Scroll forward four weeks from Snowdonia and M and I arrived at a field on the outskirts of Salisbury one Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago ready for my first ultra marathon. An ultra marathon is any distance over the 26.2 miles of a marathon. This one was 50k, which is 31 miles.
With only four weeks between Snowdon and Salisbury, and Yeovil having been only five weeks before Snowdon, most of my intervening time had been spent taking easy recovery runs and walking a lot, although I had done a pretty hot and hoofy 10k ish race with White Star- the Piggy Plod - a couple of weeks before. I therefore arrived at race morning feeling fit and rested and ready for a long run.
I had persuaded my running buddy Kate to come with me- this was to be her first ultra too - and we were both feeling a bit nervous when we met up at the start. It struck me straightaway how different the other competitors were to what I was used to. These guys looked lean, fit and tough: no messing about, no whinging, just get on with it. But they were also very down to earth and friendly.
The course was beautiful. It winds out of the city into woods and fields and high points in the Wiltshire countryside going past iron age hill forts, through country estates, past castles, through an ancient yew wood and over rivers.
I loved it. I had one dicey mile, 16 miles in, when my stomach started complaining (not unusual on long distance runs). It was hot and I suspect the sweets I'd eaten weren't the right thing to have had. I knew what to do though, so I slowed to a walk and walked the next mile until it had passed and I was able to run on again. The advantage with these long runs is that your body goes through various cycles on them, so it is perfectly possible to feel absolutely rubbish at one point, recover and go on to run the rest of the miles feeling strong.
I learnt a lot on this run- most of all about what kinds of food to eat and when (different from a marathon), and how to pace it properly- lots of walking, lots of steady running, walk up all the hills, take your time, enjoy the experience and the land, don't let the thought of the distance unnerve you.
By mile 18 I had recovered completely and was now properly warmed up and feeling really good. Kate was finding it hard though and I was determined we'd finish the race together having run more than half of it side-by-side, so we took it easy, stopped to refuel at the fuel stations and walked when we needed to.
M was running the half marathon and we wondered whether we'd see him. Just before the ultra and half courses split he came charging past in third place. We were made up to have seen him and grinned to each other about it for the next mile or two.
The course eventually winds back into Salisbury through the Cathedral grounds. A chap had stopped and was limping under the old city gate so while I waited for Kate I stopped to ask him if he was ok. It's my hamstring, he said, it always goes a mile from home. I asked whether he'd brought any salt with him and his reply was the defining and funniest moment of the entire day for me- no, he said, I only take it for the long runs. I glanced at my watch, currently reading 30 miles, and burst out laughing. He grinned back. I explained it was my first ultra and we had a laugh about the way running long distances regularly normalises them. Ultra runners are a different breed I think :o).
Kate and I ran the last mile together through the town, past bemused shoppers and people sitting at cafe tables, along the river past where the Russian spy and his daughter were found and back to the field where we'd set off, six hours before, to cross the line together.
I felt brilliant- still had energy left, could have run on further and had thoroughly enjoyed myself. The chap with the sore hamstring came over to give me a hug and congratulate me on finishing my first ultra, which just shows how lovely ultra runners are, and my dear father in law was also there at the finish (see pic above) full of congratulations. It was really special to run my first ultra with Kate too - I'm really glad we did the whole thing together from start to finish. Thank you, Kate for coming with me - who knows what we'll book after the next pub dinner, eh?!
When we got back to the car, there was a bunch of yellow roses and an 'ultra congratulations' card from M, who'd done brilliantly in his half marathon. I went home feeling happy, not particularly tired or sore and able to get out of the car without hobbling too much either :o).
Hope all are well,