On 1st March this year (2014), I’m doing my first official ultra marathon – the 46 mile Green Man Ultra in Bristol. Over the last 4-6 months, I’ve clocked a few 50+ mile weeks, averaged about 40 miles per week and pretty much every run is at least 7 miles. I’ve done some back-to-back runs and quite a few 20+ milers too, but up until yesterday the longest run I’d ever done was 30 miles.
Now I know there’s no need to run more than about 30 miles when training for a 50 (ish) miler, but the reason I’ve got into the distance running is because I love the thought of getting somewhere in a run – going from home, and completely under your own steam ending up somewhere quite a long way away. You get the time to look around and enjoy the journey and the satisfaction of getting there all on your own.
Back in October, I had the idea of running to a distant train station so I could get home again. I live near Poole in Dorset, and I’d run to Christchurch a couple of times (17 miles or so) and got the train back, but I wanted to push it further. I looked at Brockenhurst but it didn’t add that much distance on, and then Southampton, and then slightly jokingly looked to Winchester.
It takes the fast train over 1 hour to get to Winchester, so it really is quite a long way away. However, I’d had previous experience with the city of Winchester, having cycled 75 miles to work once when I worked in North Hampshire, going a nice (ish) route through the New Forest, Romsey, Winchester and on to Basingstoke. So that was it then – I had a destination, I had a route, and I had just about enough lack of sense to seriously contemplate it.
With a long run like this, I think it’s worth doing some planning. You don’t want to get into the run and something to go wrong that could have been easily foreseen but ends up stopping you early.
At Christmas, I upgraded my Garmin watch from a 310XT to the new Forerunner 620. The new watch is great (I’ll write a little review soon), but it lacks any routing capability, even the basic features that the 310XT has. So, a few weeks ago I got myself a bargain on an eTrex 30 – a great little GPS that fits nicely in the palm of your hand and you can download 1:25000 Ordinance Survey maps onto. Using the Garmin Basecamp PC software, you can draw out your route, download to the eTrex, then while you’re running you get a track line overlaid on the OS map to show you exactly where you’re going:
The route I planned went from my home near Poole, along the Castleman Trailway to Ringwood. From Ringwood, I’d take the Avon Valley Path up to Rockford, then through the New Forest to Stony Cross and on to Nomansland. From there, I’d head to the A36, then down some back roads to Romsey. A bit of a toddle through the back of Romsey and then through Ampfield Wood to Hursley, and finally up to Oliver’s Battery and down into central Winchester and the train station. And here’s the actual route map from my Garmin after I’d run it:
I wanted to give myself something to look forward to at the end of the run and being a classy kind of guy I decided I would run to Winchester Kebab House which happens to be right next to the station. Then after my 40-something mile run, I could gorge my way through a greasy doner kebab and get a couple of cans of “reassuringly expensive” Stella Artois to drink on the way home. After all, if I’d just run all that way, I figured I could pretty much eat what I wanted! 🙂
I’d split the route into 5 chunks so I had 4 “Checkpoints”:
- Home to Ringwood: 14.7 miles
- Ringwood to Nomansland: 11.9 miles
- Nomansland to Romsey: 8.0 miles
- Romsey to Hursley: 6.5 miles
- Hursley to Winchester Kebab House: 4.7 miles
Making a total of 45.8 miles (theoretically). It wasn’t intentional, but the distance for each leg dropped along the route which was really nice – knowing by the last checkpoint I had less than 5 miles to go.
I stuck this lot in a spreadsheet and played around with the figures a bit:
I knew I could run the bit close to home while it was dark without any problems, so I set a target to get to the end before the sun went down. With a reasonable start time of 0630, that gave me around 10 hours, which equated to around 13 min/mile pace.
My mother lives near the New Forest and she wanted to help out so we arranged that she would meet me at Ringwood Waitrose (CP1), drive past a few times in the New Forest to say hello and check I wasn’t dead, and then bring some food and water to Nomansland.
For long runs, I use a Salomon S-Lab 12-litre hydration set, which can hold a surprising amount of stuff and is supremely comfortable. I love this bag – it’s got about a million pockets on it, with quite a few on the front straps which means I can easily get access to things without stopping. Here’s what I took with me:
The kit above is:
- Lightweight hat
- Plastic bag with some money and bank cards in
- BodyGlide (look it up if you don’t know what it is!)
- 6 flapjacks (5 Fabulous Bakin’ Boys Chunky Flapjacks, and one “Sports” Flapjack) and 2 chewy bars
- 6 SIS Gels
- A ZipVit Protein Recovery Bar
- A tin of drain-free garlic and chilli tuna (!)
- Beef Jerky
- 2 disposable hand warmers
- Some toilet paper (… just in case, you know!)
- Garmin 310XT (20 hour battery life)
- Head torch
- Zinc oxide tape
- Spare batteries (for head torch and GPS)
- Handheld torch (blue, by the batteries)
- Waterproof jacket (Montane Minimus)
- Running gloves
- Lightweight peaked cap (the peak keeps the sun out your eyes)
- Camera (Pentax WG3-GPS)
- 2 pairs of headphones
- MP3 player (Sansa Clip +)
- Spare socks
- Arm warmers
- 1.5 litres of water in the hydration bladder (with an electrolyte tablet added)
- Foil blanket (comes with the Salomon bag)
I’ve never done a run this far before, so I wanted to make sure I had enough! I couldn’t quite managed to squeeze in the kitchen sink, but I think I got pretty much everything else 🙂
I had my MP3 player, phone, camera and GPS in the main front pockets, as well as 2 gels and 2 flapjacks in the smaller pockets on the front. Everything else went in the various pockets in back of the pack – the plan was to have enough easily accessible in the front between each checkpoint, and as I’d stopped I’d replenish the front for the next leg.
The temperature was due to be between around 4C and 8C for the day, so for clothing, I wore:
- Brooks Vapor 10 shoes (I decided on road shoes as most of the route was on road or hard trail)
- Hilly compression socks
- Karrimor running tights
- A black long sleeved thermal base layer
- A bright fluorescent yellow t-shirt on top
- Hat and gloves
And we’re off: Home to Ringwood
The alarm ting-a-linged at 0540 and woke me from a surprisingly good sleep – I honestly hadn’t expected to sleep much as a run like this is a pretty big deal for me! I got up and had a bowl of porridge, 500ml of sports drink and a coffee. I’d packed my bag and got pretty much everything ready the night before, so after slapping on some BodyGlide (which worked very well) and getting everything on, I was ready to go with plenty of time.
I set off just after 0630 with Radio 1 on my Sansa, munching a banana as I ran up the road.
I had my Garmin (showing me elapsed time, distance, lap pace and overall pace), so I could keep an eye on how I was running overall, and how I was running for the current mile so I could make minor adjustments as necessary. I made a real effort to slow down and try not to go any faster than 10 min/mile to start with.
About 2 hours in, I was approaching Ashley Heath on the Castleman trailway, feeling really good. It’s amazing how much better things can feel when you deliberately run slowly. I’d been constantly drinking little sips of water from the hydration pack, and so far eaten a banana, flapjack and energy gel despite not feeling hungry. I was pretty sure that the key to this was to stay hydrated and make sure I ate enough so that at no point did I crash.
I went over the railway bridge entering Ringwood on the Castleman Trailway at a little after 9am – around 2.5 hours from when I started. The fields around were pretty flooded from the recent heavy (continuous!) rain:
And entering the town, it was obvious just how much rain had fallen:
I got outside of Waitrose and met my mother who was waiting for me. We quickly went around the shop and I got a pasta salad, a packet of salt and vinegar Kettle Chips, a few bananas and 3 litres of water. Outside, I filled my hydration bladder back up to the top, added another electrolyte tablet and munched on a flapjack. We were going to meet up again at Nomansland in a little under 12 miles where I’d get my pasta salad and some more water.
Ringwood to Nomansland
Off I went up the Avon Valley Way, finishing off a banana as I ran. The route from Ringwood runs through some houses then out through some paths across Blashford Lakes which is very picturesque, although I was a little worried I was going to meet some impassable floods and have to find another way around. I was lucky and got to Rockford without any issue, then followed the road up into the forest.
One decision I’d made before leaving was that I’d walk up any significant hills – whether I wanted to or not – in order to conserve energy for later. This is a pretty standard practice among ultra marathoners, as you burn a lot more energy running up a hill but you don’t really get much in the way of a speed advantage when you take into account that you’re much more tired by the top. The first few miles of the forest bought the first few hills, and it was nice to walk for a bit (when I say walk, I am meaning a fast 14-15min/mile walking pace, not a leisurely dawdle!). My mother drove past a couple of times, cheering out the window which is both frightening when you’re not expecting it, and encouraging once your brain realises you’re not about to be run over or shot.
Once you get up the hills in the New Forest, you spend a while running on a narrow road over a very flat landscape (see above). You can see a long, long way, and this can be a little annoying when you never seem to get any nearer to where you’re aiming for! After a few more miles, I turned left onto the road to Stony Cross. This road used to be the runway for an airfield from 1942 to 1948, and whilst it’s great for landing planes on, again you get that sense of not actually moving when you can see the end miles away but never seem to get any closer.
But get there I did (eventually). Taking a left and continuing for a mile or so, I realised I was slightly unsure of the route up ahead (there was a fork and I couldn’t quite remember which side I had to take). This was the point I started using the Garmin eTrex and paying a bit more attention to the route. The front pockets made the GPS easily accessible, and I had position and maps in my hand without stopping running. I then had an idea and spent about 5 minutes of running fiddling around to get a “distance to next checkpoint” display. Moments like this take your mind off the running, and as long as you watch your step to make sure you don’t trip you can happily twiddle around with electronic gadgets while running along slowly 🙂
A few more miles brought me to Nomansland. The entrance to the village was a pretty steep hill down and having run around 25 miles at this point, my quads were not entirely happy about this descent and I wobbled, staggered and grimaced my way into the village.
And here we had a small technical issue with my support… My mother was nowhere to be seen! I stopped and took my bag off, and decided to eat the tin of tuna I’d brought with me. I packed it half jokingly, but despite having to eat it with my fingers it was absolutely delicious after 25 miles (ish) of running. I’ll definitely be packing those again. I emptied some rubbish from my bag, set the eTrex up to get me to Romsey, and after about 10 minutes I was starting to get too cold so I sent a text to my mother and headed off. 2 minutes later she called me back, and it turns out she’d got a bit confused with timing and hadn’t left home yet!
Nomansland to Romsey
Still, these things happen, and I could either let it really get to me or come up with a plan to get around running low on water, so I opted for the latter (after a little bit of swearing). I ate a “special” sports flapjack (one that was actually marketed as a sports bar) which was very nice and actually pretty filling, then turned on to the A36 where I spied a BP garage. From there I grabbed a bottle of Lucozade Sport drink and a packet of salt and vinegar McCoys crisps – that was the thing I was craving back at Nomansland (I’d been a bit worried about losing too much salt). Outside the garage, I realised I should have stashed some money in a front pocket as then I wouldn’t have had to take my backpack off before going into the shop. With crisps and drink in hand, I continued my way down the A36 munching on the crisps and carrying the drink as I ran along the road. I turned off the A36 onto a quieter road with no pavement and followed the excellent information on the eTrex.
It seems when you get close to Romsey, it starts getting hilly. I switched from running to walking again and started up the hills. At this point I was around 30 miles in, and when one of the blisters on my little toe went pop it was pretty painful.
When you embark on a run like this, you have to believe you’ll get to the end. You have to have the mindset that you’re not going to give up unless something physically drops off or snaps. And it genuinely didn’t really occur to me that a painful blister should stop me going for the next 16 or so miles. And as long as you think like that, it doesn’t.
About this time, my mother called and I managed to tell her which road I was on so 10 minutes later she appeared, driving by and yelling out the window (which made me jump again!). I didn’t really feel like eating any pasta, but I did fill up my water to the brim again and nick the packet of salt & vinegar crisps she had in the car for me. For the next few miles I ran and walked up the hills, cursed at cars going too fast and close, and eventually popped out onto a dual carriageway which I had to run down the side of to get into Romsey.
Passing over the River Test, I entered the town, ran through what seemed to be the high street getting a few odd glances as I shuffled my way along, then turned out at a junction opposite the train station.
Romsey to Hursley
Just under the train station at Romsey, my watch signalled 36 miles. I was well and truly into new running territory having never run more than 30 miles in one go before. And what really surprised me was that I felt pretty much OK. Tired… yes. Aching… a bit. Sore toes… yep. But no worse than I’d felt on plenty of 10 or 15 mile runs in the past.
Just as I was getting seriously annoyed at the lack of any kind of pavement in the Romsey area, I turned into Ampfield Wood. I was delighted to be on a nice track and not have to worry about cars. The nice trail went on for about a mile then just as I passed 38 miles it followed round to the left. I carried on round, then glancing at my GPS realised that I should have gone straight on, so doubled back and took the correct path.
And that’s where it began. Full path-width mud. Soaking, shoe-sucking clay mud. I tried to avoid it along the sides for a few metres, but it was futile. I tried to just skirt through the shallower bits figuring it couldn’t go on for long. Oh boy, was I wrong. Every bloody corner I went around brought more of the same. And the muddy water soaking into my shoes and socks was making the burst blisters on my feet sting like crazy. I passed over a few nicely made tracks, only to re-entry the boggy quagmire immediately on the other side. Mile after I mile I went, shouting (literally) swearwords out every time I saw more mud!
Finally I went through a plantation of soaking muddy grass underfoot and out on to a road. It was delightful to be back on solid ground! And then the GPS told me to turn into some woods, and immediately I was back on a soaking wet track. Aaaaarggggghhhh! Another mile of wet mud, and I was out of the trees (where I promptly turned around and gave the whole of Ampfield Wood the finger in a crazed “fuck you” dance!). The last half mile was over a wet, grassy path, and eventually out into a school at Hursley (where I hoped the students hadn’t just seen my offensive little dance to Ampfield Wood half a mile up the path!). Finally, I was back on solid, wonderful, pavement, and I knew from here there was no more mud!
Just as I entered Hursley I went to take a sip from my hydration pack and found it was empty. Great timing, as there was a post-office in town and I bought another 1.5 litre bottle of water. I refilled the bladder, gobbled down another half a flapjack, offloaded the empty in the butchers shop and got going up Port Lane – the long road from Hursley to Oliver’s battery.
Hursley to Winchester
Over 40 miles in, and I was happy to be walking up the hill. I was still surprised at myself, at how I still had enough energy to be walking, let along uphill at a fast pace. Still, Port Lane is a bit… uphill. It seemed that it just kept going up, and got steeper towards the end. The mud through Ampfield had taken quite a bit of time (and energy I supposed) away, and after a few miles I was beginning to yearn for some downhill to make sure I could get this done within the 10 hours. In fact, I just wanted the run over with! Not because I hated it, but because I wanted the joy of having finished. It was so close, but still felt like a long way away.
Entering Oliver’s Battery, a couple of runners passed me. I shouted a jolly “Hello!” to them, and they responded with a muted mumble as they easily ran past me. I’ll be honest – I was hoping they would see an epic ultrarunner and ask what amazing endeavour I was undertaking, and I could watch them be amazed as I said I’d run 45 odd miles… but in reality they just saw a sweaty bloke walking up a hill and got past as quickly as possible (which is what I would have done!) The road kept getting steeper, but eventually I got to the top and went down a footpath, across a main road and started gradually dropping down towards the station. Less than 2 miles to go and I was feeling pretty excited.
The final long downhill section into Winchester was hard work. I tried to run as much as I could, but downhill isn’t easy on very tired legs! Actually, running isn’t easy on legs this tired, but downhill brings a whole extra set of challenges, the main one of which is not to fall over. But I was so close… I crossed over the final main road, up a small hill (or mountain as it felt like) and over the bridge right next to the station. I giggled hysterically in the realisation that I had actually completed it as I took this photo from the bridge:
There we go. All done! Once I’d actually completed the run, I just stood in front of Winchester Station entrance grinning and probably scaring the commuters a bit. I went in to try and find the toilet, but was told I needed to buy a ticket first (very helpful), so I went for a wander down the hill a little to Winchester Kebab House – the intended destination of my run. Standing outsidethe shop, sadly the last thing I wanted to eat was a doner kebab. I went into the off license next door and bought the two cans of Stella that I’d promised myself I could drink on the train on the way home (double classy!), and walked back up to the station.
I bought my ticket – £13 with a discount card, which made it feel like a really long way!
Waiting on the station platform, I quickly got very, very cold so slightly self-consciously I went into the waiting room. I was covered in mud and sweat and definitely somewhat “fragrant”, but I was probably going to die of hypothermia if I waited outside for the next 15 minutes until the train turned up.
The train eventually arrived, and it was pretty busy. Again, I didn’t want to make anyone have to sit next to me so I sat myself down in the vestibule next to the door, took a photo of my watch and spent the next 1 hour 18 minutes on Facebook and Twitter on my phone, catching up with people who’d replied to my various tweets along the run.
I checked my bag when I got back to figure out what I hadn’t eaten, so over the course of the 47.5 miles I ate and drank:
- Porddidge and 500ml of energy drink over the 30 minutes before I left
- 4 Fabulous Bakin’ Boys Chunky Flapjacks
- 2 SIS Energy Gels
- 1 Sports Flapjack
- 2 Packets of Salt & Vinegar crisps
- 1 tin of Tuna with Chilli and Garlic
- Approximately 4.5 litres of water
- 500ml of Lucozade Sport
Looking at the list I’m quite surprised. In total, I reckon there’s at most around 2300 calories (including the porridge and drinks), which doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough. Although I felt good on that run, it may have been more down to eating a fair amount over the couple of days before, and I think I’m going to have to work harder to get a few more calories in during long runs like this to make sure I still feel OK towards the end.
About the only thing that caused me problems immediately after the run were my little toes. The blister on this one left quite a painful mess (apologies for the photo!):
Facts and Figures
Here’s some numbers. The data freak in me wouldn’t let me get away without a section of numbers…
Total Distance: 47.46 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 9 hours 48 minutes (12:16/mile)
Running Time (according to Garmin Connect): 8 hours 52 minutes (11:13/mile)
Elevation Change: +520m, -528m (+1706ft, -1732ft) – pretty flat for 47.5 miles!
And here’s a graph showing my pace (in blue with the scale on the right), and the elevation (in green with the scale on the left).
And for those of you feely particularly nerdy, here’s my splits, along with elevation gain/loss for each mile (in metres):
|Split||Avg Pace||Elevation Gain||Elevation Loss|
A couple of days after
I started writing this post on the day after the run, but it’s quite a long one and I’ve been busy so it’s now almost a week after the run.
Friday (the day after) I honestly didn’t really ache much. The biggest problem was the blisters on my little toes, and the balls of my feet felt very bruised. This led to quite an odd way of walking/staggering (for anyone who’s watched “Person of Interest”, think Harold’s walking style).
By Saturday, all that was left hurting was the blisters, and on Sunday I went for a run. I managed 4.5 miles, the first mile at 07:41 which is fairly fast for me at the moment. I did slow down over the run (partly because it was boggy and wet on the heath, as it has been for every run since early December), but I definitely felt spent by 4.5 miles.
Monday, I had another day off running but on Tuesday I went for a 6.5 mile walk in the morning without any issues.
And today is Wednesday. I think I’m pretty much mended now. The little toes are still a bit manky but I think they’re pretty much mended so I’ll keep them covered during runs over the next week or so. If I wasn’t busy tonight, I’d be going to the running club (Poole Runners), so instead I’m planning to go a bit later and run a few miles off road in the dark with a good friend of mine so we can both get some practice in with our head torches!