Friday, 16 May 2014

Dukeries Ultramarathon 2014 - The perfect entry level ultra

In my view the Dukeries Ultra offers runners a perfect introduction to ultra marathon races. It is friendly, scenic and not too hilly. Here is what the official website says about the race:

The route follows a 30 or 40 mile loop taking in some of the most beautiful and undiscovered sandstone villages and historical sites in England. Starting in the heart of Sherwood Forest and keeping mostly to forest trails and footpaths, the route passes charming lodges, through Cresswell Crags and skirts the Welbeck Estate. It crosses Clumber Park and through peaceful farm land before looping back to pass by the Thoresby Estate before returning to Sherwood Forest.

 I had this race on my wish list after the positive feedback I received from +Mike Wells who ran it in 2013. The race provides you with a choice of a 30 mile option and a 40 mile option (as well as a relay team option for the 40 miler). Having only done one ultra previously (the White Rose Ultra in Oct 2013), I opted for the 30 miler.

This proved to be a good decision as Mike had managed to talk several of his #runchclub colleagues into doing their first ultra. This would mean there would be a good group of us, which as well as Mike (@mikew30) would include Ian, Alex (@alexloach) and Chris (@NikeAi2). Also running with us would be Conrad (@conwild), who had travelled up from St Albans. Conrad was one of those people who I 'knew' via Twitter but we hadn't met until that day. We also met up with Steve (@seesteverun) who was doing the 40 mile race.

Conrad and Mike (in tutu) take in the race briefing

I must admit to being a bit blasĂ© about my race 'preparations'. I'd opted not to do a spring marathon, instead focusing on trying to improve my speed over 5k and 10k (more on that another time!). The upshot being I hadn't run more than about 15 miles for about 6 months. As I neared race day this fact began to loom large. That said, I felt pretty relaxed on the day. Meeting all the guys beforehand definitely helped to put me at ease and I do like that more relaxed vibe that seems to surround ultra events. It became apparent that I had seriously overestimated how much kit I would need. Looking around the hall, I had the largest rucksack by a long way!

The 40 mile runners set off under dark clouds
I got to the race HQ at Walesby, Nottinghamshire early as I wanted to see the 40 milers go off. They were starting at 8am and the 30's at 9am. The race HQ was a sports and social club. There was plenty of parking on site, and plenty of room inside to accommodate the runners. They had even invited an ultra runner store to open a small stall in case anyone needed to make any last-minute purchases. There was plenty of room to get changed and for once, the toilet facilities were more than adequate! The race briefings were helpful and succinct and the registration was a breeze. We saw Steve and the other 40 mile runners off and before we knew it, it was our turn!

By the time we set off, the rain had largely cleared and it was pretty mild. There was a bit of a breeze but the weather was much improved on when I had woken that day at 5am. So, I set off in a group which included Mike, Conrad, Alex, Chris and Ian. We were chipping along quite nicely, averaging about 8:30m/m until the first checkpoint at around 6.5 miles. I should say now that although the race was advertised as 30 miles, It was likely to run to just over 32 miles, due to a diversion around Clumber Park. We fell in with other little groups along the way. I enjoyed talking to Baz, a doctor from Sheffield who, despite his relaxed demeanour and fancy dress outfit (some sort of fleecy skeleton onesie!) was actually using the race as a training run for Comrades! This is another thing I like about ultras. You can end up spending quite a lot of time with a complete stranger and because of the pace, actually hold a meaningful conversation with them.

I didn't really have any time target going into the race, so when Mike said they wanted to go through 13 miles on about 2 hours, with a view to finishing around 5hrs 25mins, I was happy to tag along. Most of us made it through 13 miles bang on target time. Ian had begun to slow, so he and Alex were a little further back. At this point were still well under sub nine minute miles. By about 16 miles it was clear that my lack of long run preparation meant I was going to struggle to keep this pace up. Mike and Chris were already starting to pull away. Around this time Conrad started to have some problems with his ITB. His pace had also dropped and he needed to stop to massage the problem area. I was quite happy to stay with Conrad. Honestly, the walk breaks were quite welcome. That said, I was staring to find a comfortable pace and, at that stage, I felt that finishing in under five and a half hours was still realistic (little did I know!)

                                               Conrad works his way through a rapeseed
                                                              field under blue skies

I have to say that some of the scenery on the run was fantastic. Cresswell Craggs and the Welbeck Estate being two real highlights for me.

Conrad's ITB issue was really starting to slow him down and he was urging me to push on. I now had a bit of a dilemma. I really didn't fancy running half of the race on my own and I rather foolishly was relying on others to take the lead on navigation. Don't get me wrong, I had a map and the route details, I'm just not very good at navigating! Conrad and I had caught up with a lady called Tracy (who ended up as 2nd female finisher) and there was another small group a little way ahead. I decided to push on and had some fairly tough solo miles going through Clumber Park in the pouring rain. I eventually caught up with a lady called Lucy (who ended up as 3rd female, coming in at the same time as Tracy). I discovered that she was training for the Outlaw Triathlon and managed to juggle all of her training around having 5 children!

                                                 Conrad climbs through a sandstone ravine

After a short time we were joined by Tracy and we settled into a good pace. For some reason, I was nominated as the navigator (little did they know!) and for a long time this worked ok. My luck ran out when I went the wrong way after crossing the River Poulter. This resulted in us getting slightly lost in some woods. Thankfully we were not the only ones who had made this mistake. Before long we were joined by two other guys and between us (and with some help from our phones) we were free from the woods and back on track. I reckon this little diversion cost us about 20 mins. So much for being the navigator!

Thankfully we were about 29 miles in by this stage but extra time and distance (about a mile) this little diversion had added seemed particularly cruel, so late in the race. I have to say that I didn't particularly enjoy the last few miles of the race. This had everything to do with how I was feeling and nothing to do with the race or the company at this stage. In fact, running with Lucy and Tracy helped to keep me focused and probably meant that I ran more than had I been solo.

                                       Unknown runner works his way through a field under
                                                                      ominous skies!

The closer we got to the finish, the more we were picking up other runners. Both from the 30 mile and 40 mile groups. Those final few miles seemed to take an absolute age but as we came back into Walesby my spirits were lifted. There were a few supporters around and we even managed a little 'sprint' finish. My time was 6 hours, 1 minute and 49 seconds. About 25 minutes quicker than my last 30 mile race (and this one was closer to 33 miles!)

Again the social club provided us with enough space and shelter at the finish and we were given a choice of pie with mushy peas. I went for steak and wolfed it down! There were also showers on site which were most welcome. In all it was a great day out. I ran with friends, met some new and interesting people, saw some beautiful countryside and had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

A quick note on nutrition. Having adopted a paleo way of eating about 6 week prior, I used this race as a test for eating natural food, rather than relying on my tried and tested method of consuming gels at regular intervals. I had a high fat/low carb breakfast and just ate dates, Nakd bars and 9 Bars during the race. It worked really well and at no point did I struggle for energy or 'bonk'. I plan to blog about how my transition to a paleo runner is going in more detail, probably when I have begun my training for the Chester Marathon.

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