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Last one standing

by editor
Friday 13th May 2016
Last One Standing was a new multi-lap event on the 2016 race calendar, taking place in February in scenic Castleward, Northern Ireland. The National Trust site is actually used in the set of 'Game of Thrones' and you are very likely to charge past a few groups of 'cloak-clad' tourists during the race. 
There are 3 race options in the event - 4.2 miles (1 lap) 8.4 miles (2 laps) and an ultra with the potential to run up to 200 miles! The course is 90% trail, but not technical underfoot. There are some short climbs and a longer 'drag' on the circuit, but all of the 'up' is in the first couple of miles, after which, you can turn your legs over on a fast flat tarmac road, then head downhill almost all the way home. If the weather has been dry, you could easily get away with road shoes; however, if the rain sets in (as it did in the early morning hours of the event); there are a couple of woodland sections which get quite slippy. The good news is though, that you get access to your kit bag every 4.2 miles, so feel free to bring your 'walk-in ultra wardrobe' and change shoes and outfits at will!
The format of the ultra is different to many multi lap or '24 hour' type races where the aim is to get as far as you can in the time limit; this event is all about pacing. Everyone must cover a 4.2 mile lap within the hour and be ready to set off again on the stroke of the next hour (over the start line by one minute past to be precise). Anyone who doesn't make the hourly cut off gets a DNF medal and must drop out. This continues until there is only 'one man standing'. This last man or woman then needs to complete a single lap within the hour to be crowned the winner! Race continues for up to 48hrs!
Organisers Sammy and Adrian Daye had evidently put a huge amount of effort into planning the course, start and finish area and thinking of all the little details that really are appreciated in an endurance event.
Food wise, there were two places to get fuel en route. Half way an unmanned tent had been set up with a plentiful supply of water and sweets. At the start / finish area of each lap, there was a fantastic set up in the courtyard area. This included a tent full of cake, pretzels, milkshakes, water, fruit, Tailwind nutrition products etc. A brilliant hot food and drinks van with a lovely chef providing an endless supply of comfort food (all free to runners) including soup, pasta, porridge, wraps and chips! In addition, a huge barn was open for runners to leave kit bags, set up tables of their own food, tape, painkillers, deep heat, massage sticks, you name it. There were even hay bails, a bench and a camp bed for weary runners to rest their legs In between laps or at the end of their event.
A massive plus for me was the huge sound system blasting out some awesome dance music. This really added some atmosphere and was a great lift both in the final straight at the end of each lap and when you had to get back on that startline for the next lap.
I landed on the Friday night and stayed with a group of competitors onsite in a lovely little bunkhouse. A few of us wandered down to the village pub which did excellent food and a 'meal deal' for runners. It's only a mile down the road so we thought a little stroll wouldn't take anything out of the legs. What we didn't know was that the road started about 2 miles down the very long drive....so we wimped out and dialled a taxi back!
The shorter races took place in the morning and at exactly 12 midday on the Saturday over 100 runners set out on the course for lap 1 of the ultra. The race had attracted a mix of runners from road and trail running backgrounds, including some who wanted to bag their first ultra...and of course, someone bravely dressed up...as a chicken! I heard a friend staying in the bunk house ask the chicken if he could actually see in the outfit, to which he replied 'no peripheral vision' and I hoped that he didn't veer too close to the water's edge!

LMS collage

The first lap was almost painfully slow, everyone deliberately holding back with mutters of 'too fast' reverberating through the group. Two metres out of the gate I almost had a 'peripheral crash' with the chicken so decided to up the pace slightly for some clear ground (luckily the head - the chicken's- came off after lap 1!). Having had a cold in the preceding week and a few challenges at home resulting in very little sleep; I knew that on this occasion a 24hr+ effort was probably going to finish me off. So, I chose a pace faster than I would have if an all night stint was planned and set myself a minimum number of laps as my target to hit 50 miles, at which point I decided that I'd assess how I felt. Many runners set a target sustainable pace and picked out landmarks that they aimed to reach within a particular time on each lap. I soon met up with a lady called Caz, who was running at my pace and we passed the miles chatting and making up names for sections of the course to help us mentally in the night section; such as 'puddle lane', a flat section at the end of each lap where we knew that we had to jump over 3 puddles. Then it was up a small grassy slope and into the finish. Together we kept a comfortable pace, coming in on 41-42 minutes per lap; giving us the best part of 20 minutes to do what I called the 'faff and revive' routine; personal, regimented and precise for every runner.
My faff n revive consisted of diving straight into my down jacket, even if I was sweating, as my body temperature tends to plummet as soon as I stop moving....especially in February! Next it was straight to the food tent or van for a small bite to eat. It is a bit of a balancing act as you can eat so frequently, it would be easy to overdo it, but by the same token, getting enough in early when it's easier to tolerate is really important if you're going for a long stint (I'll stop there or I'll start unleashing my enthusiasm for all things sports nutrition!). Next was a bathroom visit if required and I waited in the warm barn until 3 minutes to go until the next lap. Then it was jacket off, quick dance on the start line whilst waiting to see who was coming back for more and off we'd go.
As darkness fell, we had to concentrate a little more as the field was thinning out and some of the woodland descents were getting a bit slippy. However, superbly organised, there were marshals at the turn that was easiest to miss and even rows of fairy lights at a couple of points around the course to help guide you at turns.
At my 50 mile minimum, I was still feeling surprisingly good, so decided to push on for 100km. This was a good decision for me as I kept pace until my 15th Lap then started to feel the previous week very definitely catch up with me. I staggered up the hill to the bunk house, hot shower and a few hours sleep however, and I was ready to go back down to the circuit and support an epic battle between the last two men (Pat and Bobbie) standing; eventually Bobbie claimed the win.

LMS collage 2

The course is perfect for spectators as you can see runners passing very close to the courtyard at the halfway mark as well as at the start and finish. 
This race is superbly organised and ideal for a group of friends or club mates who want to do an event together, but who may run at different speeds or different distances. Unlike a traditional setup, you get to see everybody every hour and for those who finish earlier, it's ideal to stay and support your comrades!
Taking place in February, this is an ideal event to get some big miles in early season, but with the added comforts of being able to have regular breaks and kit changes, it's not as much of a shock to the post-Christmas system as a straight run.
Entries for the 2017 event are open now and word on the street is that Sammy and Adrian are seeking permission to make this a 72hour event! Who's up for taking on Bobbie's record next year?!

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