Although I’ve completed 50k events before, I have never entered a self navigated event. I had visions of me dragging my legs round in circles for hours not having a clue where I was and having to phone for pickup. When I arrived at registration and the navigation instructions were handed to me, they reinforced these fears. I’d never seen a narrative route description before. We were handed 4 sheets of A4 paper with a load of abbreviated terms with a key of these terms at the top of the first sheet, at first glance this mostly looked like I was trying to read something out of the Matrix and all I could do was laugh and wonder how much I was going to be off route. After talking to a few other competitors who all seemed to be in a similar mindset, I was reassured that if all went wrong that there would be a bunch of us lost together. All part of the fun right?
The registration area had toilets and complimentary tea and coffee, I don’t usually have caffeine before a long race, but I decided to grab a small black coffee while I waited for the start. A last kit check before the race briefing then a short walk round the corner to the start line. There was only about 100 people running today so I wasn’t too bothered where I started, I set off near the back figuring I would soon enough settle in around similar paced people.
I ran the first few miles without looking at the instructions, it was near impossible for everyone to go wrong so I just followed the crowd. It then dawned on me that we would soon spread pretty thin and now was a good time to try and get my head around how to read the navigation directions. Each paragraph was a mile, so I checked how far we had gone and corresponded to the correct paragraph and figured out exactly which instruction we were on. I was surprised at how easy it was to figure out, I needed to refer to the key on page 1 quite a bit to start with but after a while, the abbreviations mostly made sense and I could read the instructions without checking the key. I had the GPX file the organisers provided beforehand as a backup in case I got lost, but I rarely had to refer to it.
However, after the second checkpoint, 4 of us left fairly close together and took a wrong turn almost immediately. Despite a supporter telling us all the other runners were going a different way, we were adamant we were following the route correctly. Pretty soon we realised we were not, checked the map and found a way to loop back further on the route. We added about half a kilometer which wasn’t too bad. Luckily that was the only time I went off track which shows how well written the directions were and also a little kudos to my navigation skills.
Everyone is quite sociable on these sorts of events, people chat as they go along run together, talk as they go past each other, help each other if needed which creates a good atmosphere which I felt for the entirety of the race from the moment I got out of my car to the moment I got back in it. I chatted to a few runners on the way and ended up running the rest of the route with one of them, it was their first ultra and they were definitely starting to feel it towards the end but they kept pushing and made it through to the finish! Hopefully they have caught the ultra bug like I have and will soon enter their next one. We have spoken since the event and they are overwhelmed with completing this challenge and enjoyed the day!
The route was fantastic, it is fairly flat with a couple of inclines but nothing major. I use the uphills to walk and get some food before getting a jog on at the top. The route is mainly on footpaths in the countryside, it varies throughout with villages, wooded areas, fields, footpaths and a couple of short road sections so there was plenty to look at (when you weren’t looking down at the route descriptions).
We had a heat wave in the week leading up to the event and I was hoping it would cool down for the day, which it did! It was a bit wet for the first part, i have no idea when it stopped raining… maybe just before half way? But I’m not really bothered by the rain so I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was humid for the second half, so I was pretty much wet for the whole race. It’s no big deal being wet, but I could definitely feel my toenails on the last couple of miles due to my socks being soaked through. My feet were pretty gross when I finished, but that’s just something you have to deal with on ultras, especially when it’s wet!
Overall this was a very enjoyable race, I loved trying to navigate, the route was great and the whole event was very well organised. I would definitely recommend this event for anyone looking for a fun, friendly run that has a bit of a challenge to it and wants to get into the ultra running world.