why? Because I’m weird and I hate hairy legs plus I’m a road cyclist so for vanity reasons it’s got to be done! 😛 😀 Besides, my calf compression tights slide down when I have hairy legs.

All that baby food and natural bars made from dates are likely to cause me gut trouble, so never forget your loo roll and baby wipes folks 😀

The weather can be a major make or break factor too in long distance events and thankfully, the weather for the Brecon Beacons on Sunday looks pretty ideal. The forecast I use is generally pretty accurate so check this out MWIS Brecon Beacons Forecast . Although I’m aware some sections of the trail are muddy, rain plus lots of feet could make these areas a nightmare, especially for the runners at the back.

My strategy will be to run/walk as will I suspect most peoples’. The key is not to hare off from the start and get caught up in it all; run your own race folks or you’ll f**k yourselves up for the latter half or even before then. Catching those people up and over-taking them because they’ve gone too fast from the start will give you a great mental boost. ‘Powerhike’ the uphills and run gently down them. Get into the ‘ultra shuffle’ which even I’ll be doing, especially in the latter stages!

Fuel as much as you can but not so much you end up with gastric distress. I’ll be drinking every 20 mins combined with food. Remember that your body should be able to tap into initial fuel reserves at a very steady pace for around 90 minutes, anything after that glycogen is needed to keep you topped up. Or you WILL bonk or hit the wall and for those that have not experienced this, it is not nice. If it happens to you, take a break and eat and drink. Don’t be afraid of walking; you’ll be surprised how much this can perk you up but be warned, it can be a mental game to start running again. Us mere mortals couldn’t complete an event like this without doing so, but it does take discipline to do so; just because you’re full of energy at the start does not mean you should run everything; save your reserves. Break the race down into small distances and if (or when) you do have to play those mental games, even focusing on things in the near distance will keep you moving forward. One foot in front of the other.

Don’t feel tempted to sit down at the aid stations as you may not get up! If you are aiming for a time, refuel and move on. As you arrive get your bottles/hydration bladders ready so you are not faffing when you arrive; you don’t want to hold up others either.
If you have food in your pockets that isn’t the leaky type (so not gels) open the tops of the wrappers. It sounds silly, but when you are knackered, even little things like that will make your life easier. And don’t litter! If they came out of your pockets full they can go back in empty; there’s no excuse for it!

Anyway,  I need to get my things together and sort myself out. If you have read this and you are participating in the ultra on Sunday, then I’ll see you there and all the best and enjoy the thing! I may do a couple of on-the-move VLOGS as I go and once I feel human after finishing, I’ll stick a report up on here.

Pob lwc am Gogledd Cymru!

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4 thoughts on “Holy Carp My First Ultra Marathon!

  1. Got a few folk in the village here who do ultra marathons, lots of admiration for you all. Must take a huge amount of obstinacy? Running has never been for me much, but when I was younger I did the 70 wild miles, cycling, canoeing and running, was reasonably fit after & running in Norway over the mountains and reindeer moss became a real delight.

    1. Cheers Fossil. I think you’ve got to be stubborn AND a bit abnormal to put yourself these kinds of things. I thoroughly enjoyed and am working on a write up of the event 🙂

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