I *totally* get the irony of calling a 50km race a training run, but that is exactly what the XNRG Humanity Direct Ultra was. On the 10th March, four weeks before the SDW50, I lined up on the start line ready for my longest ‘training’ run & what would hopefully become my second longest run ever. Oh, it was also my ‘birthday’ run… What better way to celebrate turning 38 the next day than to run 50km!
I was using this race purely as SDW50 practice. My agenda was to wear the kit I wanted to wear, practice pacing (DON’T start too fast) & to nail my nutrition & fuelling. I was also carrying all of the mandatory kit needed for SDW, despite most of it not being required for this race, to get used to the feel & weight of my bag. I wasn’t the only one testing kit as there were a number of guys carrying all the gear for MDS. Their bags made mine look super tiny.
Back to the race. Pre-race ran smoothly, collecting numbers, timing chips & t-shirts. Compared to the anxiety I felt before last years NDW50, I rolled up to this race about 45 minutes before the start time, feeling relaxed & completely unfazed. I’ll even hold my hand up to not having really looked at the route beforehand. Maybe I should just call all races a training run & be done with pre-race nerves! I was running with Helen & bumped into a few familiar faces as we all sat around in the school hall waiting for the 9am races start.
Pre-race briefing. Through, detailed & to the point. I was given a map. One day I will learn how to read one but we were assured that the course was well marked.
In all honesty my description of the route is going to be rather vague, I wish I had paid a little more attention to my surroundings. Around 90% was trail, a couple of sections were through villages & small towns. We started essentially on a down hill & Helen & I soon settled into a fairly speedy but comfortable pace. We ran the first few miles with a group, chatting a little as we ran before pulling away.
Five miles in a forced down my first PB & jam sandwich. Again my fuel of choice. I didn’t want to eat, I wasn’t hungry but made myself knowing how important it was to keep my energy levels up.
There were hills, lots of hills, and mud, lots of mud! At times the mud became a little soul-destroying & energy sapping. It made running difficult & on more than one occasion a few choice words were spoken. There were also some lovely runable sections through woodland areas. It was a varied course with mixed terrain, exactly what I love to stop a run becoming boring!
We soon came to the first check point outside a Church mid-way up a hill. I stopped for a drink & a quick thank you to the volunteers & we were soon off again. It was here that we started overtaking the walkers who had started their race an hour before us. Major kudos to them, if running 50km is hard, walking it must be even tougher.
Thankfully, with my lack of pre-planning & map reading skills, the course was superbly marked, I had one one minor wobble with navigation & that was because I got distracted by photographing some trees & missed an arrow but a couple of runners behind soon pulled us back on track. A well marked course certainly takes the pressure off for a relatively inexperienced trail & ultra runner.
Coming into checkpoint two I managed to drop my phone on one of the few sections of the route than was on road. Broken phone, no more photos. Oh crap. I would say the dark chocolate at the CP made up for it & whilst it kept for going for a few miles it probably wasn’t adequate ate compensation!
Back to the run. Helen & I parted ways at checkpoint three, she was struggling with shin pain & insisted I ran on.
Apart from those few miles leading up to checkpoint three when I walked with Helen, I don’t think my race (sorry, training run…) could have gone much better. 5:35:09 for the 50km, finishing as 6th lady. I walked the hills, ran almost everything else. I felt fairly strong throughout. The last few miles hurt, as they always do no matter what the distance but I was determined to keep running. My legs were sore but my mind was strong, I overtook a number of guys in the last couple of miles who had resorted to walking & even managed a sprint finish!
I reached the finish line & was cheered & applauded by the XNRG team, someone offered me tea or coffee, someone else took my timing chip & printed off my results for me. I was in a bit of a daze. I’d finished, I hurt but I felt good. I tried to stretch but in the end just sat down & ate cake. They even had vegan cake which I was VERY happy about!
Helen came in about forty minutes later having walked most of the final ten miles. The mental strength she had to finish the race was incredible.
So if this was a training run for the SDW50 what did I learn?
My kit choice is sorted, I was comfortable throughout. It’s now washed & ready for race day.
Pacing was a tricky one. We started too quick, would a slower start have resulted in a slightly stronger finish? I don’t know. What I did do was run a lot more to feel. When the ground was good, the hills not too steep, I ran faster. One of my reflections after NDW50 last year was that I held myself back too much & when I could have picked up the pace a little I was so worried about going too fast I held myself back. I’m hoping I am able to run a lot more to feel at the SDW.
Fuelling I struggled with. I didn’t want to eat for a lot of this race & it was a case of forcing it down (with the exception of the chocolate, that was bang on!). At least I know I can eat on the run. My plan is to eat every three miles. It was probably closer to four or five today, I don’t think I suffered for it but it was only 31 miles, not 50!
I’m trying not to think that I’ll still have 19 miles to go on race day…
I actually really loved this race & it’s highly likely I will look out for some more of XNRG’s events. The organisation was slick, the support, before, during & after was spot on. The marshals & volunteers at the checkpoints were lively, encouraging & there was a vast array of food & drink available & I LOVE that all the proceeds from this race go to charity.
It was a relatively small field, split into three start waves (walkers at 8am, runners at 9am & elites at 10am) but as I have found with trail running, everyone was friendly & chatty. From runners out on the course, to the walkers who started in the first wave & cheered you on as you ran past them to competitors at the finish who congratulated you. I had a number of guys come up to me afterwards to tell me how well I ran which, I have to say, meant a lot to me. I’m relatively new to this game & really appreciate the support & encouragement more experienced runners freely give.
Four weeks to go. This was a great confidence boost ahead of my last two weeks of proper training before easing into a two week taper. South Downs, I’m so very nearly ready for you!