by MTD Elite Athlete E. aka. 'Bambi'
I like to think that leading up to this race I had done most things within my power to prepare well and control the controllables. However just a few hours before picking up my race number and the start of the race, life decided to test me as I had a car crash that wrote off my car, well and truly throwing my head into chaos. Knowing the mental strength long distance running requires I really couldn’t fathom getting my shit together to run my first ultra marathon. SO regardless of the numbers that the race produced (pace, distance, elevation and finishing position) it is the resilience that I didn’t realise I had that I’m most proud of. It is getting to the start line, with the correct kit, executing my race strategy, not being a twat in the first half and not being a baby in the second half (thanks to Yanks for that sentiment) and having an absolutely brilliant time, that I will remember far beyond the numbers. Of course the stats makes things sweeter, but knowing I can put in a strong run like I did on Saturday after being reduced to a feeble little shrimplet a few hours before is certainly worthy of a pat on the back.
Vale of Glamorgan Ultra
32 MILES ALONG THE WELSH COASTAL PATH
So… the race itself was just shy of 55km, with 647m of vert, 450m of which came in the last 10km. Just what you want when you’ve already run 45km… to be hit with a 10km section with an average gradient of 4.5%, top bants. Sorry let me rephrase that, savagery, complete SAVAGERY. I completed the race in 4 hours 42 minutes, which is well under what I was expecting. I was thinking somewhere between the 5 - 5 hours 15 minute mark. But to go so far under 5 hours is a complete shock. Pacing and strategy went well, BOOM. I stuck to my own plan, didn’t listen to some of the other comments of runners “she’ll slow down after the 30km, we’ll see her again at Nash Point” - umm no you won’t PAL! I finished with absolutely nothing in the tank which is what I wanted, I gave it my all and pacing wise I wouldn’t change a thing.
Whilst racing I do try and keep profound thoughts to a minimum and truly zone into Radio E (my fictitious radio station that keeps me motivated on long adventures). That being said a few things did blast through my mind and I went through a whole spectrum of emotions. From complete elation, despair, anger and full circle back to complete joy. Starting out I felt like Mo Farah, with the quickest most elegant running stride in the world, like I could run continuously for days.
I wondered what pain and tiredness could even feel like because at this point I am the ripest banana of the bunch.
I was really reserved for the first 10km, going through the split in a steady 50 minutes. It was at this point that I overtook the front 3 ladies and that was the last time I saw them until they finished. An hour in and that initial lightness and freshness started to disappear. I remembered that in fact I don’t have an infinite source of energy and strength. Time to start managing the situation, take on some haribo.
I then went through the first 21km in 1 hour 41, which prompted the man I was running with to say “you know the terrain is going to get a lot harder, right?”. Thanks for the concern PAL, but I think I’ll be ok (he finished 1 hour 32 mins after me). I’m still thinking it’s going well, I’m loving it, but there is a longggg way to go and doubt slides into the dm’s of my mind. Radio E does a good job at stamping out that doubt by playing some gnarly 80’s and 90’s classics on my playlist named ‘Ear Fuel’. Yes Belinda, heaven is a place on earth, it is the Welsh coastal path don’t you know. Probably time for more haribo.
Sea to the left. Land to the right.
ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER.
0km in. There’s something strange about 30km in a marathon race. It is the final ‘chunk’, you’ve really broken the back of it. I like 30km, it says to me ‘you’ve got this far, you may as well finish now’. However when you still have 25km to go, 30km in terms of time was only the half way point. Thoughts at this point included ‘I’m 30km in. Cool. 25km to go’. That’s it. Nothing else going on up there.
42km in. Marathon complete, look at watch, 3 hours 32 minutes… sawweeettt. But I’m tired, so it was time to take on something other than haribo. In going to do so I find that I dropped everything else food wise out my pack when I took off my jacket. O great. Thoughts now include; ‘it’s getting hard’, ‘how on earth am I going to get through 13km’, ‘I know longer resemble an elegant elite runner but an agitated walrus slapping its way across the beach’,
‘yes Kenny I would love to cut footloose but right now my legs don’t have the energy to kick a daisy, never mind kick off my sunday shoes’.
45km in. O look, I can see a man in the distance, I haven’t seen anyone since 22km. Good to know the race is still going on and this isn’t just an elaborate prank.
48km in. 7km to go, are you serious? That is the longest distance in the world. 7km, have I ever even run that far without my legs hurting? It is impossible!
50km in. How have I only covered 2km in the last 11 minutes? Why is time moving so fast and my legs moving so slowly? What kind of ridiculous matrix am I suffering through where space and time no longer make logical sense? And WHY O WHY do my feet feel like they are being shredded over the edge of a sharp grater?
50.5km in. An outpost, YES I need something fresh, please some fruit. The sight of a haribo will make me vom, don’t show me haribo. Orange segments, please quench me and be the elixir of life I need. Just one orange segment and I will never want for anything else in my whole life. ‘E approaches outpost stage right, there is no fruit at outpost’. NO FRUIT. What kind of amateur establishment is in operation here. I couldn’t hide my disappointment, the words that came out my mouth ‘NO FRUIT, WHY THOUGHHH?!?!’. Probably slightly aggressive (read as ‘very aggressive’), but with 3 miles to go I was in the hurt locker.
An orange segment would have been just a little ray of juicy sunshine to help me through.
53km in. I swear this race was meant to finish now. Why am I still going up hill? Three of my toes just ‘burst’ like when you eat a cherry tomato… this means the newly formed blisters have just popped and are now a raw bloody shredded mess, lush, ideal.
53.1km in, seriously now where is this finish line, gravity has got exponentially stronger and the pull to being horizontal is overwhelmingly strong.
- 53.5km in. MAKE IT END. DEAD.
53.6km in. I love running, I am amazing. I am so overwhelmed with the love of life. Even this grass looks like the most beautiful grass I have ever seen.
- 53.7km in. I hate this, this is dump, what is the point, I’m burning these shoes, deleting my strava and get that dog out of my way I’m not moving off course, MOVE IT.
53.8km in. I wonder when I last watched Mrs Doubtfire? That movie is jokes.
- 53.9km in. I love running so much, I am at one with the outdoors, I am queen, I am so happy.
54km in. Can I even remember a time when I wasn’t running?
- 54.1km in. I have mash potato for legs. But... I see people, loads of people and cars and I hear music that wasn’t created in the 90’s, it’s the finish line.
The last few hundred metres to the finish line, I tried to put in a surge of effort. The kind of surge that in my mind made me think I would rival Dina Asher-Smith in a sprint contest, but in reality was more like a one of those dreams where you are running at full gas but you don’t move anywhere.
A glorious run.
On a glorious day. In a glorious place.
As soon as I crossed the finish line by legs wanted to buckle and my mind was surprisingly blank. I’d lost my mind a little in those last 5km in an attempt to completely empty the tank. I stumbled through the finishing area feeling half drunk and half like I was sleepwalking. Fist bump from JP (obligatory) and a big squeeze from Jez. Then I lay on my back and just stared at the blue sky for while. It was still, it was beautiful.
Ultra running is one crazy sport, it is your mind that triumphs.
One of my biggest weaknesses is a lack of belief in my own abilities and something one of the MTD said to me before the race really helped me. Whilst I was thinking about the potential outcomes of the race, I said ‘ I’ll probably do well unless some crazy speed demon like Julia turns up’. (Julia is my super talented team mate, who incidentally stormed to her own victory on the same day). The point I was making is that, I’m a good runner but I am not elite like Jules. I will never run close to the splits that runners like Jules throws down, I know that. But the reply to this worry was ‘But E, to someone else YOU are their Julia’. The point being that actually it’s all perspective and that I have to be grateful for the speed and talent I have in my own right without always comparing myself to others. Those words really helped me when I was doubtful of my ability to continue, thank you.
To finish, a simple sentiment really. I adored this race. It was in Wales, on a beautiful day, with amazing support throughout. It was simple ‘keep the sea to your left, land to your right and put one foot in front of the other’. I learnt a lot about just how much other people's confidence in you can impact on my own performance. I’m not sure what’s next. I have a busy few months coming up so for now I will just keep adventuring, smiling and enjoying the outdoors.