Beechenhurst or Bust - 53km Race Report

Ultra Marathon Aug 8, 2021

Last weekend marked the last big long run of my Green Man training plan; a 50k that acted as a gear check and test of the training so far.

This would be my second ultra distance run and a major yardstick for the Green Man.

So how did it go?

Pre-Run

Main aims for this run were:

  1. Carry as close to the gear I'd be packing on the big day
  2. Test out my nutrition and hydration strategy
  3. Get use to the pace I should be targeting for the Green Man
  4. See how I felt at the end, could I go do another 20k?

I'd had my second jab 2 days before and had noticed a higher heart rate on the previous days training run, so was a little worried this would all end in tears!

But bar that felt ready to do the distance.

Route

Chose a point to point as it kept the scenery fresh all the way, kept me guessing about the remaining distance & gave me an interesting destination to aim for. In this case it was Beechenhurst; a lovely woodland in the Forest of Dean, where my partner and daughter could meet me at the end.

The route would take me up to Severn Beach, over the northern Severn Bridge, through Chepstow then up along the Gloucestershire Way to Bream before entering the forest.

Elevation was pretty reasonable, just a few longer hills but nothing of major note.

Terrain was mostly roads until just after Chepstow, where it switched to trail running for the remainder, with the odd country lane thrown in.

Run Itself

Bit of a drizzly mixed bag weather wise, spent a lot of it deciding whether to take the coat off or put it back on, but nothing torrential.

The fears around the second jab side effects were well founded for the first 2 hours, felt like I was running at 70% capacity for a while. That soon dissipated though and I can't really say it impacted the result much past that.

Hit Severn Beach in good time with no dramas.

However things took a turn when I reached the marshes. There's a grand strip between the two bridges you can run along, all soft grassland and cow dodging, until you hit Aust just down from the northern bridge.

The marshes were fenced off, there's what appeared to be flood defences being built. Previously the fencing was just around some parts of Aust, now it was a significant portion of my route!

Took a long detour back to the A road, to find that for the most part it had no pedestrian pathways. As seen in this pic, there are only grassy verges.

So that sucked, and I was only too glad to return to safety reaching the bridge at Aust.

Chepstow was lovely as always, I followed the Wales Coastal path which tracks through some woodland on the edge of Chepstow down to the River Wye.

Crossing over and entering the Gloucestershire Way, I finally hit some good trails.

Conditions did start to get worse as the Way went on, it's not particularly well maintained and, due to the summer heat, was thoroughly overgrown for large stretches. It did have its moments however, notably views from the lane as I descended towards Bream.

After a short trip through the village, it was all Forest of Dean, and all lovely. Nice, well cut woodland trails leading to a lakeside path and cycle track going right up to Beechenhurst.

At Beechenhurst my partner and daughter were waiting for a drop bag full of recovery food, along with a big old hug.

Lessons Learned

Firstly, on the nutrition front I don't think I have it anywhere near as nailed down as I thought I had. I'm happy with my gels and gummies, but couldn't stomach any solid food after the 4 hour mark. Malt loaf turned out to be a little too heavy after the first hour, whilst Nakd bars worked wondered until 4 hours.

Even the gels were starting to wear thin towards the end, big lesson there is to carry a variety of foods I know work at different times & some backup choices for when my palette gets fussy.

On a related note, I couldn't eat anything at the end of the run. I sat there, pork pie in hand, big old lemon drizzle slice in the bag, and couldn't face either. The blood had well and truly left my stomach and wouldn't come back for some time.

For the big day I'll have to depend on liquid recovery for at least the first few hours post run; something like Tailwind Recovery and chocolate milkshakes.

Wen through some serious highs, and serious lows. Most notably a big drop in morale just before the marathon mark, followed by a shocking second wind just after it, falling back to a dip again shortly afterwards. What helped was having headphones to put in for a bit of a pick me up. Also stopped in a shop for a Lucozade sport which had a tremendous effect as well.

Some spare socks would have been handy to have after wading through lots of wet grass. My shoes drain well, and the socks are decent, but something to switch out of would help with morale methinks.

Finally, the sports watch. Ah the watch, I called it names that would make a sailor blush in the second half. I'm on a Garmin Forerunner 945 and it's had a habit of losing GPS or showing grossly inaccurate positioning for a while now.

Usually it's just a bit annoying but at hour 5, completely exhausted, in the middle of a forest & not entirely sure of your direction, it's infuriating.

Garmin did me dirty; the signal dropped out and wouldn't pick up for about 15 minutes, only to tell me I had run way off course. It then cut out again shortly after, leaving me at a fork of 4 trails with no idea which to pick.

Then finally, it lost signal about 200 meters from the finish. Rather than a celebratory run Beechenhurst, I was huddled on the road waiting for the signal to pick up.

I hear it may be due to an expired CPE file, which is a file that helps predict the location of a satellite at any given time. If it's expired it can lead to a much longer time needed to fix on a signal (which I've found a lot lately).

The big lesson for race day will be I'll be using my phone as a back up tracker, so if the watch fails for whatever reason I haven't lost either my position or a recording of the event.

Big Question: Am I Ready?

From a physical perspective, I am 100% happy my body is there and ready for the Green Man. Went out after a days rest and did a 20k without issue, whilst following the 53k I felt there was still some power left in my legs.

From a mental perspective I do feel it's going to be tough. My mind was cracking by hour 5, I'm hoping the comradery of the day and the aid stations will help keep me in check.

Having now finished my last Build week of the training plan, it's tapering time. Looking forward to 3 weeks of milder running before the big day.

Tags

Luke Merrett

Ex smoker and couch potato turned manic trail runner, wannabe ultra runner & proud Dad

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