One of the strangest aspects of training for ultra running is the idea of running marathons as training runs! They are still a distance to be respected every time, but it is an enjoyable experience to run an organised marathon event as a training run, without any time pressures, but with the support from checkpoints and the company of fellow runners making it a lot easier than covering the same distance on your own.
I am fortunate to be fairly local to the Great Barrow Challenge race series and often use them as a training race. Although their courses generally involve a bit more road than I would personally choose (and this route was in fact all road), they are so friendly and well organised that they keep me coming back every year.
With 4 weeks to go until the Lakeland 50 I had had another hard week of training, so was pleased to find that my legs felt fairly fresh. It was already getting warm at the 8am start; a sign of the 29ºC heat to come. Although it is very welcoming for first timers, the GBC mostly attracts an experienced field of marathon and ultra-marathoners, and I amused myself checking out the different race T-shirts on display and getting ideas for future races!
The early part of the course wound it’s way through the picturesque countryside to the south of Newmarket, with plenty of hills in the first few miles. I ran most of these at a steady pace to avoid working too hard, only walking for the occasional sip of Mountain Fuel from my bottles. The first checkpoint was scenically located by the duckpond in the village of Ashley and it was tempting to linger in the lovely shady spot. I pushed on though and settled into a good steady rhythm. A lot of people were mixing running and walking in the heat and so for a while I would yo-yo with them as I jogged along, before gradually pulling away.
After the hills of the early miles, the route became gently undulating as we headed south towards the villages of Lidgate and Wickhambrook, following quiet country lanes. Amazingly I was treated to the sight of a badger crossing the road just ahead of me – I think the first time I have ever seen one.
I felt very strong for the first half of the course and was tempted to push on a bit faster, but as the sun rose higher I decided against that idea. It became a constant battle to stay cool and I was delighted to come across someone washing his car on a driveway who let me use the hosepipe to drench myself with water. I was running in the shade wherever I could, but there was little respite now with the sun beating down directly overhead.
At the final checkpoint it was fantastic to find buckets of water and sponges provided and another soaking was just what I needed to give me the impetus to make it to the finish. Part of me wanted to pick up the pace, but the heat was so energy sapping that I settled for plodding along. As I entered the final mile through Barrow village I was passed by another runner for the first time in about 15 miles and this gave me the incentive I needed. I speeded up to try and stay with him and kept him in sight all the way to the line.
I had planned to pace myself to finish in around 5 hours and in the end finished in 5 hours 1 minute to round off another 60 mile training week. We were very well looked after at the finish, with buckets of water and sponges provided as well as drinking water, and the organisers keeping an eye on everyone in the shade for at least five minutes after finishing to check for any problems.
I now have 4 weeks before my goal race at the Lakeland 50 and am taking things easy this week, before heading to the Lake District next week to run the course over a couple of days as my final preparation. Then it will be time for two weeks of taper before the buzz of the race itself; I’m starting to get excited!