It's always good to try something new (isn't it?!) so when I got an email about the London Ultra Marathon 50K run a couple of weeks ago I just couldn't resist.
The route is point-to-point from Streatham Common (handy) to Wembley (not so handy!) and follows the Capital Ring through as many parks and river/canal banks as possible in between.
It kicked off with compulsory registration the day before in Wembley but it was combined with a small expo so you get to meet the organisers, experts in fitness, footcare, massage, and Utra runners with presetations & Q&A sessions so was worth going to. You also pick up your all important map - trust me, you need it - the course is unmarshalled! You also need a water carrying device of some kind (although you do run past a few shops!) I went for the four mini bottles on a belt but the seasoned Ultras go with camelbaks - and many run with full packs in preparation for the Marathon des Sables.
I wanted to travel light so had three eletrolyte tablets, some Nurofen, the map, mobile phone (compulsory), Oyster card (!) hat & gloves & £20. I was recommended to go with road shoes by Rory, the main man (who has 80,000 miles of running under his belt) but there was so much mud I kinda wish I'd taken my trail shoes - although I was told I'd suffer on the pavement with them. On balance I think I would have been quicker with the trails as there was so much mud but would likely have been in more pain at the end. I also taped up my feet and wore 2XU calf guards (which I can highly recommend).
On race day 226 runners met at the cafe at the top of Streatham Common and the race began shortly after 9am. One lap of the Common (so the first of many hills) and then across the A23 behind the ice rink and to Tooting Common (where I run a couple of nights a week). Then almost past my front door through Balham and acros Wandsworth Common, through Earlsfield to Wimbledon Park and the first of four 10K checkpoints. You have to pass these as you are logged at each one by checkpoint staff - who also hand out water, jelly sweets and flapjacks/powerbars - but no gels.
More street running and then Wimbledon Common where the mud starts - and doesn't finish until Robin Hood roundabout where you cross the A3 to Richmond Park. More mud and hills - not a good combination (and this gets a lot worse later on!). Exit the Park at Star & Garter Hill for checkpoint two where I top up my water bottles and drop in electrolyte tablets, grab a flapjack and a few wine gums. Just shy of half Marathon distance and 2:18 in - slow but steady.
Off again along the river and over Richmond Bridge to cross for Syon Park - I'm now into a part of London I don't know well and only halfway around! Through the Park and pick up the Grand Canal bank in Brentford - where I take my first of four wrong turns! Back on track after a small loop, along the bank, under the A4 and alongside then under the M4 to Uxbridge Road and checkpoint three at 30K. Carry alongside the canal - quite muddy again. On through Brent Valley, through Perivale Park and under the A40, pass Greenford and pick up the banks of another canal then up through Perivale Woods - stupidly steep and stupidly muddy - almost impossible to run up - and down the other side too.
More street running, which is a relief after the mud, but then it turns into a hill - not what you want with 40K nearly completed! Then, there it is - the final checkpoint - another water refill and handful of jelly sweets and off again. I'm really feeling it now and here's another hill, great! Thighs are pretty painful now, even after four Nurofen so far - it's grit your teeth time! Ah - Harrow-on-the-Hill - very picturesque but a long hard slog up to the top - then into Harrow Park but the slpoe down is steep and is killing my already sore thighs. More mud, hurrah! Kick on ... I'm slowing badly now and am in uncharted territory in terms of distance running - Northwick Park next and, again, is nothing but mud - me and another guy were hanging on to a fence whilst trying to run. Next up was Preston Park - small and flat with a path to run on - yay!
Not far now, and just one more incline up to Fryent Country Park then it's a (painful) downhill but turning a corner you can see Wembley Stadium through the misty rain. Only a K to go and it's downhill all the way - I cross the line in 6:22 - initially disappointed as I thought I come in at about 5:30 as I did a 5:03 Marathon in my last Ironman. But chatting at the finish we reckon there was a good 15-20K of mud and 10K of hills. Also, the winner came in at 3:42 and his Marathon PB is 2:31 so even he found it tough. There were 14 DNF's.
So, would I do it again - absolutely! It's a long way, quite painful and I really didn't have anything left at the end but then these things aren't meant to be easy! What's a bit worrying is - like Ironman racing - I've now got the bug - and 50K is the shortest Ultra race there is - the longest is the JOGLE (John O Groats to Lands End)! My GF said we're over if I sign up for that...!
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