Trailing the adventures of an ultra-marathon runner; Sheffield & the Peak District National Park, UK

White Rose Ultra 60

It was never in the plan because I don’t have plans because of my sporadic half self employed lifestyle and fear of failure or putting all my eggs in one basket I don’t know but planning is hard for me  and I like my sporadicness. Yet I still have goals buzzing in my head. I’d always wanted to go that little bit longer than 50 (or 53) miles but just never feel ready for anything humongously stupid. So after 43 miles of the Limestone Way Ultra at the beginning of October I started thinking whether I could do 1/3rd more running if I recovered sensibly and nothing fell off me.

So October came and went and I found myself signing up for the White Rose Ultra – 60 a few days before its closing date. I’d heard great things about the event and having done the Oldham Way Ultra a few years ago I knew these guys put on a good show. My only concern was the 30 mile ‘loop’ course which would mean I would have to run it twice.

So Let me explain more. The White Rose Ultra is either a 30, 60 or 100 mile race in the heart of West Yorkshire. Its a 30 mile loop, which for the 60 I would do twice, says the mathematics of ultra marathon running. The 100’s would do 3 times and then a bit. I wasn’t sure if the two loop concept would suit me, I like routes, from somewhere to somewhere else, I like islands too so loops may make me loopy but far from it, it went like clockwork.

Where should I run to?
I got the world in my hands and I’m ready to play
They say I’m Crazy
But how can I be crazy it if I’m loving every day?
Okay
I got the keys to the ultra so go
With me, ’cause I got the keys, baby

Don’t wanna wake up one day wishing that i’d done more
I wanna live fast and never look back, that’s what I’m here for
Don’t wanna wake up one day wondering “where’d it all go?”
‘Cause I’ll be home before you know,

Am I insane?” Of course, friends and family also asking you if you’re insane won’t help so I don’t let them know. So no one knew I was there on the start line at 8 am on the 4th November. I don’t tell people when I go out for a long run I just well, I just go. Running is that simple. Out on the trails it is just me and my trainers, there is a sense of solidarity a sense of indivisibility a sense of anonymity. Yet of course people were dot watching but people who didn’t know me. I like it that way. I am at peace with myself that is all. I hope.

Worry less run more

So here we were mulling around Standedge Tunnel and Visitors Centre in Marsden, on this somewhat drizzly dreary November morning, a Yorkshire November morning, thick cloud, a little rain which would gradually open up for more Yorkshire Hilly Weather. I glanced around at the start line thinking how much ultra running porn there was here. Each person must have between £300 and £500 worth of gear on them – trainers, waterproof porn, backpacks, running clothes, mandatory kit head torches, food etc. Multiply that by the amount of people on the start line – 330 runners, That’s a lot of ultra porn.

Before we knew it the countdown had begun. The field of runners surged forwards into the Yorkshire gloom* and we were off, 30’s with their green numbers, 60s with their blue numbers and 100s with their red numbers. *I am from Yorkshire myself.

30 mile – 230 preregistration 198 starters 190 finishers
60 mile – 100 preregistration 85 starters 43 finishers
100 mile 50 preregistration 36 starters 12 finishers

(Taken from WRU Facebook page)

Those with the word ‘speed’ on their trainers zoomed off across the dam wall and down into the town. The rest of us took it at a more leisurly pace faffing with our gear, shoe laces or too busy taking selfies or holding our gopros. I felt in control of my feet, pounding the first few miles of what would become 61 good happy miles.

I had packed my long sleeved top in my rucksack, and just wearing my tee and aldi merino wool arm warmers which were to become the best thing ever in my kit for the race – honestly! At a snippet of £4.99 they were truly awesome. On top of that, my waterproof stuffed with buff and gloves and finally my rucksack with all compulsory gear plus spare this that and the other including spare kitchen sink just in case I needed the toilet and had to wash my hands.

After a little climb out of Marsden on tarmac and a descent back down into town runners were to face the ‘monster climb’ up to the top of Wessenden. I had a homemade flapjack gunge square that I was going to eat in the car on the way up but forgot so I began to munch on that whilst sipping a little bit of my drink. I decided to go with Tailwind as my drink today. I’d used it before a few years ago, and bought a batch to try on my long runs at home which seemed to not give me that awful sickly feeling that other well known electrolyte tablets have been giving me recently. I especially like the Naked stuff and the green tea which would take place of my normal cuppa of Matcha green tea that I have every lunchtime. Mixed with homemade flapjack and a couple of other little treats along the way this was my successful recipe to ensure that I didn’t overcook the run nor underbake it.

The course was dotted with a few motivational signs – the first one I smiled at, ‘Never trust a fart at 3 miles‘ – never trust a fart at 30 miles I would say, or 60 mile even, as people stopped for Selfies along the way and probably farted too.

I was glad to get my feet off the hard tarmac and on the scrumptious trails heading up Wessendon. The hilltops shone in their self beauty despite the wind chill as I climbed higher and higher. My buff came out to protect me from the headwind, head went down to grind up to the first water point some 6 or 7 miles in at Wessenden Head.

It is important to remember that each footstrike carries you forward not backward and every time you put on your running shoes you are different in some way than you were the day before

Onto Wessenden Head Road, it was still heads down as the the wind and rain blew across the barrage of crazy ultra runners. After a mile or so of descent we were back on the trails. Great I thought, until I took a tumble. FFS I mumbled, as I dusted myself off and threw some drink down my throat wondering if energy levels were seeping away already? I think I was just daydreaming, in my own little world not watching those sticky outty rocks ready to trip over a crazed ultrarunner. what was that about – me daydreaming. No harm done still in one piece.

The course was a mix of road, country lanes and trail. I had been told there was a lot of road – 60% came to mind but it never felt like that much as the route was always varied, trail, road, trail country lane, mud trail, road, country lane, little town, country lane, trail, mud, village, hill up, hill down, hill up again, hill down again, and look a check point with food! Eat all the food!

The first welcoming checkpoint at around 12 miles just after Blackmoorfoot Reservoir had a plethora of mouthwatering goodies including biscuits, flapjacks, bananas, cake and crisps. Not to be too greedy, I grabbed some flapjack and jelly babies whilst the kind volunteers filled up my water flasks. It was a cup-less event and I had bought a running cup a few weeks before but never actually used it on the race until right at the end when I was craving heaps of orange juice. I like the concept of cup-less events, a great way to be environmentally friendly.

45kg off bananas who eats 45kg of bananas! 

(Taken from the WRU Facebook page)

Moving on ahead and downwards I got chatting to a girl who had done the 100 last year and was ‘just on the 30’ this year. I dislike the word ‘just’ as 30 miles is a long long way, full credit to anyone doing any distance today, its a long long way. She gave me a tip about shining my torch into sheep eyes for fun in the dark on my next lap. My next lap I cried out in my head – ohhh… it sunk in that I had to do this all over again some 30 miles later – could I make it to this point in day light?

I left the girl, as I galloped down into the town of Clough, catching up a couple of guys who were debating which way to go – an arrow marker pointing straight on but also possibly to one side. Straight on I said, looking at my breadcrumb trail on my watch. I was right – hurrah!

I kept up with the guys through the town then they left me as they power hiked up the hill, my little legs not quite meeting the requirements of these 6 feet guys.

Try not to fight the trail instead try to feel the natural rhythm the flow and rather than attempting to conquer it practice becoming one with it.

Zen Runner

 

I caught up a ‘virgin’ ultrarunner – his first ultra, and he’d picked the 60, what a race to pick, 9000ft of climb and 60 miles, I was mighty impressed. I wished him well then went on my way, through a little village called Wellhouse I saw a house or two but no well and round Bloster Moor. Sometimes it was time for a wee. I’d seen the guys just stop at random places but being a girl and not having a shewee I had to be a little more discrete. I checked behind me, let a guy go passed then dipped into a gully. All done, kitchen sink in and out of my rucksack and I was on my way again.

More tarmac led down into another village and an inevitable climb back out, this was a very bumpy course that’s why they call it ‘Yorkshire Flat’. The route was immaculately signposted right through to the next checkpoint – awaiting more food and lots of cheery marshals sending us their good wishes. I didnt stop for long grabbing some more water and flapjack and then powered on up the bridleway with the M62 whistling in the distance.

I was now some 18 or so miles in and beginning to overtake some of the runners, some from the 30 maybe some from the 60 and maybe a few from the 100.  A sharp incline on rocky terrain awaited us as I stepped it up a gear.  Getting the idea of this Yorkshire flatness by now?

I followed the route onto some moorland around Scapegoat Hill. A very kind marshal was directing us straight ahead with a ‘well done’ and a thank you back from me. As I passed a couple of the 30 women they kindly said ‘well done to me’ as I exchanged polite greetings back. I was beginning to wonder when I was going to bonk, was I going to fast? Should I slow down? Well there was a sign just before a very muddy field that said ‘slow down you are not going to win‘. Little did I know….

Running is what happens when nothing else can

21 miles in another helpful marshal shouted well done and asked if I was 30 or 60. 60 I shouted and he said ‘oh very well done’ and I politely thanked him and ran on wards and upwards towards some crazy muddiness of manureness. This section required core strength slip sliding away whilst trying to eat some more flapjack and sip some green tea Tailwind. It’s called multitasking, which us girls are apparently quite good at.

The hustle and bustle of the M62 could still be heard in the background as the manure infested pathway gave way to an open bridleway and I began to overtake a few more people still questioning if I was going to fast. Onto the road of doom, well it felt like it, fast and flat – my worst case scenario. However rubbish I was feeling right now I was catching up a guy ahead who I could see was doing the 100 – so if I was going to fast surely he was too?

We exchanged some sort of conversation as he or I went ahead I can not remember which way around it was, and finally leaving the road of doom behind I was not looking forward to that in 30 miles in the dark (and rain).

People can do far more than they think they can. You have to be idiot enough to try it.

(Ed Whitlock)

The route twisted round into a long stretch of bridleway. Muddy at times, bubbling with sticky puddles. I was enjoying my own company, the solidarity of my mind and the mud. The bridleway gave way to more tarmac as the road bent round giving views of the townships below somewhere would be the HQ – I am not allowed to say ‘finish’ at this point.

A bunch of runners ahead of me were my next target and I caught them up to say hi and have a little chat then I moved swiftly up the hill but was only to be caught on the downhill some 5 minutes later. The downhill was sharp, and steep. I exchanged a few words with a couple of guys doing the 100, they advised me it was about 30 minutes back to HQ and to walk down the hill on the next lap to save the knees.

So on my merry way thinking that it must be reasonably flat all the way back to HQ but oh no, there was a brilliant sting in the tail. Mile 29, Oh mile 29, I love you mile 29 more than I love flapjack. A steeply steep hill evilly laughed at us as we pushed up one slow footstep at a time. This gave way to further climbs, from road to trail. My heart sank, I normally like hills but I was beginning to fatigue and question if I could do another lap. One girl and her other half came breezing past effortlessly as my little feet negotiated the rough ground with difficulty.

Seriously? Still uphill?

I caught up another lovely lady on the uphill bits and we exchanged our good wishes, she kept saying well done to me as she was doing the 30, I think this was the amazingly inspiring Karen Nash who I believe has done crazy mad distances – please put me wrong if it was not, yet her words of encouragement kept me going on the last mile.

All  I could say was ‘where the hell is HQ, it should be here now?;  I was fatiguing as other runners escaped to put in a really strong finish leaving me to tip toe down into HQ territory knowing I had to do it all again.

The crew back at HQ were most welcoming and supportive, advising me to get straight in and out. ‘Don’t hang about‘ they said, as I ran up the stairs to find my drop bag. I decided to change my very muddy and wet socks throw in my puffer body warmer and extra base layer all in addition to my compulsory kit. I grabbed my spare hand torch even though I had spare batteries for my standard head torch and throw in extra gloves and buff. I would rather be warm and carry an extra few 100 grams of stuff than to DNF with hypothermia. My rucksack was spilling out at the seams. I nearly forgot the extra nutrition, a couple more sachets of Tailwind, a couple of gels to keep me going in case I really did bonk along with a shop bought cereal bar and I was soon out there – 10 minutes or so maybe? I wasn’t counting.

I picked up some more flapjack from the table before I left and stuffed 2 sausage rolls into my pocket to fuel my adventure. I hadn’t eaten a sausage roll for many a years, but I just fancied a sausage roll. Only on an Ultra.

Eat. Hill. Run. Repeat.

So there I was waving off HQ for another 30 miles, this time I would be on my own for most of the route, battling with my mind, the darkness and some delicious Yorkshire Weather. The HQ guys wished me the best of luck, they told me they thought I was first female but wasn’t sure because people could have not come back into HQ. So I didnt know. What you dont know you dont know.

Whilst walking up the first hill again, I faffed with my rucksack trying to put ‘needy clothes’ at the top and ’emergency’ clothes at the bottom, I thought I may as well faff whilst walking up the hill as I would walk it anyway so why waste time at HQ faffing when you can faff and walk. Multitasking at its best.

How can I still be going uphill? I must have run out of uphillness by now?

This is where the Aldi arm warmers came into their own, on and off and on and off as it got cooler then warmer than cooler again. The climb to Wessenden Head was stunning this time round. The low afternoon sun glistering on the hillside lightening up the hills in a beautiful golden light, just me and the sun and the countryside. This is what running is about. I could vaguely spot someone a good few miles or so ahead a humanoid dot moving swiftly up the hillside. I had forgotten people would be dot watching me back at HQ too.

On the tops it began to get cold again so arm warms back on. I was contemplating my base layer too but it was a ‘fast’ road and I didnt want to stop, I would decide when I had descended down to the valley, by which time I was warm again. I was beginning to fade a little so dug out one of those gooey gels and forced it down my throat, surely that would help boost me up a little?

Nowhere is my somewhere

The 12 mile checkpoint was a welcoming sight. I just spotted a guy leaving as I approached. The marshals greeted me with smiley faces and ‘home made flapjack’ which I was promised was much better than the Tesco one that was also on offer. The Tesco one had done me well so far but this was much nicer it certainty didn’t disappoint.

I was greedy and took a massive chunk for later. The lavish aid station even had mince pies but I kindly refused as I had not run with mince pies – ever. It was time to leave the picnic table and there I was told I was in 5th place – gulp, not 5th female but 5th place. Double gulp.

I don’t run because i love the feeling of running I run because it makes me love the feeling of living

Gulp again. But anything can happen in 18 miles, yes 18 miles to go. Another final gulp. I was keeping my eye on the humanoid dot ahead he would be somewhat a bit ahead of me then I would see him then I wouldn’t then I would. Hide and Seek at its best?

I finally caught up Mr humanoid dot, ‘stretching’ his quads. I asked if he was OK and offered a salt tab which I keep as emergencies, rarely used myself.  I was offering Mr humanoid dot man a bonus salt tab, covered with some sticky gel that I had managed to force down my throat when I was having a blip earlier.

Mr humanoid dot man, informed me that 3rd place was only 3km ahead as he was tracking the others on his mobile. He’d apparently been 5 km in front only a few km back, so 3rd place was slowing down and 4th place male  could possibly catch 3rd place. We had a brief conversation about whether I wanted to know where the other girls were in the field. I declined, what I don’t know, I don’t know. Anything can happen in the next 18 miles.

And so we ran together for a while, chatting about the little bumps on the route. Head torches were now out in full beam as sun had set way back.  We approached the next checkpoint together. I merrily took some more flapjack and some Swiss roll. I do like a bit of Swiss roll on an ultra – the chocolate type. A nicely cut piece just fits in the mouth perfectly and melts delightfully spilling out all the sugar into the bloodstream. Delicious. So along with some more green tea Tailwind, that and Swiss roll has to be the Ultra running equivalent of afternoon tea. I was offered a cuppa tea but only on an ultra will I refuse a cuppa tea, I told them I had to keep moving but thanked them all the same. Only 12 miles to go they said. Only 12 miles.

Feed your feet

So we set off together, head torches in full beam and had a chat about all things running. It was here I was to find out I was chatting with the ‘Kris King’ – Race Director for the crazy Beyond the Ultimate Ultras and running coach. Kris used to train one of the fastest female runners in my running club. A pleasure to be running with the guy.

So we both made our way up the bridleway our head torches beaming together making the pathway much more visible for us both. I wasn’t very chatty, I am not sure why, I wasn’t being rude, I was just in my own mind. My mind was set on negotiating the darkness of every step following the beam of my light tied to my head.

Let the running do the talking

Up the rocky pathway I took the lead a little and began to scarper onward. I bumped into another hill and 5 minutes later I looked around to find myself in darkness apart from the beam of my own little head torch. It was beginning to get very cold. It was this point 30 miles earlier where I had caught the wind and now it was colder and the rain was starting to come in thick and fast.

I stopped to roll down my arm warmers and debated whether to put on another layer but I would see how the arm warmers would go to start with. Across some very muddy fields I squelched, watching every step with the beam of my light negotiating the manure tussocks and slippy stiles.

On wards and downwards I stumbled on the uneven ground passing the sign ‘slow down you are not going to win‘. It made me smile a little. I knew it wasn’t in the bag yet there was still a long way to go but I was still feeling strong inside.

It was now just me and trails and the rain, as the water shimmered through the light given out by my head torch, making it difficult to see the squelching trails covered with sloppy mud.

Keep running when you’ve had one mile too many

I was so blissfully at peace with myself nothing more than the hum of the M62 in the distance, and a few distant bangs as the start of the fireworks were beginning to light up the dark moody skies. The moon shone so brightly when the clouds lifted, a surreal mix of beauty and darkness.

The rather muddy manure section that was ardours enough in daylight was slipping away beneath the beam of my head torch. A Bonfire glistening in the nearby farm, almost being able to hear the crackles of the burning as the silence of the night was disturbed by the large mound of fire.

Back onto the road of doom. The rain had truly set in. It felt like it was almost hailing, horizontal rain hit me as I yanked up my hood and wrapped my buff around me. I was getting cold but didnt want to stop, my bottoms were beginning to feel heavy as the rain soaked through my so called waterproof skin. My gloves went on and I put my head down.  I had to get off this road of doom as quick as possible.  On wards I ploughed, just my head torch and me and the odd car probably wondering why there was a strange creature running on a road in the dark in rain, for fun?

Finally back on trail land, the rain eased off and I could see beautiful views of fireworks lightening up the dark sky. I was once again in happy Helen land.

Onto the narrow tarmac lane and there were just another 5 miles or so to go with a couple of little hills thrown in for good measure. I knew I could do this now. What I didn’t know was that the 3rd place guy was only just ahead of me. The idea of catching up 3rd place had not even entered my mind, yet.

Me v’s Me

On the horrendous steep down hill section I picked up speed instead of taking advice of the 100 miler guys and walking it and so I ran on wards on the little lane parallel with Marsden. At least this time I knew what was to come. In the distance more fireworks radiated brightly, beaming through the West Yorkshire skies. A sparkle in my eye and ‘good’ burning in my legs powered me forward.

Down the dark country lane a car slowed down behind me. I stopped and waved them on, narrow as it was I didnt want to get run over by a car so near to the finish. A few moments later it stopped and joined another car. The woman in the car kindly informed me that I was much more visible than the runner ahead and thanked me for it. I asked if my little red back-light was still shinning brightly (all part of the compulsory kit) She confirmed it was, then I suddenly realised what she said… rewind…… ‘the guy ahead’. My race head suddenly came on….and boom, I turned a corner and saw a dark moving shadow with a rucksack on his back – the 3rd place guy. Let the race commence.

I playfully ‘ran’ past him saying ‘hi’. He was doing the ultra shuffle and I felt a little sorry for him but I had to do what I had to do….

Every race is a question, and I never know until the last yards what the answer will be. That’s the lure of racing.

Apparently his wife had texted him a few minutes before I passed him to tell him he was about to get chicked and to get a move on but he didn’t look at his text until he got back. So I did just that, chicked him, and I ran, I even ran up the silly steep hill at mile 29, I ran up the hill. Why was I doing this? I swore I nearly got hit by a firework but I didnt care, I was nearly home. I’d found this extra bit of power on mile 59 to run up a beautiful hill, the wind blowing again and the rain smashing down against my body but the beautiful bursts of fireworks keeping me going up the rocky pathway, not too far to go now I told myself, I just had to keep that going and I was going nowhere but forward.

How many races provide such a dazzling display of fireworks 1 mile from the end, I thought, as they exploded above my head illuminating up the night sky keeping every step of me going.

Toughness is in the soul and spirit not the muscles

I was focused on this last mile, purposefully controlled. I was going to finish this, I suddenly realised I was going to finish it and I felt stronger than I did 30 miles previously as I ran, and ran and ran.

Finally the finish was just ’round the corner’ as I ran down the driveway into HQ. I was met with a lovely greeting from Wane, the Race Director waiting to congratulate each and every runner in the dark cold evening. That must be a harder job than running the ultra itself.

I’d come in 3rd – 3rd overall, bagging 1st female. I was rather chuffed although I don’t think it had really sunk in, I just ran, I just did what my body could do. I just ran, and ran happy.

Back inside HQ, People clapped me in. I think I was quite chuffed, chuffed that my legs had taken me on this 61 mile journey with a few bumps here and there, chuffed that I had finished, chuffed that I had felt quite ‘OK’ throughout, chuffed that my sporadic nutrition had worked for me, no tummy troubles at all, and chuffed that I had positioned so high up and chuffed with all the lovely comments and chit chat afterwards. Just a bit chuffed I think.

Don’t run to beat others, run to beat yourself whilst beating others

3rd place man (4th overall) came in some 5 or 10 minutes later to tell me the story of the text message, and Kris came in some 20 minutes later. There were still lots of people out there and my full credit goes out to each and every one of them, from those doing the 30, the 60 and the 100, a long long night for some.

For me, after some lovely soup, a bag of crisps, copious amounts of orange juice and a change of clothing it was time to go home leaving only my footprints and great memories of an amazingly well organised ultra.

A great way to spend my first Saturday off work in a long long time. Happy running.

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