15 October 2011
The location of this event is stunning. After a few beers in the hotel the night before, woke up to a lovely sunrise in Bamburgh. Remarkably I had had a good night’s sleep (from 9.00pm the night before!). Arrived at the check-in point at the castle and it was obvious this was going to be a cracking day. A really friendly bunch, I was surprised there were only a dozen pre-entries on the Ultra (Endurancelife events normally attract 100+). Some of the marathon runners were encouraged to upgrade on the day. Lined up outside for an equipment check – everyone had to have food, 1ltr water, foil blanket, hat, jacket, whistle, phone etc. Then we got on the bus with the Marathon/Ultra-Marathon runners for the drive down to Alnwick, but still in the dawn light (the 1ok and half mara runners had a different registration point). A right lean looking mob they were on our bus. I did not dare to open my gob, especially when the chat got round to “you need a dozen maras before an ultra” – or my favourite “I was in the pub last night and you could spot the runners; all looking seriously undernourished and drinking orange juice” – woops! At least one mara runner upgraded on the bus, bus no clue about final numbers.
We started off in a field beside Alnwick Castle and headed down towards the coast, mostly around the edges of fields and sometimes on tracks. As usual the first couple of miles saw me reaching for the inhaler as it took the lungs a while to settle down. At c. 3 miles there was a proper river crossing. Up to the thighs in lovely cold water – fine; rest of the race in wet sandy socks then……. Hilarious! I laughed all the way through as did the lad in front (Chris) who’d stopped to film me. Good fun. Once at the coast we actually spent more time on paths than on the sand (as I’d expected). I was surprised how hot I was and how much liquid I was taking on from the camelback.
I felt strong most of the way – ate less than I thought, and did not even take a carbo gel until about mile 18. Alexia met me at a couple of points and I took on-board water from her and at two of the check points. But then things started to get ugly. Three of us (me and two mara runners) were sent on a diversion after a stag party switched a sign – great…. an extra and unneeded mile through the dunes. That one could not be helped, but then it got worse. As I ran along the beach I could not see the cut-off point where the Ultra runners were to cut inland. I asked several people if they had seen it, including some half mara runners returning down the beach. None had seen it, but I was told there were at least four ultra marathon runners ahead of me, so I must be on track. I know from the Garmin I was not. Decision time; get lost in the dunes looking for a random turn-off or press on to Bamburgh and find out where I should have turned? When I got to the castle finishing line I was offered a marathon time. In turn I invited the kind chap to gratify himself and point me back on course. They were already talking about the problem. It appears ultra runners 1-3 all saw the cut while 4-7 did not – and most of the mara runners had not, though their course was simply up the beach to the castle. We were not grouped together so we all missed it independently, and I think the sign was kicked over or hidden. Anyway, my response to wishing to carry on went down well with some of the runners at the finish and I got a some big thumbs up and encouragement as I set off back down the hill for the final 9 miles (the guy before me stopped at the mara point, understandably disheartened). I came for an Ultra result and was not about to go home without one. In the end I came in 7th in the Ultra (might be 6th as only 2 of the 3 of us who did the extra miles were registered at the last ultra check point when I went through). I curiously enjoyed the last few miles, and especially took heart when I saw Alexia waving a can of beer at me from the battlements of Bamburgh Castle. Sweet encouragement.
I have been told that my detour did not affect my position, but not sure how many of the ultras behind actually finished the course or took marathon times. Certainly I was an hour more than I should have been. All in all – I don’t really care. I did my first Ultra, went longer than I trained for (36.5miles) and didn’t bail out when offered. James (the organiser who I’d previously robustly discoursed with) was really nice at the end and agreed such an important point in a race such as an Ultra split point sho
uld be marshalled or marked beyond interference. I think they’ll get that right next time. I’m just still on a high, and amazingly, can still walk! Next….?