Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Double or Nothing Ultra, (The DoN) Beyond Marathon

What is The DoN?

10 mile + 500m ascent Friday 11AM
20 mile +1000m ascent Saturday morning 11AM
40 mile + 2000m ascent Sunday 8AM
You run it and have lots of fun in the process!

Finish day 1 and start day 2

Mainly off road around Shropshire, competitors are entered to all 3 stages, accommodation in two YHA hostels in some stunning locations, food provided and well stocked checkpoints at 10 mile intervals, a huge winners trophy (or miniature version for all finishers), lots of friendly runners, seamless organisation, fantastic support crew and another great event by Beyond Marathon.

The course was a secret only to be revealed before each stage however the route profile was released in the incredibly helpful event notes sent out before hand with all the juicy details for those folk who like to be really organised! I did manage to predict the majority of the hills involved in the route just from a blank course profile and some prior knowledge from studying the map of the area for the Apocalypse 100 mile back in May however that didn't really mean a great deal as I still hadn't been over most of this course.

There was some excitement meeting runners on the Friday evening as we had dinner around 7pm ready to digest before a team of taxis deployed us runners up near the hill named the Wrekin near Telford. We gathered in a secluded car park about 11pm in the dark and very misty conditions awaiting the start. From the profile it looked to be uphill for 1.5 miles then downhill or slightly undulating for the remainder.

I set out at the front with a relaxed pace up the hill to see what other runners might make of it and had 2 runners with me Billy and Jack, with the mist and darkness it was difficult to tell what was going on I tried to run as straight as possible on what felt like the track and before I knew it we were descending. It was difficult to tell where the path was going in advance until lower down I couldn't hear anyone behind any longer and I cruised down following the odd bit of bonus reflective tape set out for us to follow. Suddenly I popped out onto a country lane were Wendy was scanning us all through to make sure nobody got lost up there for the night.

The view from the Wrekin Summit!... Yep it's dark!

Looking back at the Garmin I sat between 6 and 7 minute miles as I ran through the cow fields, tracks and country lanes aside from fumbling around once or twice looking for a stile that was being concealed by a large black cow and missing a turning and having to back track slightly I made it down to the cycle path that would lead us to the final bridge crossing before the finish. As I ran over the bridge and made a sharp turn I was about to jump down onto what looked like a path when Richards reflective vest caught my eye crossing a small bridge. I then realised the path I was about to jump onto was actually a canal covered in algae with some sort of floating bird nests that looked like benches! That was close! I scanned in and hung around with Richard who decided to bring the finish a littler shorter to prevent anyone jumping in the canal!

1hr 17 min for me, with 2nd place Jack rolling in strong at 1.38 and a crowd of runners in the one forties. Next stop the hostel kitchen to feast on the goodies left out for us and sharing stories from the nights run!

Briefing/ route tips day 2

Stage 2
A casual morning involving breakfast and another chance to catch up with other runners before the briefing around 10.45 and race at 11. I moved off the start line and led along the canal path and off onto the tracks and trails for the 21 mile stage. There were some undulating bits on to the first cp which was about 11 miles, everything felt good and navigating the route wasn't too bad as long as you had your eyes peeled and paid attention to the line on the map! (We had really detailed route descriptions including maps along with gps data to follow for those with gps)

A quick hello at the cp to the fantastic crew before running on the gradual climb towards Brown Clees (which turns into a pretty stiff climb) we had been given the additional task of remembering the name of the poet who had written the poem engraved onto the summit stone! I took a moment to admire the view which was a bit cloudy, although I didn't fancy lingering around until the cloud cleared, I pressed on down the hill. With apparently a good gap behind I took it steady down the descent and on to the end with a few rougher fields and some fiddly foot paths around said fields to negotiate. The course was a couple of km longer than I expected and although I've stayed at the Wilderhope Manor YHA before I was expecting to be able to see it from a short distance away at least and starting to wonder where it could be... suddenly it appeared over the crest of a field and that was that! 2.46 for 34km. It was 55 mins before second place came in closely followed by another 3 runners and then a steady flow of finishers over the next couple of hours. The ladies race lead changed hands with only 1 minute separating the 1st and 2nd going into the final stage!

Day 2 overnight location

Plenty of relaxing going on over the afternoon and then there was an optional orienteering mini challenge mountain marathon style! Only myself and one other runner took the challenge so we decided to run together an easy 8km some of which I'd run before on the Apocalypse, collecting equal points to share some prize vouchers!

After that dinner time once again with a couple of helpings of lasagne fuelling up ready for the ultra quiz that evening!  I was lucky enough to be part of the winning team ... maybe trawling through the internet looking for races to enter does have its benefits?!

Most runners took to their rooms after that ready for a slightly earlier start and a 7.45 briefing.

About 5 seconds after the start day 3

Stage 3
I had quite a light breakfast about an hour before and drank a couple of teas and some water. A couple of slow looking walks were present with the legs getting to grips with the previous days miles. The majority of my weekends involve back to back runs so I coped well and felt ready to run through another 40 miles in what promised to be a fantastic day. A quick calculation said if I ran 9 min mile pace I would be under 10 hours for the total race time... so that became the goal. I've an ultra on the Isle of Man this weekend followed by a 100 miler in Italy so without smashing the legs up, this sounded reasonable seeing as there was a few hills dotted around the route (and undulating for the rest ;) )

A fairly easy start following the driveway then onto the Wenlock Edge for a few miles before some nice descent and a gradual climb up to about 400m and a short ridge overlooking Church Stretton and the valleys around and about, shrouded with mist below the blue skies. Fantastic photography weather! I kept it steady on the descent down into the first cp where I had a quick chat before heading off steadily through the fields towards the climb up onto the Long Mynd passing the glider air field.

Once up on top it was a fast section passing a few people out on an orienteering event and cp2 before a fast tarmac descent down towards the A49 just north of All Stretton. Hopping over the style into a field to see a bull rubbing its horns against a tree was just what I was hoping for and I glanced around eyeing up potential escape options like the telegraph pole at 50 m and the gate at the opposite side 100m away, thankfully no sprinting required!

A couple more fields and some nice tracks led us over towards Lawley where the final cp was awaiting around about 28 miles. I stayed a couple of minutes to have a few  cups of coke and take some water. It was actually a reasonably warm day especially for late September. Aside from a short uphill over Wenlock Edge there were no major climbs but just enough to keep it interesting. A nice final couple of km downhill before hitting the river and finishing at the Iron Bridge clocking 5.46 and a total time of 9 hours 50 mins for the 70 miles. 2nd and 3rd place coming in just under the 13 hour mark overall and 4th overall and 1st lady was Melissa who built up around an hours lead over 2nd lady on the final stage!

Cp3 day 3

There were some impressive performances all around! I even heard it was someone's first ultra on the Sunday! Pretty impressive after the previous 30 miles! Organisation and the event overall were fantastic, a great team behind the event and everyone was well looked after from start to finish! This is also the heaviest trophy I have by quite a margin! Jump on the website to see the results and other events coming up!

Finish and Trophy!

If you're looking for a gentle start to multi day races such as the AAUT (see the blog in July) or want to have a fantastic weekend away with some amazing and inspiring people, (with a bit of running too) definitely check this out!

Weighing in at 7lb the newest addition to my household!

No medals here! Mini Ironbridges!! Cool!!

Monday 8 September 2014

Gritstone Grind 35 Mile Ultra

Another fantastic Beyond Marathon event which was in its second running this year. The route is on the edge of the Peak District and links the train stations on Kidsgrove to Disley, 35 mile linear route, that seems to take in everything resembling a hill between the two points. Mow Cop, The Cloud, Wincle Minn, Croker Hill, Tegg's Nose, Kerridge Hill and Sponds Hill before dropping through Lyme Country Park and into Disley. There were 3 checkpoints and about 5 self clips between those.

There were some last minute places going about 2 weeks ago so I got a transferred place. I'd been out in Switzerland for a week hitting just over 100 miles with about 8000m of ascent over the days I ran but was feeling great and quite fancied the run! It's a similar thing to the Sandstone Trail over towards the other side of Cheshire. On the whole the route was easy enough to follow - if you were looking out for markers, the most difficult bits were if you came into a farm yard for example and there were multiple paths in a similar direction. Nothing too technical although I managed to overshoot a turning and ran back adding a measly 1 km to the distance. I hadn't recced the route although in 2013 I helped out at checkpoints and had run a few miles of the route also I'd passed by a few of the areas in other races around the area, so a couple of parts looked familiar.

An early start to drive to the finish in Disley where we registered, parked and where the post race feast was. A coach to the start for runners arriving about 8am and then there was a short time for people to get ready and warm up starting at 8.33. I ran a couple of km along the canal path we would start on and then there was a quick briefing before the off. Lots of friendly faces around and the perfect clear, sunny morning helped charge everyone up.

I set out at the front at about 4 min kms for the first 4km which was canal path, I could hear a set of foot steps behind so chatted to a guy Damien who seemed to be breathing very hard for the start of an ultra, we had a bit of broken conversation until the gradual first climb up Mow Cop which was fine apart from a cow that was in the single track path between two fences, I tried shoving it out of the way but it didn't really have anywhere to go so rather than mount it and risk getting DQ'd for getting assistance I slid under the fence and ran around in the field before rejoining the path, that was the last I heard off any other runners today.

Fantastic running along after Mow Cop, I was enjoying the trail and could see I was approaching the Cloud quite quickly. I recognised this section having run the Cloud 9 fell race route one day a few years ago and before I knew it I reached the cp at 9.5 miles in about 1 hour 8mins and 9 minutes clear of a small group 2nd - 5th. I find when I'm looking out for markers and running through new places I don't tend to notice the miles going by especially on such a nice day! Didn't really notice the gradual climb of Wincle Minn and moved well towards the transmitter tower. I looked back to admire the view and two heads moving up the track caught my eye, I was a bit surprised by this and increased the pace off down the descent... I glanced across and saw them clearly... turns out they had helmets on and were on mountain bikes... never mind! I had run a couple of km around the 2nd cp last year whilst cheering on a client of mine who did the race and I recognised where I was and moved well into the cp. I took some water as I'd drank my bottle by now and a few jelly babies and moved on up the next climb.

It was quite a fun section as we hit Tegg's Nose which was quite a good climb and lots of amused walkers as to what I was doing. Pretty nice area again and a good descent. I knew the cp wasn't far after Rainow although it was a little further than I expected and I'd forgotten about this ascent. Pretty stiff and I managed to jog it up with some pretty small steps with a small group of walkers passing a few comments on my mental state.

Passing the top of a shooting range was a bit daunting so I kept my head down and before long reached this big white thing, The White Nancy. After that a couple of undulations and I glanced at the watch to see what kind of time I'd be in for. I'd expected anything upto 5 hours and thought with 3 km to go I had plenty of time to reach the end in about 4.56ish .. as the kms passed what I'd expected them to I thought about the little out and back I did earlier that added me some distance and upped the pace even further to try and get sub 5.....

I rolled in 5 hours 1 minute... not seen the official results yet but it was almost 1 hour ahead of a group of 3 that came in joint 2nd and I was 14 mins under the course record. Some good performances all around on a surprisingly challenging course and a warm day. Post race involved laying in the sun all afternoon tucking into a fantastic post race food spread with lots of fruit!

As always a perfectly organised event and at £18 entry fee, probably cheaper than staying at home!
Look out for the Double or Nothing race in a couple of weeks!