On the 28th August 2021 I attempted the Summer Green Man Ultra, my first proper ultra event. It went terribly and I crashed out at 38km!
It absolutely destroyed my morale and confidence, having spent 4 months training, feeling properly tapered & ready for it on the day, not even getting to marathon distance on the day absolutely sucked.
After some post-DNF testing runs & lots of pouring over Garmin stats, I realised that, more than anything, it was a complete lack of pace control on my part more than any other factor. Had I stuck the the plan (a plan I'd been drilling into myself for months) of keeping to a 06:00 or slower pace from the off, I'd have faired much better. As it stands I let the race day enthusiasm get the better of me, and by the time I'd realised I was exhausted and ready to drop.
But I couldn't let it finish there. 73 people had sponsored me for the event, raising £1,660 for Special Effect, not to mention a whole heap of well wishes and support from folks after the DNF. An ultra was promised, so I got back to training with a view to do attempt #2 on the 11th September (2 weeks later).
Not going to lie it wasn't going well over those 2 weeks running up to the second attempt.
The first week I returned to 76km volume for the week ending in a 28k long run. The main aim was checking everything was ok and drilling the target pace into me. I'd set the watch up so I could clearly see my current pace and HR zone, and brought a water bladder to carry the extra liquid I'd need for a (mostly) self-supported ultra.
After the long run my right shin went completely. In 2 years of running I've never had shin injuries, and suddenly I could barely walk. Had no idea what triggered it! Thankfully is receded over a few days and didn't get worse in the second weeks tapering runs.
In the second week our daughter brought home a vicious stomach bug from nursery that knocked out my partner, followed swiftly by myself, for a couple of days. Rather than carb loading like I was suppose to, let's just say the opposite was happening.
Was mostly recovered from the bug by Friday afternoon and able to eat again, however in no way back to 100%. We discussed delaying it further, however honestly it was hanging over me and I just wanted it done. So ahead we went.
The plan for the day was:
- I'd carry all the water and nutrition I'd need on me up to the 48km mark
- My partner would meet me in Woollard to restore my supplies (both physical and emotional!) for the remaining 28km
- If I needed anything else en-route there were some opportunities to stop into shops
Shirehampton to Warmley
Got cracking at 05:30, starting from our home in Shirehampton (which thankfully sits close to the route already) rather than Long Ashton.
Right from the off it was 100% about keeping the pace slow & steady, constantly checking the watch to ensure it said 06:00 or higher, and keeping as close to a HR Zone 2 for as long as I could muster.
Getting towards Easter Compton all was going well. The sun was up, the smiles were out, and everything felt smoother than last time.
Got to Bradley Stoke and was cruising well, enjoyed the woodlands as I pushed past Winterbourne.
At the 3 hour mark was coming past Kendleshire Golf Club and the food situation too a sharp nosedive. Nothing I was eating seemed to agree with me, not shot blocks, protein bars or gels. It felt like the food went in then just sat there, making me feel nauseous.
At this point I stopped eating, it was just making me worse, and instead depend on the Lucozade Sport I'd brought (which had some, but not enough, carbs in it).
Coming up over Warmley my morale had taken a plunge, likely due to the food situation, so threw on some Metallica and pushed down the hill to my first running support.
Warmley to Willsbridge
Met the wonderful Rebecca H at the railway station car park in Warmley and we did the next 5k to Willsbridge together.
Having a fellow Running Punk to chat to felt fantastic and pulled me right out that morale dip.
Reaching Willsbridge the water bladder was running a bit low, thankfully the cafe their was staffed by friendly folk who let me fill it up and be on my way.
Waved goodbye to Rebecca and was off to the fields towards Pensford.
Willsbridge to Pensford
My next big stop was Woollard, a tiny village just east of Pensford where my partner Zoe and daughter Ellie were waiting with a big bag full of supplies.
This section took me past Keynsham and the picturesque memorial park there, along the River Chew then up some lanes for a descend into the village.
Getting there I tried to eat more food (got a bit in me, but not enough) then did a refill of water and Lucozade Sport. Ellie was asleep when I arrived but woke up just before setting off, so I got a nice cuddle from her that powered me for the next 28k :)
Ran off into the fields to Pensford, trying to prepare myself for the toughest part of the route.
Pensford to Dundry
Pensford marked the 50km point and the start of the dreaded Pensford to Dundry climb. From the viaduct in the village at 35m above sea level there was 8k of climbing up to a peak of 215m overlooking Bristol. What makes this section tough is that it's a few up and downs, then a long gradual climb up to Dundry that saps your already low energy reserves.
At this point I was walking the hills ... and flats, and only running on downhills.
Just before North Wick I realised I was on the wrong side of a stream with no bridge in sight, and got my feet soaking wet sloshing through to the other side.
The climb up Dundry Hill is a sight to behold, and if slightly less exhausted I'd have loved it.
At the time I was just about ready to be done reaching the viewpoint over Barrow Reservoir...
Dundry to Ashton Court
But not to worry, because from here to Ashton Court is a long, wonderful downhill section.
I went from slow painful walking uphill to a nice jog down, even enjoying some of the technical trails leading into Long Ashton and the golf club!
Got a good second wind here and made it to Ashton Court much faster than I'd expected, given the last 8k was almost all walking.
Ashton Court to Shirehampton
In Ashton Court I met Dan Rowlands, who brought smiles, much needed conversation and a whole bag of jelly beans. My stomach still wasn't right, but I was starving having not eaten anything since a bite of a protein bar in Woollard, so was much appreciated. Fun fact: the two days after the run I was eating jelly beans obsessively.
Dan kindly walked with me all the way back to Shirehampton. We even managed to run two sections; the first a downhill through Stoke Bishop, the second the last few roads to my house.
At the house Zoe and Ellie were waiting with a hand drawn sign to welcome me back. ❤
Along with a home made medal, which is more precious to me than any official race medal could be ❤❤
And there we have it. The Summer Green Man Ultra completed, only 2 weeks late.
Total elapsed time was 10:34:26, with a total distance of 46 miles (76.2km).
Right off the bat I started with the shivers after waving goodbye to Dan. I'd totally forgotten this was meant to happen, so hadn't prepared any warm clothes or blankets, ending up in a sweaty ball in bed instead.
My appetite was gone for the rest of the night, struggling to get through any substantial solid food until the following day. Two days after the post-ultra hunger kicked in and I ate concerning amounts for a few days before returning to normal.
Body wise no real complaints, the bottom of my feet were sore but no injuries or lasting damage to speak of. Had 4 days off then did a test run on Thursday with no issues.
Things I learned from the experience:
- Having support makes all the difference; if it wasn't for meeting up with Rebecca, or seeing Zoe and Ellie mid way, or having Dan run me in at the end, I think I would have stayed in a dark spot for the majority of the route, if completed it at all.
- Previously I've said I always hide my stats on my watch (e.g turn off pace, hide heart rate) and focus instead of being in the moment. I realise now that, at least for the first part of the run, it was actually important to closely monitor my pace and heart rate to ensure I wasn't going too fast or over exerting too early.
- The nutrition plan doesn't always work out, and having a back up is important. In this instance liquid calories saved me a bit, and I may look at using Tailwind for future ultras
- But also when the plan doesn't work out, it doesn't mean game over, it just means adapting. I still got through it without eating anywhere near enough, just a lot slower than I might have been.
- Using a water bladder, it is difficult to judge how much water you have left. I ended up drinking more than I'd thought and being close to running out before reaching the aid station.
Mantras & Other Weird Stuff
I'd learned the phrase "Shinrin-yoku" exists before the run, which is Japanese for "Forest bathing"; the practise of immersing yourself fully in woodland for relaxation and reconnection with nature. I liked it, and said it out load whenever reaching a good wooded bit.
However it didn't really have the impact I thought it would have. I thought it may uplift me, but it felt empty.
No, for some reason two things stuck in my head instead:
- The lyrics to "Famous Last Words" by My Chemical Romance
- There's a scene from Peppa Pig (we have a 18 month old daughter, it's pretty much all we watch nowadays) where Grandpa Rabbit is running a gym group and says "Wobble like a jelly!". Something about the way the voice actor says it cracks me up, and I legit shouted it a few times, with one especially enthusiastic one on the descent from Dundry.
I tried listening to music around the 30k mark, but the intensity of the Metallica album didn't pair with the slow steady pace I was going for, and felt more distracting than anything. The headphones didn't go in again for the rest of the route.
A massive thank you to my partner Zoe and daughter Ellie for being my rock, my support crew on the day and the best finish line anyone could hope for.
Huge thanks to Rebecca and Dan for running with me on the day. Would not have made it without either of them.
The 73 folks who sponsored me and raised £1,660 for the outstanding Special Effect charity.
And finally; to those who gave me so many well wishes after the DNF, and then again on the day of the #2 attempt. Special shout out as always to the Running Punks for being the friendliest, most supportive running club out there.