Can I be Ultra?
Updated: Jun 15, 2018
By Nicky Jenkins
If Carlsberg did Ultras... oh no, wrong beer.
I would really like to share my experience with you from the Heineken - Threshold Sports - Race to the Tower event last weekend (9th & 10th June 2018), however, I have totally struggled as to what I want to write and how I should approach this.
I don't want to give you a blow by blow account of my 2 marathons in 2 days as I think that would be entirely tedious. Running long distances seems to equal a lot of time spent in your own head and I'm not sure that's a place anyone else needs to be (in my head). Or, if it's a particularly thrilling place to be in my case either. Things like;
"B@ll*$ks, the f@*king cows are blocking the stile", (seriously aggressive cows I might add)
"oh holy mother of f@*king god, another massive hill, FML", (the hilarity of the Heinekin motivational posters - see below),
"it's so F@*king hot I'm melting!",
"my blister f@*king hurts", (which the man in the Med Tent said was tiny and to basically stop being a baby, but it was really huge)
"where the f@*k is the next f@*king pitstop?" (at this point running with only one shoe on, as my tiny blister had popped and my shoe was too painful and I thought the pitstop was slightly closer, by about a mile and a half, than it actually was).
[I swear a lot in my head]
On day 2, I spent quite a lot of time visualising myself crossing the finish line, the emotional euphoria (*lack of sleep) of floating under that blow-up Finish barrier, crowds cheering, the sense of accomplishment, tears, achieving something you never thought you could. Yes, I was running and crying at the same time. Several times. Just imagining getting to the end, I wasn't even at the end yet! Crying. Give yourself a shake Jenkins, come on.
And then there was the excitement of counting down the numbers on the gates and stiles (there are 160 of the f@*kers throughout the 52 miles and they are all numbered) and the little jokes at the start of, "only 158 to go", (not quite so funny when you see number 137 and you realise you've still got f@*king ages to go). All the time watching the mile markers steadily (or not so steadily) pass by, ...another one bites the dust.
So, apart from the sweariness of inside my head, what do I want to share with you?
I chose Race to The Tower as I was coming out of injury, had no idea if I could run 2 miles never mind 52 and I was blown away by the fact there are so many options. This is the perfect event if you're just not sure where your capabilities lie and I will highly recommend it.
You can do the Non-stop 52 miles (a real Ultra)
or the 52 miles over 2 days, back to back marathons, "Weekender" (pretend Ultra) - and there's camping included
OR just fancy running the one marathon? no problem - you can do it on the Saturday OR the Sunday, with or without camping.
Just want to do a 13miler? No worries, that's possible too.
The cut off times are really generous too so the event accommodates walkers and runners. Perfect! So, I knew if training didn't go to plan I could at least fast march my way around.
I opted for the 2 back to back marathons, "Weekender" option and camping. 52 miles in 2 days. No pressure.
I stayed over in Evesham the night before (unfortunately with some rather noisy party guests in the room next door). Got up at 4.30am to eat breakfast (porridge in a pot and instant coffee) and then drove to the Finish at Broadway Tower where I left the car. Then it was a Shuttle bus to the start where I dropped off my luggage to be taken to the overnight camping. They also offer a shuttle bus from the finish back to the start at the end of the race, if that's where you'd prefer to leave your car - again trying to cater for everyone. When I reached base camp after my first day of 26 miles, the tents were all up - you just collect your wristband for tent allocation (after drinking your free non-alcoholic beer), pick up your camping mat and go find your bag. Food was plentiful also (and very tasty).
The tents are numbered and colour coded to save any confusion, or embarrassing moments!
The showers were very clean (continuously cleaned throughout the day) and well needed after a hot sweaty run. Even the Portaloos were restocked with toilet paper and cleaned up overnight. After a restful sleep (twitchy legs, camping mat, flip floppers passing the tent at 3.30am) I was up at 4am, breakfast at 5am in the food tent, pack up the belongings, put the overnight bag on the truck, and an early set off for the next 26miles at 6am. Brilliantly organised.
My bag was there ready for collection at the finish, and of course the car was right there too, waiting, ready for the log and arduous journey home.
"Just take it a mile at a time and eat, eat, then eat some more" Gavin Coventry - best advice ever.
After all, Ultramarathons are just "eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in", Christopher McDougall
The PitStops were frequent (every 6 miles or so) and really well stocked. Even so, I always carry my own trusty snacks. Although this is the furthest I have ever run, I have done other endurance events and through trial and error I have found the foods that suit me best. This generally consists of pork pies, party sausages, salt & vinegar pringles, Chia Charge Bars and Babybels. General rule of thumb, don't try anything new on race day. I did have a chicken sandwich at one of the Pitstops and bananas, watermelon and oranges throughout the two days, but I think as these are things I normally eat I was OK. It was the odd quinoa bars and dried fruit, packets of things I'd never seen before that I avoided. I also steer clear of gels until the latter end of a race. I have seen too many people with their stomachs in turmoil for caning them, too many or too early on.
The only other thing I tried 'New' was Flat Coke which is now my favourite racing thing. It's brilliant for killing bugs (from dirty, sweaty hands) and for sugar and caffeine. Buzzing.
What can I say? I had to listen to my body on the way back from injury and just do as much as I could whenever I could. I incorporated strength work and rehab/mobility into my routine, using swimming as my cross training. I mostly managed a few short runs per week, and my longest run prior to the event was 11.5 miles.
I would not advise anyone to tackle 2 hilly marathons on that amount of running training, but my body felt strong and robust and I knew if I got to the start line, there was no way I was not making it to the Finish.
I just slowed down a bit, followed the Maffetone Method, filled my face with food and tried my best to keep trucking on. The key to completing 52 miles is to take your time. I walked the uphills, and jogged as much of the downs and the flats as I could; no PB's, no clock watching, no pressure - enjoying the beautiful views of the Cotswold Way.
The slogan for Race to the Tower is "MORE IS IN YOU", and the levels of determination I witnessed over the weekend blew me away. Your joints might ache, and your feet might hurt, and your muscles might not want to work but somehow you just keep on keeping on. The atmosphere and the camaraderie among competitors was fantastic.
Never put boundaries on what you think you can achieve.
I think the roller coaster of emotions I went through emulates the route profile, up and down. There were moments of magic, moments of fragility and pain, and total shock at the end that I'd made it to the finish. Joy, elation, relief. It's still sinking in today. Me? I did that? How did that happen?
We each have a true and remarkable potential and the human spirit is an indomitable force.
So, after managing the 'Pretend' Ultra, I guess it's time for the big question, what's next?
Can I be 'Real' Ultra?...
You can find all the results from the event HERE
A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who sponsored me to raise money for Mind charity.
Also, I couldn't have done it without all the support of friends and family, personally and via Social Media, helped by the Pic2Go system which was uploading official race photos into a Facebook album, on to my page, for me while I ran, so people could watch my progress!! The wonders of modern technology!!