Race: Ultimate Trails
Elevation: 14,000ft ascent/descent
Location: Lake district
It’s fine, it’s ages away
I can’t remember exactly when I signed up for this race, or indeed how I came across it, but on one rather uneventful day in the office, I signed myself up to run the Ultimate Trails 110km footrace.
At the time of booking, the most I’d run in one sitting was 33 miles…but I had months to prepare for it. I’d make sure I was in tip-top shape and fully prepared for the event. Ha, how many of us have fallen into this trap I wonder.
2 months to go
From the moment the event was entered, the 110km was to be the longest race of my summer. But first, a 50 mile over the South Downs in April to help me on my way.
After bumbling happily to the finish of the 50 miler, I moved to Scotland the following week and I decided to take a bit of a break from running long, taking up road biking in the meantime. Weeks slipped by, and I could not find my groove to get out on any long runs. To cut a long story short, I didn’t run for more than 2.5 hours more than two times between April’s 50 miler, and the UT110. Whoops. Big whoops.
Yes, no…maybe so
I knew I was being a moron with race prep, but I just couldn’t find the desire to run long. I’d just have to deal with the consequences on the day – whatever they might be.
In the lead up to the race I oscillated between: ‘Ah it’ll be ok, I always seem to manage on the day…the 50 miler was pretty straight forward’ and ‘Oh shit, I’m seriously underprepared for this’.
I’d told my parents that I wasn’t sure if I would do it. I mean, I’d need to book trains…buy waterproofs…get off my arse and run…urgh, what an effort.
It was anyone’s guess if I’d actually get to the start line.
To make matters worse, UT110 was on the day of one of my closest friends’ wedding day. Talk about decisions.
6 weeks to go
Around 6 weeks out from the event I messaged my mate, Luke, who was also running the UT110. The message went like this:
A day or so later, he called me and said that I’d be fine. After a few minutes of chatting and some infectious enthusiasm, and I was back in the game. Ish.
4 weeks to go
I had to buy my waterproof trousers for a fell race that month anyway, so I figured I’d probably run the UT110 in the end.
My mum remarked ‘Ah, so you’ve bought your waterproofs…does that mean you’re going to the lakes then?’
I still couldn’t commit to a yes.
‘Dunno. I’ll see nearer the time’.
It’ll be fine….Bricking it…. Not running it…It’ll be fine…Bricking it….Not running it. Ad infinitum.
2 weeks to go
Oh hello there doctor’s surgery, I’m normally too stubborn to visit you, but since I’ve been frogmarched in my by boss, I suppose I should behave. Chest pain, oh holy smokes, chest pain like no other.
I have an irregular heart beat anyway, so I was prepared to give it some time and see what.
5 days in, and after being woken up in the night and having to clutch my chest throughout the day, my boss found out and forced me to the doctor.
This wasn’t at all what I’d hoped for in the run-up to the race…but I was almost glad that I might have a legit excuse not to bother running.
Acute oesophageal reflux was suspected. Medicine was prescribed. I took it for a few days and then stopped.
Questions, questions, and concern from my parents.
‘I dunno, I’ll see nearer the time’ was the response muttered.
1 week to go
Well sod it, the trains were booked, and I’d not had the chest pain for 5 days…I might as well go and give it a bash.
If worst came to worst, it would be a DNF. A DNF would be my own fault, but I was ok with that. After all, you can’t always fly by the seat of your pants.
I’d decided to start tapering from the Tuesday, but until then, it was training as usual.
48 hours to go
It’s 11.30pm, and I’m still sat processing accounts in the office. Trying not to cry with fatigue or fall asleep at the desk, I wonder how the hell I’m going to manage the next few days.
But finally, after 6 hours of sleep and nearly 60 hours on my feet at work that week, it was time to get the ball rolling.
24 hours to go
I’ve been in the middle of nowhere on a Scottish island for a few months, so when I reached Glasgow it was like feeding time at the zoo.
Hell yes I was having that fat-ass burrito. A glass of prosecco? Why not.
Sometimes, even when we know we’re dancing a fine line, we continue to dance.
6am rise. Bloody brilliant. Thanks body. Couldn’t you have just slept in a little longer? Apparently not.
After 2 trains, a car ride, some nail painting, and as many Starbucks coffees as I could fit in, I arrived at the campsite at Rothay Park.
It was raining, and I couldn’t see the top of any of the hills. But so far? So good.
Apparently the weather was to turn around later on, so no sweat.
8 hours to go
Stood patiently in line was a whole mixture of candidates waiting to have their kit checked. The kit list included:
Full waterproof body cover, top and bottom (note – jacket to have a hood, windproof is not sufficient), Head torch & spare batteries, First aid kit (to include minimum blister plasters, bandage and zinc oxide tape to secure dressing), Spare base layer top – long sleeved, Hat & gloves, Whistle, Mobile phone (fully charged), Emergency foil blanket or bivi bag, Emergency food & drink (minimum one power/muesli bar and 100ml water – additional to your general nutrition i.e not to be eaten during the event).
First off was the kit check.
Hand now inked, it was time to pick up the race number.
The process from start to finish took no more than 10 minutes.
Great, plenty of time to relax and get some kip.
6 hours to go
Do I need to eat? Do I need to sleep? Do I need to poop? Should I do all three? In which order? What do I do with myself right now?
I’ve never started a race at midnight. Sure, I’ve run overnight before (and misjudged my fuel and had terrible stomach-ache for the whole run), but nothing like this. It was like being in no-man’s land.
I was exhausted, but unable to sleep. I felt like I’d spent the entire week eating, and frankly, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep for a week. Either that or just hurry the hell up and get started.
The wait before an event is always more nerve-wracking the race itself. And thankfully, since I was there with a few friends, they reassured me that I was not alone.
4 hours to go
At 8pm we had the race brief: carry all your kit; be quiet going through villages; if someone gets badly injured, stay with them; cut-off times; have a great time. Thankfully there were no nasty surprises. The only change was that the race was to start at 0015 instead of 0000. No sweat. The race organisers were really thorough, and also reassuring with regards to cut-off times. This race is simple apparently, you just have to keep moving forward. I’ll keep that in mind when I’m hanging out my arse at mile 60. Cheers bro.
2 hours to go
Shorts or tights? Thermals or vest? UD vest or Salomon vest? Hair in braids or hair in a pony-tail?
Sh*t is getting real.
The waiting game: some play it better than others.
Despite having not worn it with my race vest, I wanted to wear a singlet for the race. It was a risky move with regards to chafing, so with the help of my buddies and one of the marshals – Alexa – I taped my shoulders and back to the high heavens. I then returned the favour for my buddy Luke. We looked fly. Super fly.
Nothing else to do now but to rest up. And sneak a few more squares of flapjack. Oh how the latter would bite me later.
By this stage I’d given up on the notion of sleeping, so I lay in the tent and waited for the alarm to go off.
30 minutes to go
I’m still changing my clothes. I cannot decide what to wear.
15 minutes to go
At the start line was a real mixture of emotions. Looking around at the other runners there were smiles, frowns, laughter, photograph poses, photo-bombing, pocket munching, farts, underwear de-wedging, shoelace tying, final adjustments, and some pre-race friend making. It was quite a spectacle.
Through no conscious effort on my part, I ended up at the front of the pack at the start line. Arriving late, I thought I’d joined the back of the pack, but we were promptly shepherded over to the start line, and I was right up at the front.
Standing at the front would normally have been a daunting prospect, but I figured the race was long enough that people would do what they needed to do in terms of pacing and overtaking. It really didn’t matter where I stood. 110km is 110km. At the start or at the back, I wasn’t out on the course to win it, and there was enough space around me at the start of the course for people to overtake me if they needed to. So there I stood, just wishing the horn would sound.
Anxiously waiting, I was stood next to my friends, plus two ladies I hadn’t met before. Bizarrely one of them knew someone – another runner, whose brother I have raced against, and who is a friend of my boss – from the island. Small world! Both ladies had run the MdS. Although this initially made me want to laugh with despair about why I was stood on the start line at all, we were all taking on the same course, and we were all apprehensive about how the next few hours of our lives will unfold – MdS or not.
With tension mounting and Garmins beeping, it struck me how ridiculous the whole affair was. It’s 0010 on a Friday night (well, Saturday morning), and they we were, clad with our head torches and funny little back-packs. For a brief moment I felt a pang of envy for people who were in the pub with their friends, or tucked up on the sofa watching a movie. You know, the normal way to spend the start of a weekend.
But those feelings dissipated as quickly as they arrived. What is the use in doing the norm if it doesn’t make you feel excited to be alive?