I love multi- stage ultra runs.
On paper, I must admit, they can sound intimidating. I have done a few now - they are certainly doable and I never fail to come away from them having met great people and a quiet sense of doing something a bit different, perhaps slightly more extreme than a usual race. For the days of the race you exist in a bubble - its all about the race, running, your fellow competitors, the route, race, fuel, kit...They are my thing.
Multi stage ultras are long (long) races held over more than one day. This one, Toad Challenge, was put together by the excellent Extreme Energy - and comprised of 90 miles over 3 days.
We would run point to point - from Oxford along the nice flat Thames Path to Walton on Thames.
Overnight stops are held in schools - with runners kipping down on the floor of the hall. Earplugs are essential.
Day one was a late start at midday. The field was small for the full 3 days, some runners choose to join for 2 or 1 day. I saw familiar faces, some from the Marathon des Sables, and some from twitter, and some from the small but friendly ultra running community. The understated start was relaxed. I was running with Shaun again and we set off along the Thames. Today was 27 miles, so a little difficult to pace. As it is a smidge over a marathon it's tempting to run it at a fast marathon pace, but with 2 more days on your legs its necessary to hold back. I used to be terrible for going off too quickly, but a little experience under my belt, I knew to keep it steady. My aim was to do the entire 90 miles at the same pace - to run it evenly, finishing at the same pace as I had started.
The brilliant thing about Extreme Energy races is that they are open to runners and walkers and there are no cut off times. The checkpoints stay open for as long as there are people on the course. There is no pressure at all. The oldest competitor was a 73 year old lady power walking the entire route. I want to be like that when I'm older!
The day way easy to navigate and as the sun came out the route was a mix of trail and path. When I finished my knee hurt a bit as I had worn hard soled trail shoes which did not work so well on the drier ground.
The evening passed pleasantly enough - dinner is provided, inspiring speakers are invited to talk, hot showers and endless cake and tea are given to you. I had a beer and bedded down for the night.
Day 2 was 33 miles. I felt good, my knee felt better with a different trail shoe on (I always bring more than 1 set of trainers on multi stages if I don't have to carry my gear!) Today - we bunched up a bit more with the top pack. A few wrong turns cost an extra mile and some time. This can be frustrating but its so easy to do on ultra runs. You would think it's easy running along the Thames, but our group still managed to get lost for a bit!
In the middle of the day my legs felt very strong indeed - and I was running alongside the top 2 placed ladies Cat Simpson, and Gemma Bragg. I decided to push a bit to see what happened. What happened was their youthful legs just pushed on, faster than mine, and I finished the day behind them still! They were so fast and relentlessly strong.
I went over the finish line of day 2 pretty much keeping pace, and full or beans for the last day.
Day 3 was 31 miles. The final stint. I needed to get some food in me, and ate as much as I could at breakfast. I find it very hard to eat during these events, which is weird as I love my food. But running these distances you need to fuel constantly and I loose my appetite. I must admit - I was forcing it down a bit. I know it's not great when I regard crisps as running fuel. On this last day I totally neglected to eat properly when running. All I had was kendal mint cake and electrolytes despite the well stocked check points. Half way through the day at Windsor, I turned round to see the 4th place lady. I didn't know how much of a lead I had on her so I pushed on to run the last 15 miles at a fair clip. I ran these last few miles the fastest I had run in the whole event. I came over the line 3rd lady and 8th overall. Not a bad day at the office.
Extreme Energy put on fantastic events. If you are thinking about ultra running - they are a great way to start. They really do look after you, and encourage you and make sure you have everything you want. Massive congrats to Cat and Gemma, I'm pretty sure I will meet these two little machines at another ultra.
All I need to do now is put all 3 days together add on 10 miles, and do it in one go for my first 100 mile race next year. Which is a mere 11 days after Boston Marathon, which I got a place in. Two totally different races with two totally different running techniques required.
It's a training nightmare.......!