Writing this race report, I’m still buzzing from the events of last weekend. This was my first Ultra Marathon and I absolutely loved it!
The race consisted of a 52 mile trail run starting in Stroud, following the beautiful Cotswold Way all the way to Broadway Tower. With over 7,500 feet of climbing it promised to be a tough course and did not disappoint. There were plenty of unknowns going into the race, as I’d never competed at this distance before but I gave it my all and it turned out to be a perfect day.
Going into race week I felt confident, and had planned myself an easy stress free week at work. I’d been eating lots of nutritious food, meditating daily and getting lots of sleep so I was feeling in great shape. In comparison to the usual amounts of kits to get ready for triathlon, gathering everything I needed for race day seemed like a breeze, I was packed and ready 2 days before the race! It was local, which meant I had the luxury of sleeping in my own bed the night before which was brilliant. I also had the rare opportunity to recce the entire second half of the race, which consisted mainly of my local training routes, so I knew exactly what was in store during the later and more difficult stages of the day.
Logistics were fairly straight forward. The small amount of kit I needed was ready and waiting at the door. I ate a decent breakfast, had enough time to relax before we set off for the short 30 minute drive to the start. Race packs were sent out in the post, so there wasn’t even any registration to worry about. I carried out my planned warm up, and we were called into the starting pen. I’d felt quite nervous during the week leading up to this point, but a sense of calm and confidence took over as soon as I knew it was nearly time to go. I positioned myself right at the front. The gun went off, and it was go time.
The race was point to point, and I’d planned to mentally break it down into 2 main sections; marathon 1 and marathon 2. I then further subdivided this into 4 sub sections, or 4 half marathons. This would roughly equate to 4 blocks of 2 hours. I knew the second marathon would take longer due to slower terrain, but 2 blocks of 2 hours would certainly work for the first half of the race. I’d planned to not really concern myself with distance covered, but focus on those blocks of time instead.
The only real unknown in my planning was what level of effort I could sustain for the 52 miles. I was confident of placing highly, so I wanted to make sure I got a strong start and was in contact with the front of the race. As we took off the pace was high. A lot higher than I’d expected! It was clear there were a number of people who were looking to push for front positions. For around the first hour the pace was hard but gradually the bunch at the front started to clear and space was established between the runners. I started to drop my pace back a little and settle in a steady sustained rhythm. At the half marathon point I think a few people may have overcooked it a little and other competitors gradually started to drop back, particularly when we hit one of the harder climbs around 14 miles in. I felt strong on the ascents and pushed a steady controlled pace onwards.
As we approached the half way point at 26.2 miles I could feel the fatigue kicking in and knew the second half of the race was going to be hard, and wonder whether I’d pushed too hard in those early miles. I came through the first marathon at 3:57 in 4th place, with two guys and one girl ahead of me. Those three in front of me had gone through pretty hard in 3:43, 3:48 and 3:49. I asked for splits from the official as I headed out from the pitstop and back onto the course, so I knew they weren’t too far away.
Things started to get really tough from here on out as the terrain became more aggressive. My consolation was that 3 weeks prior I had run what was ahead of me, so I began to break the route down into visual markers, and also hit the lap button on my watch so I looking at a fresh timer once again. I had my wife and friends waiting for me in Winchcome around the 35 mile mark and fixed this as my next objective. Up until this point the weather had been warm but overcast. Now the clouds had broken and the sun began to beat down as the temperature rose above 20 degrees. Fun times. I made it to Winchombe but wasn’t feeling great at all. I stopped with my family and friends longer than I stopped at any of the pitstops and as I set off again, another athlete seemingly out of nowhere had caught up to me. I pushed on and managed to drop him once we hit a long gradual climb and was on my own again.
Just as a reached the top of the climb, I could see another competitor in the distance which I knew was 3rd place overall, and 2nd male. I made good forward progress with the aim of catching him. With all of the twists and turns of the trail it was difficult to catch sight of other athletes both in front and behind you. Eventually, somewhere after 40 miles I was right on top of 3rd place, who I could see was beginning to struggle. I dragged up confidence and strength from the depth of fatigue that was now hammering my body as I made a strong pass. I was really hurting too, but wanted to give the impression to the other athlete that I was much fresher than I was…sneaky! I powered past him and tried to create as large a gap as I could. I hit the top of a climb, looked back and couldn’t see anybody.
I pushed on and around mile 44, my Garmin bleeped and told me I was off course. The course markers (which had been excellent) told me one way, and the route on my watch told me another. I was tired and my brain struggled to make a decision as to what to do. I carried on in the direction the markers had sent me, where I saw another confirmation maker and decided this must be the right way. I then bumped into the 2 leaders, who were both distressed. They’d followed the trail down and there were no more markers, likely somebody had tampered with the 2 we had followed. Using the map on my watch, the three of us found the direction the trail should have gone in. We scrambled across an orchard, waist deep in long grass and brambles, scared the life out of a tiny little deer, climbed over barbed wire fences and eventually found the trail. We saw an official and let them know about the sign. From this point the three of us continued the race in single file spaced evenly about 30 seconds apart.
The last 5 miles hurt a lot! With Broadway Tower cruelly hovering on the horizon, yet still some distance away. I didn’t think I could catch up to first and second place but knew that as long as nobody was behind me, which they didn’t seem to be, that I would make a podium spot. As I hit the bottom of the climb to Broadway Tower, I could see 2nd place in front of me hiking. I turned around, and from nowhere an athlete was making an attack, maybe only 150 meters down the hill. I caught up to 2nd place and said to the guy whose name I believe was Gareth, that we needed to push on, or the guy attacking below would catch us. Gareth said he had nothing left, and told me to go for it, so I pushed on up the climb and caught up to Mary who was in 1st place. I said to Mary that we had to push as the chaser had now moved into 3rd position and looked as though he was gaining ground. I wanted to make absolutely sure that the chaser wasn’t going to take my position, so I pushed up through the final 2 gates and onto the finish line in 1st position.
As I stood in front of the line, the winner’s tape being pulled across it, I decided to wait for Mary. She had fought a really tough race, and it didn’t feel right to steal that win from her, having lost more time than I did when we went off course. People probably wondered what the hell I was doing! I saw Mary approaching the final straight, and put my hand out towards the line, showing her to cross first. She crossed the line in 8:46:52 and I followed right behind in 8:46:53.
I felt incredible to be the first person the crowd cheered as I crested the climb and ran past the tower. I knew I’d taken 1st Male and was over the moon. After finishing, I found out that Mary had become the first female winner in the history of the Threshold Trail series, and was glad that I’d been able to be a part of that. It was an incredible day and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it all ended.