Following the Dirty Dozen Backyard Ultra in Narberth I was pretty disappointed with my performance. A few things went wrong that I thought I'd had nailed in by now: notably not pacing myself properly for the distance and, more importantly, the fuelling fell apart big time back to my usual nausea and dark spots.
I wanted to go and dial in things more with a view to next years big race: I can't be blowing up and unable to eat at 50k on a 100 miler!
Luckily I live on the route of my old nemesis, and saviour, the Green Man, and had a midweek day off for some quiet time on the trails.
I won't go into detail on the course as I've written about it before (first DNF, first completion, winter race, summer race) however, for those unaware, the Green Man Ultra is a 75k (46 mile) loop around the outskirts of Bristol along the Forest of Avon Community Forest Path, with 1,148 elevation gain across a wide range of terrain.
Tailwind and my electrolyte / fuelling plan in general wasn't working for me, that much was clear, I needed to trying something new using what I'd learned last year.
So the aim, above anything else, was consistency. Keep things steady, maintain rather than lose control, float rather than push.
Firstly: the pace. I have a habit of going out too hard, or pushing on stretches where I should be keeping steady. To combat this I set an alarm on my watch to tell me off if my heart rate ever went above 158 bpm (that is the top of my Zone 2 range). This would keep me relaxed and focused on the long game.
Secondly; fuelling. I've been toying with Active Root for a while but not been brave enough to try it for an ultra yet. I've found it a little too strong tasting and thought it may get sickly faster than Tailwind due to that.
This time I gave it a shot properly: 35mg of Active Root to 500ml water (recommended quantities), with the plan being to use it throughout the race, having plain water and salt caps as a backup in case it stopped working.
I also changed from trying to finish a whole bottle an hour to drinking to thirst instead. I think I have a habit of over hydrating when I don't need to.
In terms of food I opted for my usual eating a portion every 30 mins, carrying a range of real food and gels: cheese bagels, flapjack, milkshake, Soreen, Gu gels, Clif Shot Bloks, Tunnocks bars, Jelly Babies & crisps. More focused on real food over sports products this time, mixing and matching between different types, including bagels for protein and fat instead of being wholly carb focused.
As for gear: standard Salomon Adv Skin 12, a Brooks Notch Thermal layer to fend off the cold with some liner gloves, and my new love the Merrell Agility Peak 5s. I've used these shoes for the last 3 ultras and they've treated me so well. Solid grip, comfy long distance, quick to dry when wet and lock down nicely.
The pack was overflowing at the start: as I wanted to go self supported I carried 3 litres of water and all the food for the day 😅. Couldn't fit the milkshake in so brought one along with an extra bottle of water mid-route in Pensford.
The morning was crisp at ~10c, with a bit of wind bringing the temperature down. Liner gloves on for most of the day and that thermal layer never came off. The temperature was a big factor for my performance: keeping me cool and the heart rate down through the day.
The trails themselves were mostly dry with some muddy patches, very overgrown in places with lots of brambles and stingers to content with.
The sun peaked out in the afternoon and led to a lovely warm last stretch.
How It Went
Early start, leaving just before 05:00 to get going (wanted to be home for dinner). Estimated it would take me roughly 10 hours but also wanted to keep any targets out of my head. My goal was consistency, if I could be consistent everything else would fall into place.
Lovely and quiet those first few hours, barely a soul about as I passed Henbury then up through the fields to Easter Compton. Started to see folks out around Aztec West, dog walkers, early commuters and the like.
Fuelling was going very well, the Active Root drank to thirst worked perfectly, didn't feel bloated or nauseous at all. By having that and food every 30 mins I was hitting my 300 calories / h (recommended max intake when running) so felt constantly powered up.
I usually hit a dark patch around 30-40k and have to have a word with myself. Not this time, kept going, kept it steady. It's true what they say: food == mood.
Hit a stretch of fields where each had a different variety of cows: parents with calves, young bullocks, a lone bull! Thankfully all pretty much ignored me until I reached the Dundry climb where some young males were curious and followed me up a farm track, thankfully to a gate I could escape through.
Hopped a fence to stay away from some calves, and walked through most of these fields to avoid disturbing them.
The heart rate alert worked really well and helped me judge my pace. Told me off when running up a hill or pushing a little too hard, and it was annoying enough that it forced me to slow down.
Was able to keep eating every 30 minutes: I'd get an alert on the watch that 30 mins had passed, slow to a walk then choose something out of my pack to eat. Early on I opted for heavier food like the bagels and Tunnocks bars, whilst later I switched to gels (though in fairness my stomach felt great, likely due to the ginger in the Active Root).
Powered up the Dundry climb well without the usual feeling of doom and gloom (it's a hard bloody hike that) and, on reaching the top, knew the toughest part of the course was done.
It's a decent downhill stretch into Long Ashton where I could get the legs moving faster, but I had to stop to take photos of this pumpkin patch:
The Last Stretch
Grabbed some water from the loos at Ashton Court and looked at my watch. If I could maintain a good pace for the last 6k home I could do a sub-9 hour loop!
I'd aimed for this the summer last year and instead a) blew up b) threw up and c) ended up slower than my previous attempts 😅
But first, a selfie with the Green Man sculpture at the edge of the deer park:
Then off we went. It was the last push and mostly downhill so I ignored the watch HR alarm starting to go haywire and went for it.
Got a PB on the Mariners Drive Descent which, considering that's on my run commute, meant I must've gone pretty hard there.
On to Shirehampton Golf Course, up over the hill then knocking on my home door for a time of 08:45:59.
I couldn't have been happier! The consistency paid off, rather than focusing on a time instead focusing on fuelling well and keeping it steady meant I'd outperformed the previous 3 loops by an hour.
My legs ached something fierce, I think it was descending quickly that did it, especially the last stretch.
Rather unusually my stomach felt great afterwards, usually it's shrivelled up and unable to process anything solid. I also felt more "full" than normal and didn't need to eat as much as I normally would to recover.
- Used less Active Root and water than I expected, estimated 3.5L Active Root and 0.5L plain water for the 9 hours (it was a cool morning though at ~10c).
- Did need some plain water at the 7 hour mark as the Active Root was getting too strong. I'll start carrying a 250ml water bottle to sip if the taste gets too much or I feel like I've had too much salt.
- None of the gut bombing or nausea I get from Tailwind, though the Active Root hasn't been tested in the heat where I really struggle.
- Eating every 30 mins is something I've always done, but combined with the Active Root I felt well fuelled throughout, didn't bonk at all and was in a much better mood in the latter stages.
- Still had energy to push the last 6k to get it under 9 hours.
- Mixing types of food with some protein and fat mixed in with all the carbs helped a good deal, didn't get that sugar overload feeling.
- The Merrell Agility Peak 5s are just brill: ate up trail, long tarmac stretches, and hard descents without issue. Was heel locked the whole way without any issues with my tendons or ankles neither.
That was my 19th ultra: I want to hit 20 before the end of the year so am planning something in November / December.
Then a little off season around Christmas, before things get intense from January to June as the EPONA 100 training kicks off properly.