Some thoughts on the West Country Hilly 50 ultra race.
I suppose I was a bit blasé going into this race - mainly because I was using it as a "Training Run" for the South Wales 100 mile race that I have booked for June (22nd).
I hoped to be able to run this 50 miles "comfortably" and still have something in the tank with the thoughts of running another 50 on top. How wrong I was! For fear of "stating the bleeding obvious" 50 miles is a bloody long way!
Also, I was a little nervous because I feel like I hadn't fully recovered from Newport Marathon 2 weeks hence; I had a large blister on the ball of my right foot which hasn't fully healed (although it wasn't painful to walk on) and I had spent the previous week hobbling with a dodgy hip.
It was a beautiful sunny cloudless day at the start of the race, on the seafront at Minehead. This is a very low-key affair, with only about 20/25 runners and the start was very relaxed, people chatting and awaiting the race director to give us a briefing before a 10:30am start.
The route follows the coastal path for a while before heading inland, up to the highest point (Dunkery Beacon), before looping back and returning to the coastal path and back. This was a last-minute change to the route following some problems with land-ownership or permissions with the original route, but as I hadn't done the race before it didn't bother me. And it meant that the 3 aid stations would be visted twice, once on the way out, and again on the way back.
The first 5 or 6 miles were great, running along the coastal path quite often in the shade of some trees meant that it wasn't too hot. There is a big descent down Bossington Hill at around 5.5 miles and I thought this would be fun coming back up at 45... good training for Pen Y Fan ascent on the SW100. I reached the aid station at the bottom of the hill (mile 6) in good spirits, grabbed a few cherry tomatoes and baby potatoes and pushed on.
The second aid station was at 8.5 miles, so quite close to the first one - I didn't really need anything, so just had a quick water refill and pushed on. It was getting warm now, out in full sun. At about 13 miles in I made my first Nav error - even though I was following the trace on my Garmin, at a fork in the road I took the right fork instead of the left. As I wasn't too far off the line I figured I would just rejoin a bit further ahead. Unfortunately it started to go further off-course and required a drastic adjustment down through some woodlands to rejoin the course. For some reason being off-course caused me some anxiety and my heart started racing, almost like a panic attack. Of course it's not really possible to get lost with a Garmin trace on the watch but I was annoyed with myself for being off-course.
Aid station 3 was at 20 miles and I was starting to feel a bit queezy at this point. I gulped down a bit of water melon, some coke, some water and plodded on towards the big climb of the day at Dunkery Beacon. It was at this point just beyond the aid station that I vomited - entire contents of stomach released, and plodded onwards. The climb was horrible, slightly off-course but heading in the right direction again caused me some anxiety but managed to get back on course and get to the top. When I got to the top I had to have a sit down for 5 minutes trying to give myself a talking to. To make matters worse a bystander at the top decided it would be a good idea to have a chat with me about running - i'm afraid i wasn't in a good space and I think he eventually got the idea and left me alone. I pushed on again and vomited again, actually this seemed to make me feel a little better. Another competitor passed me and asked how I was, and gave me some kind words of encouragement to carry on. Another group that I bumped in to reminded me that earlier in the day the Race Director had christened me "ultra-beard of the race" and therefore a DNF was off the table. (I was serioulsy considering packing in at this stage - I was less than halfway in and feeling terrible.)
I jogged down the hill to the halfway mark, chatting with a few other competitors and death-marched back up the hill towards the turn off back to aid station 3. I had run out of fluids and with a very dry mouth struggled into the aid station and had a lie down. When I got back up I felt very light-headed and almost fell over! Had a sit down for a few minutes and the kind lady at the aid station put some cold water on my hat, I had my bottles re-filled one with water one with coke, ate some more water melon and a handfull of nuts and continued onward.
At this point about 30 miles in I actually started to feel a little better. I stopped worrying about nutrition, the terrain was a little more forgiving and I was able to get into a comfortable jogging pace for a while. However, long before the next aid station I had again run out of fluids and was parched by the time I reached there at about mile 38. I refilled my bottles, one with water one with coke, grabbed a pretzel and continued, again feeling quite good and jogging at a comfortable pace. It's fairly flat between here and the final aid station and I made good time, made 1 slight Nav error but nothing drastic and reached the final aid station feeling Ok if a little zoned out. The guy at the aid station asked me if I would like my face wiped down and I just looked at him blankly - I just couldn't process what he was saying to me. I asked him to repeat himself, apologised for being zoned out, refused the face-wipe, grabbed a few baby potatoes (which I couldn't eat) and cracked on for the final leg.
The big climb back up Bossington Hill wasn't too bad, got to the top just as the sun was setting so stopped to admire the view, and get my headtorch out ready for the final few miles.
I was still running at this point and overtook a couple of people, managed to run the final few flat miles into HQ and was quite pleased to be told I was in 10th position.
SO in summary:
50 miles is a long way, not to be taken lightly!
I fucked up my nutrition (again), didn't eat anywhere near enough. (See list below).
Suffered badly in the heat, ran out of fluids on a number of occaisions.
Managed to finish (relatively) strongly, ran most of the last 20 miles.
Hokas rock! Apart from a pre-existing blister (from Newport Marathon) my feet were fine (ok a tiny extra blister on ball of right foot).
DID NOT feel like running another 1 mile at the end, never mind another 50!
From my own supplies:
x2 Mr Tom bars
x1 energy bar
x1 pack of Shot Blocks
From aid stations:
x3/4 slices of watermelon
x2 baby potatoes
x3/4 cherry tomatoes
x1 small handfull of salted nuts