Friday, 25 January 2013

Country to Capital Ultra 2013

A 45 mile ultra from the lovely English countryside of Buckinghamshire into the plush surrounds of Little Venice in London, the Country to Capital was truly a race of two halves. One a stressful reminder of school-day orienteering ventures and the second a measurable, straightforward joy.

Walking adventures on Knoydart
Racing 45 miles on 12th January was always going to be a toughie. I'd had a pretty active couple of weeks, first running down to the Borders on the way to Dad's in Cheshire for Christmas - cut shorter in the face of yet more monsoon-like conditions - then quite a few long, challenging runs and hill walks in similarly wild weather through our week up on Knoydart. This was balanced neatly out by living it up with another 9 friends in Knoydart House, with couples cooking up a 3 course storm most nights and enough alcohol to sink a ship - the odd Jaegerbomb dropped in for good measure.

But I fancied an early season challenge, and my cousin and his family live very nearby to the start line in Wendover, a fabulous and rare opportunity to catch up with them and experience my first English ultra.

Registration was a blast. Nearly 300 people crammed into a poky olde pub trying to avoid waiting outside in the rain. I messed about with my race number and kit in the usual haze of nerves and bumped into Donnie Campbell, who had had an impressively healthy Christmas and was racing to secure a place in the Scottish ultra team, aiming to finish in under 5:30 before jumping straight on a train home from Paddington.

The Route...
The less said about this the better. Knowing my navigational disadvantage - being in Edinburgh and all - I decided to study the maps in advance. Difficult, however, when the map PDF document (not a web link) that the organiser, Go Beyond Ultra, sent through in advance was of such low quality (even when zooming in) that you couldn't even read the place names, or cross reference with proper maps.

So we set off with our map books in hand and yes, I decided to follow those in the know. In the words of the RD "Don't worry too much about directions, most people have run the race before so just follow them if you're unsure".

The first half of the C2C is a mixture of path, field and road, following the Chiltern Way. This sounds simpler than it was - there were endless twists and turns with constant navigation required. On more than one occasion we'd turn a corner and see groups of runners coming from another direction, cursing their 'alternative' route. I went off course twice, thankfully finding my way back after less than half a km.

First Half: muddy
There was a lot of chatter, people mostly talking about the mud. There was a lot of mud - I was reminded of the Jedburgh mudbaths ultra last year. At least I had trail shoes on this time.

From the early miles I'd developed an irritating, persistent headache and low and behold at 20 miles I felt something strange going on with my face before realising I was having a nose bleed. I never get nose bleeds so figure it was connected to the headache. Anyway, after a tantrum moment contemplating whether to throw the towel in, I realised that being 5 miles short of the next checkpoint there was nothing much I could do but grin, look a mess and bear it. Thankfully it cleared as fast as it started and probably made me run faster.

At mile 23, we came face to face with the Grand Union Canal, signalling the second half - a flat as a pancake canal path all the way into London. With just one turn at a canal junction, this was to be a joy. And the second half of the second half was even better - after fuelling up on much-needed electrolytes I gained surprising strength back and was able to accelerate, passing 8 or 9 runners until we reached the finish.

The Checkpoints...
...were excellently stocked, with helpful marshalls and vollies. And the tastiest 'Go Beyond' fruit cake. They were spread nicely out throughout the course and although I was concerned about lack of drop bag system in the race as we are used to in Scotland, it actually wasn't needed, and meant a seamless, no-strings transition through each checkpoint.

Fuel...
End of the Grand Union Canal: Little Venice
I stuck to mainly Gu's and water combined with the regular checkpoint cake fest. I took on board gels more regularly than normal, every 30 mins or so, a successful strategy but no wonder I couldn't face anything sweet for days afterwards.

Performance
I did end up finishing in the time I'd aimed for - sub 7 hours, in 6:53. I was 7th female, with Scotland's Issy Knox being second lady in 6:25. The Scottish guys played a fast one, with Donnie Campbell winning the race overall with an amazing 5:26 (after getting lost 3 x and passing fellow Scot Ian Symington in the last mile). I was delighted to run a negative split between the first and second halves - not hard in this race but satisying all the same. I knew I could've run the first half better and been more prepared by perhaps training on the route, but this mixed bag is part of what makes an ultra.

Recovery
After a shaky few hours, which mostly consisted of a blistered hobble to my nearby hotel (the lovely Colonnade) and a very long bath, recovery was reassuringly swift. I think walking (shopping!) for over 3 hours around Portobello Road and Notting Hill the next day helped. I was running again by Tuesday and legs felt ok, if a little fatigued on hills. I was glad to be able to get back into training proper, with the Thames Trot 50 coming up fast in a couple of weeks. Also organised by Go Beyond. Better get off to start on the map book...