Thursday, June 5, 2014

St Bega's Ultra Recce Weekend 2014

heading down into Ennerdale late on day one

Jonathan and I have signed up for the St Bega's Ultra (SBU35), a 35 or so mile long race put on by UKan Trail.  The course starts in Dodd Wood at Bassenthwaite, crossing to run along the trail at Derwent Water, over Honister via the slate mine, down into and along the Ennerdale Valley, through Ennerdale Bridge, over Dent and along to St Bees.  This weekend, there was a recce weekend and we went along.

crossing from Dodd Wood to Portinscale
The meeting place, and also the finish of the weekend was St Bees School.  We were the first to arrive and were met by Jon, race director and David, his right hand man.  We were registered and given instructions while we waited for the other participants to turn up.  Among the 'regular' runners were Holly Rush, an extremely talented runner who has represented Great Britain and England numerous times and was the fastest female last year; Howard Seal, a local talent who won the race last year; and Renee McGregor, a Nutritionist who works with Holly and other top runners and sportspeople.  As soon as everyone was there, we set off in the minibus to Dodd Wood, the starting point.  The course climbs gradually at the start along the forest tracks before veering off to the right and heading downhill steeply to the road.  Most of this is familiar territory, Jonathan and I have ran many times around the Dodd Wood tracks but the turn off was a new track.  At the bottom of this track, we were at the road and crossed to the track that goes along the side of the River Derwent.  I had been wanting to explore this track for a while.  It's a good track, although I imagine it gets boggy in places when the weather has been wet.

a sudden rude climb at the start of the way over Honister
Along the way Howard and Holly were giving tips on the route; things to look out for, potential pitfalls and other useful bits of info.  David and John also giving some tips on pacing, hydration and navigation as well as moving along the group, chatting to everyone and generally keeping people motivated and happy.  We ran across the A66 and into Portinscale along the river, meeting up with The Cumbria Way path along the side of Derwent Water.  Here again, we were on familiar territory.  In fact, the very first post on this blog involved multiple passes of this section of track.  It's a beautiful area to run in with very nice trails, unusually level for The Lake District.  We followed The Cumbria Way to Rosthwaite, where an aid-station and check point was set up.  Plenty of cakes, drinks, jelly babies and other good stuff was on hand.  It was really hot and the pace had been pretty quick to this point.  This was approximately 15 miles into the run.  We stopped for a good while.  I was feeling good at this point but was starting to think that I would go a bit slower on the next section, which includes the steepest climb of the whole course.  Looking back now, I think a combination of setting off fast, heat and overeating at the checkpoint made the next section very difficult for me.  Added to this, I think not starting the run until about lunchtime, threw me a bit as I had eaten a usual light breakfast early in the morning.  Nutrition, in particular the fuelling of long runs, is something I will definitely need to think more about before the race itself.

at the bottom of Loft Beck
As the track started to climb up from the bottom of Honister Pass, I started to take it easy.  At this point, I think Jonathan's feet were starting to hurt him so he hung back a bit with me.  We carried on to Honister Slate Mine where a group had gone ahead at a faster pace.  Jonathan ran in to buy cokes but I really didn't want to have more than a sip from the bottle as I thought the problem was the food I had eaten at the aid station.  Looking back, it was a pretty classic bonk.  I think I realised this as I was climbing up the tracks of the slate mine.  I knew that I just needed to keep moving forward, make sure that I didn't get cold and then I would eventually come out of the other side.  We made steady progress with regular stops.  David came back to meet us at the turn off point where the route crosses the open fell.  He did a good job of keeping me motivated and encouraging me to start a gentle run again.  I managed a bit of running across the top and then was starting to regain strength on the steep descent down Loft Beck to the Ennerdale Valley.  I'm fairly good at descending and on rough ground and I think I found this descent a bit easier than some of the others.  At the bottom, we carried on the short distance to Black Sail Hut where we stopped for a rest and to regather as a group.

The run along to Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre (our overnight stop) is about three miles on forest track.  Jonathan and I managed a decent run along here even though we couldn't keep up with the lead group.  The track can be a bit monotonous (as far as that is possible in the Lake District) and tough on the feet if you have a few miles in your legs but, again with David helping on the motivation, we reeled it in.  Jugs of juice and a great selection of cakes were waiting for us when we got there.  To start with, I couldn't face eating anything and just had a lot to drink.  After a while I had a few pieces of cake before heading for a very welcome shower and change of clothes.  That shower, although it somewhat dribbled from the shower head, and that change of clothes are among the greatest things ever to happen to me.

nutrition talk
A barrel of beer was set up and shortly afterwards, as much spaghetti bolognese (veggie and meat versions) as we could eat was served up with garlic bread and more beer.  After two or three plates, we all moved into the lounge area where Renee held a question and answer session on nutrition.  This was very informative.  What I took away was that good nutrition really can make a difference as well as some good information on using fat vs carbohydrate as a fuel.  As the fire burned out, we all got sorted for bed.  Jonathan showed me some pretty nasty blisters on his feet.  I told him that I thought he should pop them and put plasters over them so that they could start to dry out over night.  I think some other people told him to wait until the morning as there would be first aiders present and they could have a look for him either way, I knew his feet were going to hurt the next day.  I thought I didn't sleep very well but apparently there were people staying in one of the rooms who were singing all night and I didn't hear a thing.  I also slept through Jonathan's alarm and apparently answered, "yes" when he asked if I wanted another half hour of sleep.

happy to be coming over the second to last 'bump'
checking the map at the final aid station
I definitely felt fresh in the morning.  Getting up and starting running again the day after a long run is a skill in itself.  I know some people were struggling with this.  I had practised it on the GL3d last year.  Lots of stretching, coffee and positive thinking and more coffee seem to help well, as well as a good dose of paracetamol and more coffee.  So, while the first few miles along the edge of Ennerdale Water were slow and steady, by the time we got to the tracks around Flat Fell and up to Dent, I was feeling pretty strong.  There is a good mile or so of track that was a dream to run on, kind of single track, mostly gradually downhill, until the steep climb up the winding track known as "Bummers" which leads onto Dent.  I had a decent go at this but Holly and Howard are in a different league and left me standing.  It was a bit cooler on top of Dent which I didn't mind at all.

From the top of Dent, there is a nice descent into woods where the track carries on down gradually to Cleator which was the location of our final aid station.  We had about three miles to go from this point.  I still had plenty of water on me so I filled up a bit on flapjack and a flat coke as well as jelly babies.  Jonathan had opted to run in different shoes but his feet were in really bad shape.  He got them bandaged up and carried on.  Shortly after the aid station, the route goes onto the cycle track and then across some fields until the final track.  St Bees School was a very welcome sight.  We all congratulated one another and posed for more photos on the steps before going in and getting our bags.  There was the option of showers but Jonathan and I thanked everyone and headed home via Tesco (double milkshake).

This was a brilliantly organised and friendly weekend.  I think running with this group pushed us faster than we might go in the actual race and that is why we both had difficulties of different sorts.  David and Jon were brilliant as were their army of helpers who very efficiently managed the aid stations, checkpoints, meals and transport.  Holly and Howard also gave lots of tips and were inspirational in their individual approaches.  The SBU35 is going to be a brilliant event.  We are both really looking forward to it.

Thanks to David for letting me use some of his photos for the blog post.  I hope you feel it's a fair and positive write up mate and if it brings you any more entries, they are well deserved.

do we look happy to have finished?

Day One

Day Two

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