Above- The Start (photo: Nikki Mills)
It seemed like Saturday 8th February took an age to come around. Dave Urwin and I came up with the idea for a group run, inspired by the American ‘Fat Ass’ concept back in October and watched the interest grow on Facebook and through word of mouth.
Organising something like this is always a bit of a gamble. Because it is free to run and there is no list of entrants like a normal race you have to try and guess how many will turn up on the day. Nici Griffin had pledged to selflessly set up a small aid station at the halfway point and I didn’t want to let her down if no one showed up. This was my biggest fear in the week before the run and I told her so. In typical Nici spirit she responded by saying “you clearly don’t know me well enough if you think I am coming for the numbers”. Nici gives so much to the ultrarunning community and she (along with Nikki Mills who was there to support her husband, Chris) truly turned the day from a group run into an actual event.
In the days before the race a number of people emailed me to say for one reason another they could not make it and I knew there would be others within the 56 or so who joined the facebook group who would not make the start. The weather forecast was appalling for the weekend and whilst we were mostly spared the worst of the weather on the day, I knew several people would have this in their mind with their decision to come or not. In addition to Nici and Nikki, we had some prizes pledged from Keith Godden of the Ultramarathon Running Store and Kurt Dursterhoff of Cotswold Running, so again I hoped turnout was good.
Chris, Rich and an embarassed Charlie the dog (Photo: Nikki Mills)
I arrived to park about half an hour before the start and spotted another runner in the car behind me. I got out to change my shoes and introduced myself hoping it was someone who had come for ‘the run’ and not just ‘a run’. It turned out it was Richard Hill and I was delighted that even if no one else turned up, I had a 100% increase in turnout for my usual training runs. We chatted for a few minutes and then strolled up to the football pitch. A few nervous minutes with no one else in site and then another runner turned up, Piece of String veteran Chris Edmonds. Now I was 200% up.
After a few moments I ran back to drop something in my car and when I returned it was still just Richard and Chris. I got a little nervous but decided to run up the pitch a bit as it curves and I couldn’t see over the hill to see if anyone else was closer to the gate that leads to the Cotswold Way. Thankfully, I spotted a number of people in waterproofs and lycra so knew we had a decent turnout.
I headed over and met up with everyone and what a bunch it was. Whilst only 18 people made the run in the end, I couldn’t have hoped for a better group of people to spend the afternoon with. Pat and Kat who I had met at the B&B at the Brecon Beacons ultra, Rich Cranswick and Chris Edmonds of piece of string fame, dressed in full musketeer costumes (and a special thanks to Rich for taking the social idea to the next level with http://socialultralist.wix.com/main#!events/c213x ). Dave Urwin, budding author and most passionate runner I know, Tim Laney who came 5th at Hardrock in 2005, David and Heather who ran as a couple, Keith Godden of the Ultramarathon Running Store, Emily Canvin who wins everything she enters, Zoe Thornburgh, Ian Walker, Phillipa Crocker, Andrew Jordan, Rich Hill and yours truly. The only person missing who I knew was all set to come was Barry Miller, but as the clock turned to 11:10am we set off. We couldn’t wait any longer for anyone else as we didn’t want to keep Nici waiting at the halfway point in gale force winds and heavy rain. I knew if Barry made it he would likely catch us up and whilst I didn’t see him, I know he did and it was great he came along.
18 souls, up and over the hill.
It started at a gentle pace and is all uphill for the first mile or so. It was great to run with other people, but also not be conscious of the clock like you would in a race. As a prime example, I chatted to Emily Canvin for most of the first three hours and that would never happen in a race. Emily stopped at halfway as she had a niggly knee pain and it would have been daft to injure herself over a fun run. Oh, she had also won the competitive and fast Thames Trot 50 miler six days before.
Ian and Kat avoid one of the most embarrasing deaths imaginable (photo: Chris Mills)
I flitted back and forth chatting to most people at one point or another, but spent a lot of time with Chris Mills and Tim Laney. Both exceptional runners in their own way. Chris has worked incredibly hard to be where he is at now and we both have eyes on a time starting with an ‘8’ at the South Downs Way 50 in early April. It was great getting to know him better and he is hosting the next social ultra in Brecon in two weeks (see Rich’s weblink above for details). Tim is an exceptional athlete and incredibly down to earth. He has run Leadville twice, virtually every ultra in the UK and many in Europe and came 5th at Hardrock in 2005, just a few minutes behind Hal Koerner, Zacchary Grossman and Karl Meltzer!
As we neared the halfway point, David Sanson and his wife Heather caught up with our group of four and we all came into Old Sodbury to meet Nici together. As I said earlier, Nici had taken mine and Dave’s group run idea to the next level and set up a small aid station with squash, water, gels, sweets and fruit as well as Nikki Mills homemade flapjacks which were amazing. It was great to stop for a few minutes and chat to everyone, before I made my way out to avoid getting too cold. I thanked Nici profusely, gave her a hug and was on my way. Not before turning around and jesting “I’m fucking winning! Laters!”. This soon got Chris on my tail.
Halfway and impossible to miss Nici in luminious yellow (photo: Nikki Mills)
What I loved about Saturday was that whilst it wasn’t a race, it did bring out my competitive side after halfway. It wasn’t that I planned on winning, as that didn’t matter and it wasn’t a race, but I decided I wanted to run back into Bath in as fast and efficient way as possible. In the North Downs Way 50 last May, I remember getting to around mile 43 and knowing I was going to get a time decent to qualify for Western States I gave up competitively and didn’t care if people went past me. For this year I want to get faster and so wanted to try and develop my mental and competitive side.
Emily Canvin desperately trying to keep up with ‘British Killian’ (photo: Chris Mills)
As Chris and I made our way back into the mud, he took an s-cap and asked me if I took them. It made me think I hadn’t had any salt on this run and whilst it was cold, I was still sweating loads with all my layers so it made sense to have one. I grabbed one from my bag and we continued on.
As we moved on, a number of other runners passed us coming in towards halfway and I stopped to chat with Dave Urwin. This was Dave’s longest run in a while and he had a big smile on his face. After chatting with Dave I checked my phone and watched Chris and Tim Laney head off, quickly followed by David Sanson (I think David’s partner Heather had stopped at halfway). I moved to catch up, but incredibly quickly started to feel rubbish. Whether this was because it was the first time I had taken a salt tablet since summer (unlikely?) or because it was entering my longest run since the Brecon Beacons in November I don’t know, but I had a real dark patch for six or so miles between Tormarton and Cold Ashton. I was toing and froing with Kat who was having an equally rough time and we alternated between walking and jogging into the serious head wind.
The usual thoughts came into my head, such as “the next road crossing is about a mile away, lets see how I go but I could always call a cab from there…”. I then started to berate myself for this type of thinking that was precisely the reason I dropped from the North Downs Way 100 in August. I have been doing a lot of reading on the mental side of ultrarunning over the winter and knew if I just kept plodding I would likely come out of this funk.
Sure enough, as we approached Cold Ashton and I was running with Zoe, Kat and Ian I had a serious word with myself and stopped to put my i-pod on. I made a decision to run the steep descent from Cold Ashton hard and push myself the final six miles to the finish.
Sure enough, as I climbed up towards Lansdown I pulled through and told myself I was going to finish hard. I looked at my watch and thought seven and a half hours was on the cards if I kept going gently or maybe seven hours if I pushed it.
The last of my water went just before Lansdown golf club and I was left to “drink” energy gels. These put a pep in my step and I once again learnt how important calories were within a distance race. I pulled away from Kat, Ian and Zoe and pushed as hard as I could. I wasn’t focussed on catching Chris, Tim or David but in just finishing to the best of my ability.
I put my headlamp on and made my way towards the favourite part of this route, the descent from Bath Racecourse to Weston which is about 2 miles of lovely gentle downhill. I scanned to see torches ahead but couldn’t see any and kept looking behind to see if the three amigos were rallying too. I thought of Scott Jurek and his trick of turning off his headtorch so people couldn’t see him gaining on them and waited for any of them to blast past me having done that! Chris told me at the finish he saw me gaining and that pushed him to finish fast too.
It turns out David and Tim were first to finish, quickly followed by Chris and then myself about 20 minutes later in 6 hours 48 minutes. As I came off the final hill I saw torches flashing at the bottom and I turned mine on to the flashing function too to say hello. I dropped down and was met by Chris and Nikki, as well as Dave and Pat who had both decided to stop at halfway and save themselves for another day. I was initially sad for Dave, but he was as chipper as ever.
The run had turned into exactly what I had hoped. Dave and Kat will use this as a way to give themselves a kick before they return to crack the Thames Path 100 mile race in May and I will use this to focus on the fact I can get myself out of a low spot if I am just patient and look after myself. It wasn’t a run to see how good we all were, but almost the opposite and gives us plenty of time to know what we need to do before proper races which kick off from the Spring.
Ian, Kat and Zoe finished about fifteen minutes after me having taken a wrong turn near the end but were all in great spirits. Kat then went on to have a monster KFC and drove all the way back to Brighton- two massive out and back’s in one day.
Keith, Barry and Rich Hill finished about an hour later and I think Rich and Chris ‘the musketeers’ stopped at Pennsylvania having run there with Nici after she packed up the aid station. I gather Chris and Rich took so many wrong turns that despite the fact they stopped six miles short of Bath, had run almost the full 50k distance!
A lot of people have sent me really nice messages since the run thanking me for organising it. But I didn’t do much. Dave and I suggested a date and it only became what it was by people coming along and by Nici and Nikki running the aid station. I only did what I will be doing next weekend and the weekend after but just so happened to have some awesome people come with me. I really hope this grows from here and we will definitely put this back on again at some stage. Maybe this time next year, maybe sooner on a different route- perhaps the Palladian Way. I just hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.