Every ultra marathon is different and from every ultra marathon you learn something new. My main learning points from the Speyside Way ultra and the River Ayr Challenge were to do with nutrition especially in the latter stages of the race.
Beacons Ultra is both longer (73 km/45 miles) and hillier (1700 m/5100 ft of ascent) than Speyside and River Ayr – although for some reason I hadn’t quite grasped the hillier bit – and therefore making sure I took on enough food during the race would be even more important. Here is the Garmin trace of the run.
One thing I have noticed with all of these events is that you have to keep an open mind and adapt your plan according to the conditions and how the body is behaving. More on that later.
One of the reasons for doing this event was because my former coach and good friend Darryl Carter of Target Fitness was looking to get a number of teams entered through one of his sponsors (Elagen Sport). They kindly also supplied us with Elagen Sport and Beta Alanine supplementation a couple of months before the event.
Although we were racing in teams everyone would race for themselves with the accumulated times of the team members counting towards the team ranking.
The race started at 7:30am on Saturday morning and as runners were making sure they wouldn’t be at the front when we were sent off I found myself on the front row. Out of the blocks and 5 members of the Elagen teams were in front. The first 4 km were along the canal path before we crossed the canal and started the first climb (400 m ascent). The speed over the first 4km was frantic and fast (4:34 min/km), too fast!
Things settled down up the first climb up to Tor y Fol. When looking at an earlier Garmin trace I had worked out that the total ascent for the run would be around 900 m. With that in my head I tried to run up the first climb which is rather steep and not really for running. I did run most of it but it wasn’t very sensible.
Over the top we got into the low cloud but descended out of it quite quickly as we had a short fast fell like descent. The climb up to the gap was much more gradual and completely runnable. I was in around 15thplace at this moment going OK but not really feeling that I was running well. At this stage in the other ultras I had done recently I would feel great pushing along. I was just going through the motions here, walking for a minute every 19 minutes to get some food in. The descent off the gap was good, once my knees stopped screaming at me from the early part of the descent which was very rocky. Once at the bottom we had some single track trails to run through which I really enjoyed, my kind of terrain. The following tarmac on the other hand was very unpleasant. I lost a couple of places here but got a shout from Fiona as she was walking against the flow of runners to cheer people on.
Got back to the canal path and plodded on hoping to see the start around every bend of the canal. It finally came. I completed the first lap in 3:36 hrs, got my water bottles refilled and carried on. It felt like a relief to be on the 2nd lap, for one because I now knew exactly what lay ahead of me and I could tick off the kilometres and I had less distance left than I had done. I still felt it was all a bit hard going. 2 guys came past me and then I was caught by the lead woman who stayed just behind me, which kind of annoyed me as I felt pressured and wanted to run my own race. I think she was pacing herself off me (one of the other runners mentioned a bit later that she had been struggling). I was still not feeling the love for this race at this point yet so her breathing down my neck didn’t help. Or did it? I think it gave me a well needed boost although I didn’t see it at first.
We crossed the canal again and I proceeded to walk up the hill this time, power walked. The lead woman power walked away from me, she had longer legs. I walk up the hill with another guy and shared my water with him and we got away from the 3rd guy who had passed me on the canal. At the top of the climb I decided to take two paracetamol.
The descent was painful as it is steep and the knees hated it. The paracetamol hadn’t kicked in yet. Around 15 min later I decided to run through a walk break as I had walked up the hill anyway thus changing my system to a 39 min run/1-2 min walk. It worked so I thought I would stick with it. To call this a 2nd wind was an understatement. The guy I had walked up the hill with was ahead of me but I came past him soon enough as I then also caught and passed another guy who was struggling and had been for the last 1.5 hours apparently (he got a 2nd wind later on though and came flying past me again).
Still I stuck to 39/2-ish run/walk for the remainder of the race, well the remainder of the ascent. I had a rather generous walk break of 4-5 min at the gap and then didn’t stop again until I had reached the finish. I nearly caught one more runner coming along the canal but we were separated in the end by around 1 minute. Legs couldn’t give more and I only saw him once round one bend with around 2.5 km to go. I actually thought I had made it up as I didn’t see him again for the next 2.5km. Only the results confirmed that we were quite close.
From the moment I took the paracetamol it was around 3 hours to the finish. It changed the whole run, or should I say it made me run, I ran strong from there on in, I enjoyed the run after my second descent of Tor y Fol. The other change her was the longer time spent running with longer walk breaks. This also seemed to help although at times I was not sure mentally if I could cope with running for 39 minutes until I got a break, it worked though.
I finished in 19th overall and 18th male runner in a time of 7:49 hrs. The lead woman who passed me early on in the 2nd lap went on to win the women’s race and broke the female course record by 1:10 hours.
My target was for a faster time but that was based on much less ascent. I am very pleased with the result especially with the change in fortunes and I am amazed what a difference 2 paracetamol can make. Strangely I think I took them at the right time. I am not sure the same effect would have been had earlier.
Darryl’s team finished first and our team came in 3rd. Full results are here.
I consumed around 1500 calories during the race and drank around 1300ml of liquids. I did have a total of 2100 cals with me and 1800 ml of drink. In total I am pleased with the way I dealt with the race and the food intake was good. My stomach was happy throughout. I didn’t eat a lot during the last 60 min of the race which will account for some of the calorie shortfall, the same goes for the first hour.
Beacons Ultra is a really well organised event and attracts a quality field. Compared to some of the other ultras I have done signage and marshalling is very good here. I’d do the event again. I can see myself knocking a chunk off my time.