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My first Ultra – racing with normal people

by Mike Clyne
Wednesday 9th October 2013
 
 

Race report: Mike Clyne reports from The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra - Hyde Park, October 6, 2013

For a long time now I have been tempted by Ultra distance races and with the encouragement of friends Mark & Tim I decided to dip my toe in the water.  I was also helped along the way by regularly listening to Tom Williams and Martin Yelling on the excellent Marathon Talk podcast

When I realised that the Royal Parks Foundation were staging their second Ultra race I decided to sign up for several reasons.  Firstly because 50km sounded like a sensible step up from 42.2km; secondly because it was relatively close to home and finally because the course was well known to me.  Growing up in SW London and having commuted as well as trained along the river path meant it would be easier knowing where I was.  The biggest bonus though would be running through my favourite park in the world – Richmond Park.

My training was relatively modest but I had taken Mark’s advice and done a lot of ‘Back to Backs’ ie two hour runs on consecutive days.  The second day always felt tough but I was convinced that this would stand me in good stead as well as avoiding potential injuries of 20+ mile outings.

Mike Clyne reports from The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra - Hyde Park, October 6, 2013

As I travelled to the start on race morning the dawn broke with clear blue skies and a pleasant chill.  Hyde Park was starting to buzz as I entered the park - the Ultra was starting 30 minutes earlier than the 15,000+ runners in the Half Marathon.  The Ultra runners had their own marquee which had a great feeling of exclusivity to it.

So there was just the matter of a 50km run to be getting on with, I gathered up my stuff and left it at the very efficient bag drop for the Ultra runners and only had 10 metres to walk to the start line.

Here was my first revelation of the day: Ultra runners look like you and I.  Normal people.  All ages shapes and sizes. I had imagined a start line with an average 3% body fat and everyone with a weathered face from running constantly for 30 years.  If there was anything slightly different to the population I would guess the average age was late 30s to early 40s.  Our collective mid-life crises lined up and on the stroke of 8.30am the hooter went and off we ran.

The first three and a half miles were on the same course as the Half Marathon and we ran along closed roads past some great London sights bathed in early morning sunshine – Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye.  As we reached Blackfriars Bridge, we split off from the half marathon, went over the bridge and joined the towpath along the south side of the river.

There had been some criticism about signage and marshalling in last year’s race but this seemed to have been rectified as every turn was marked and marshalled along the whole route.  Every 5km was marked and timed as well.

As I plodded on under the London Eye, under Westminster Bridge having seen thousands of half marathon runners coming over the bridge and back again for a U turn, I passed opposite the Houses of Parliament.  I was about 5 miles in and took stock.  Feeling good, relaxed and the pacing was what I was aiming for.

My target was to get to the marathon point in about 5 hours and then the finish at about 6 hours.  Having run the London Marathon on four occasions as a pacer for Runners World, I was reasonably happy that I could hold a steady pace but clearly the extra 5 miles were unknown.  Nevertheless as you will see from my 5km split times below it wasn’t too bad.

Just before the 10km point was one of the few hills on the race.  Hills is probably a slight exaggeration as it only meant going up some steps and over Vauxhall Bridge but I witnessed my first injury of the day as another athlete took a tumble on the bridge.  Luckily she was fine but I made a mental note to watch my step.  I passed the 10km checkpoint and realised that the marshalls weren’t very busy.  Like most people I was carrying drinks and gels which didn’t need replenishment yet.

At the next bridge, we came back over to the south side for another few kilometres, before a short excursion over the footbridge at Putney (steepest steps I encountered all day) before then returning back to the south on Putney road bridge.

We were now in rowing territory as the myriad of boathouses flanked our left hand side. Soon I approached the next checkpoint, which was very welcome as the first aid point came to my rescue to avoid some uncomfortable chafing on my nipples, where my plasters had come off (Ed - too much information thanks Mike…) but I also stocked up on drinks and gels.  The checkpoint was being hosted by Crewroom who were the Official Apparel Sponsor for the race and had provided our very cool race t shirts (PS – check out their kit on their website as well as their Facebook page).

As I was nearing the halfway point I was feeling pretty good. My legs were starting to feel a little heavy but nothing bad and my pacing was reasonable.  At that point a rogue pebble on the towpath jumped up and tripped me over.  What an idiot.  My mind had wandered and I was shuffling my feet so took a tumble which included an armful of stinging nettles and my drinks bottles on my belt squirting up my back.  The two elderly walkers who were nearby looked a little bemused as they helped me to my feet, so I dusted myself down and ran on.

After my next stop at the 30km checkpoint to refuel and wash myself down with water I noticed that no-one was overtaking me but I was passing others on a reasonably regular basis.  This continued right to the end of the race which showed that the even pacing was helping me.

After the quiet of Teddington Lock, the bustle of a weekend by the river in Richmond meant I needed to negotiate a lot of people in that area and I was excited to be leaving the towpath to run through Petersham Meadows on my way to Richmond Park.  The marshals were doing a great job of encouraging us and it really did make a difference.  As I went into the park just before 35km I had vivid memories of growing up near there and running in the park whilst training for my first marathon in May 1983.

The deer were out in full force as were runners, walkers, cyclists and families enjoying the idyllic weather.  The runners were getting a lot of encouragement and friendly smiles from Joe Public which just added to the fun.  After I left the park, I caught up with my parents who had come along to say hello.  Other than the checkpoints, this was the only occasion I stopped running.

The final checkpoint at 40km was back on the river and I greedily scoffed down some pretzels relishing the salty taste to offset the non-stop sweetness of energy drinks and gels. Once again the aid station team was very welcoming, helpful and encouraging.

As I drew nearer to Kingston, there were cheers and flags with people shouting my name.  They were at the marathon cheering point and at that point the sign said it all.  You are now an Ultra runner.  I had done 42.2km and the watch showed just over 5 hours.  I felt pretty good and knew I didn’t have any time to waste but snapped a couple of pictures for this article.  As I ran towards Kingston Bridge, I chatted with another runner.  Amazingly he had never run a marathon before, had never run more than 15 miles AND had done a three person channel swim two weeks previously. Chapeau!

The steps to the last bridge were a little more painful but as I ran towards Bushy Park I knew I was going to make it with time being the only aspect that I was unsure about.  I passed the 45km marker with 5.24 on my watch and knew that the sub 6 hour target was in my grasp.  The course then looped around the park taunting me as I was still overtaking other runners.  I was concentrating on keeping my form good and running upright which was resulting in a good steady pace.  My one wish at this point would have been to have had kilometre markers for the last 5km as different marshals said different distances to go, but as I made the final turn, I asked the marshal how far it was to go.  She pointed across the park towards a huge marquee and a finish arch.  With nine minutes shy of 6 hours I knew I could make it so sped up and as I ran towards the chute, heard my name called out.  I trotted over the line feeling remarkably good and as soon as I stopped, a wave of exhaustion enveloped me.

Mike Clyne reports from The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra - Hyde Park, October 6, 2013

I was now an Ultra Runner.

A few seconds later my phone beeped with my finish time (very impressive) and I slowly walked to the enormous finish tent.  There was a happy satisfied atmosphere in there as I collected my bag and went to get a shower.  The hot water was fast flowing and plentiful and as I emerged clean and changed I was getting some great messages of congratulations from friends.  I had only told a couple of people I was doing this race, so my message to others after the finish came as a bit of a shock to most of them.  I wolfed down some food and then hopped on (well clambered awkwardly on) the shuttle bus to the station and headed home.

The Royal Parks Ultra delivered a wonderful race from the glory of our capital city along the river and through some beautiful areas.  We were well looked after and I can easily see myself returning in the future.  Now, all I need do is find a slightly longer ultra for 2014.  40 miles anyone?

My top ten learning points and pieces of advice from the race are shown below:

  1. Back to back training runs are very useful
  2. Make sure there is no chance of chafing.  It’s a long day and this isn’t a distraction you need
  3. Learn to love energy drinks and gels.  At the end I was sick of them but other than two handfuls of pretzels my diet for the whole race was water, energy drinks and gels which got me through perfectly
  4. Washing the hands and face during a long race can make you feel fresher and perk you up
  5. Concentrate on your running form during the latter parts of the race to avoid shuffling along.  Not only does this slow you down but allows cramp to set in
  6. Know the course.  Know when key distance markers will be and where you are
  7. Read the instructions.  Understand when there will be aid stations and what they will have
  8. Carry some basic supplies yourself (drink and gels)
  9. Mentally prepare for the pain which will inevitably come along at some point
  10. Enjoy the race and celebrate the finish

 

My top ten pieces of Royal Parks Ultra run related trivia were:

  1. The Wellington Arch (just past the 1km marker) was used on the Olympic Triathlon route in 2012 and the World Triathlon Final in 2013.  Managed by English Heritage, it is also a ventilation arch for the London Underground network which apparently results in a few calls to the Fire Brigade each year as the steam is mistaken for smoke.
  2. At the 7.5km point on the Southbank is where Hugh Grant told Andie McDowell that he loved her in Four Weddings and a Funeral
  3. At the 9.5km point, the route passes by the MI6 building.  This location was used in the James Bond films The World is Not Enough when Bond is jettisoned from the building in a boat and in Skyfall when once again the building blows up.  Obviously the actual building wasn’t blown up but models were used.  Luckily there were no such incidents as we went passed.
  4. The annual Boat Race start just after Putney Bridge (19km mark) and finishes just before Chiswick Bridge (26km).  The Boat Race is ‘only’ 6.8km long – about one eighth the distance of the Royal Parks Ultra.  The record time for the Boat Race is 16m19s.
  5. The Royal Botanic Gardens (known as Kew Gardens) between the 29 and 30km marker is home to the world’s smelliest flower
  6. The Petersham Meadows at 33.5km is one of the few smallholdings still working in London and there were cows grazing there on race day
  7. The Dysart Arms pub at 34km was the place where the idea for the London marathon was born over pints of bitter.  The story can be seen here.
  8. Eel Pie Island on the river at 39.5km was the place where The Rolling Stones had a residency and were then ‘discovered’.  David Bowie also played his first gig there.
  9. There have been no tolls levied to cross Kingston Bridge (44km) since 1870 – this change was celebrated by fireworks and the burning of the toll gates.
  10. Bushy Park (44.5 - 50km) is one of the eight Royal Parks.  It was also the site of the first ever parkrun held in October 2004.

 

Here are my splits (from my own watch as the timing mats were sometimes a little way away from the actual 5km markers):

  • 5km 32.49
  • 10km 33.49
  • 15km 35.06
  • 20km 38.15 (included a few minutes stop at the first aid point)
  • 25km 35.28
  • 30km 36.27
  • 35km 36.24
  • 40km 38.40
  • 45km 37.16
  • 50km 33.45

Total time 5h 58m 03s.  203rd out of 255 finishers; 147th / 183 males

To find out more about the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra and how to register for next year’s race go to: www.royalparksultra.com/take-part/

Men's results

1 Graham Hedger 3:30:54
2 Raoul Monks 3:35:27
3 Tim Heming 3:37:24

 

Women's results

1 Philippa Taylor 3:38:37
2 Erica Terblanch 04:01:51
3 Janet Worster 04:03:10

 

Click here for full results

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About The Author

Mike Clyne

Mike has been writing the occasional article for Run247 for the past few years.
 
Since his debut marathon (Abingdon 1983) aged 16, he has now completed 34 stand-alone marathons and has completed 10 Ironman triathlons (that include a marathon at the end).  He has finished the London Marathon on 14 occasions and has also run a few times as a Runners World pacer hitting his target every time (except his 2014 DNF).  Mike is currently targeting the Comrades Marathon on 10th June and, yes, he is nervous about this!
 
When he isn’t plodding around these races he can also be heard on the microphone as commentator and announcer at a number of events.
 
You can follow him on Twitter @IronmanMike and on Instagram @Mike7Oaks
 
 
 
 
 

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