The big one, after a lot of encouraging talk by people such as Robbie Britton, it was time to take on my first Ultra.
2013 was a big year leading up to The Druid Challenge. It involved ticking of 3 marathons in a year- London, Berlin and Amsterdam, Racing half marathons such as Surrey Badger (with finish line beer), Coastal Path 20milers (The R.A.T), Thames Path 20, and a few Parkruns. But it was all one big build up to my first Ultra.
The stats for The Druid Challenge are Day 1- 30 Miles, Day 2- 27 miles, Day 3- 28 miles for a total of 85 miles, with just over 2200m of elevation gain and 1 UTMB point. This is all well and good on paper but with getting lost and taking on extra miles, it was more like 90miles over 3 days.
This was something I was looking forward to a lot (just like every race) but I was ultra keen this time. After completing Berlin Marathon (2:37) and Amsterdam Marathon (2:43) in the lead up I was happy with the fitness and strength in the legs. However, running further than I ever have before, 3 days in a row was going to be a challenge and leaving the loved roads for the trail was added excitement.
A few weeks prior to the event I met Danny Kendall, who provided a few good words of encouragement and as always Robbie was able to provide some great advice through experience.
I was able to run the druid challenge for Humanity Direct, which is a charity organization with a difference. They are able to directly provide support and funding for people who need medical treatment, without using a middle man/ organization. Humanity Direct have direct contact with the hospitals performing life changing surgery and this allows all donations to be immediately effective. So the money raised was going to directly help pay for the surgery instead of the administration and balloons that you see other huge charities producing.
A began raising money for the challenge leading up to the Berlin Marathon, My challenge was taking on 2 separate marathons and then The Druid Challenge all in a 6 week period. With this as a challenge I was able to raise £1,200 for the charity. Contributing to a major surgery for one of my selected patients.
This event with a 3 day schedule was great for logistical planning and learning how to run hard, recover, run hard, recover and run hard. One piece of advice I was given was to finish the run early and secure a gym mat to sleep on, as we were sleeping in community/ school halls in the evening.
Day 1- Started with a strong cold wind, which aided a quick start. It was great to be on the trails with fresh air, running comfortably and on a work day (Friday). Everything was going well, comfortably running with the top 4 guys, up until around half way, when the first direction mistake was made, this resulted in about 10min lost and a lot of frustration. I was running with Danny at the time and we quickly tried to make up what we lost. But it didn’t really happen, finishing the day in 4th, with 10min off the leader. Just as night was falling and in time to snag a sleeping mat. So that was the new milestone achieved, running more than a marathon and doing so somewhat successfully in a competition.
Day 2- Early start with some stiff legs and another chill in the air. The shoes from Day 1 were covered in mud but dried out. The organization of this event was really good and something XNRG have really nailed in their 5 yrs experience. The day started well, I was going with Danny again and comfortably sitting 1 & 2, until we went off course again! And lost the lead we built up! Frustrating!!
I always had in the back of my mind that this was only day 2 and not to push things to hard. It’s hard to stick with that thought when you’re racing and lucky for me, Danny and Nathan (overall winner) took off and were out in front racing hard. It allowed me to relax a bit more and just run and enjoy, not worry to much about the competition side of things. It was another great day, running through some amazing country side and seeing more of the UK by foot (the best way to explore). Running well in 3rd keeping up the fueling and hydration and ticking off mile was one great way to spend a Saturday morning! In the final couple of miles I got a glimpse of 1&2 and couldn’t believe I was so close. So I kept ticking over the legs and moving forward. Nathan was the first one I caught, he was pretty wrecked judging by his body language but still moving. Then the final hill was in sight and so was Danny, we started the climb which leads to the finish line together and I found some sort of rhythm that just allowed me to pip him (only by about 15seconds) over the line. With Justin following a couple minutes after.
It was then again time to rest and recover for Day 3.
Day 3- It began with 1min silence for the people who gave their lives in WW1. On a chilled morning it set one emotional mood. After day 2, 1st place had a 10min lead on 2nd place, there was a 20second gap between 2nd and 3rd and a 3 minute gap between 3rd and 4th. So it was all on for a Sunday race day!
A great friend Peter, turned up at the start line with bounds of encouragement, which was unreal! 1st, 2nd and 4th all took off fast. And I didn’t think it was wise to go with them, as long I could keep them in sight and I didn’t give more than 3mins to 4th place, I would be ok for the majority of the day. The day progressed with some steady running making sure they were in sight, which did force me to run with a half decent pace (relatively speaking). The day heated up from the morning and got quite hot for a Sunday long run. I think my easier approach to the day helped with battling the heat, as I didn’t over cook it too early. I managed to go past 4th place after he put in a great effort out front, and now I was getting ahead of myself thinking I may repeat yesterday’s performance. I still had 2nd place in sight, but the 2.5 days of running started to really shine through in the form of pain in the legs and especially my feet. I definitely didn’t have the right shoes for the job and they were too minimal, with not enough cushioning. Running on trail was fine, but when small road sections came up, it really went through to my legs and it was painful. I always had sight of Danny, but he has a huge amount of experience with MDS, UTMB and he is a racing maestro. I managed to come though that day in 3rd a few minutes off 2nd place.
Day 1- 4th place
Day 2- 1st Place
Day 3- 3rd Place
Overall- 3rd Place with 10hrs 35min
This to me was a huge achievement and something I was just really happy to finish. My first staged race, my first ultra and my first ultra feeling of pain.
I loved it and was eager for the next one as I crossed the finish line!