A hard fought effort at one of the oldest ultras in the UK
This year, I’m aiming to do a few more ultras than I’d usually do, largely because I don’t have plans for a fast road marathon so I figure I can spend a bit of time with a more flexible outlook to training and competing and one of the races I’ve wanted to do for a while was the historic Barry 40 mile track ultra in Wales.
- What? Barry 40 mile track ultra
- When? 11th March 2018
- How far? 40 miles
- Where? Barry, Wales
- Website: Barry 40 website
|A||Sub 4:45:00 or Top 3||No|
|B||Sub 5 hours||No|
|C||Finish with a solid run||Yes|
|40 miles||5:17:20 (Finish)|
I’d been looking forward to this race for a while – the simplicity of track ultras is something appeals to me, much as I enjoy all sorts of racing from fells to roads I like that on a track there’s literally nothing to focus on but the running.
That said, I’d done no specific training for this one as it wasn’t an A race but I absolutely wanted to do well in this one and felt that after finally breaking the sub 35 barrier at Dewsbury 10k recently on the back of some consistent 70 mile weeks I’d have enough in my legs to have a solid run and last the distance at a decent pace.
The race is in Wales near Cardiff so I had to drive 4.5 hours down the night before and get a hotel near the track and to be honest it was all pretty uneventful which is nice.
I bought my usual pre-race dinner of a margarita pizza (2 this time!) and basically just chilled in the hotel room before managing to actually get a good night sleep which is very unusual. Unlike usual I actually bought a 2L bottle of water and drank most of it in the evening as I tend to not take on that much during a race so I figured a bit of pre-hydration wouldn’t hurt.
In the morning, a simple cup of coffee and one of those just-add-water porridge pots before showering and heading to register.
Barry 40 is a small but iconic race and over the years some sensational athletes have taken part and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to run because sometimes it’s nice to share a track with runners who you’d never see in a normal race as they’d be so far out of sight.
This year saw Steve Way, Nathan Flear and Tracy Dean start the race – all have run at international level in ultra distance so my initial target of a podium spot already looked *ahem* optimistic. Add to that, Steve Speirs, Paul Ali and Tim Rainey who are all very experienced ultra runners it was going to be a small but high quality field for sure.
After meeting my lap counter and sticking my bag with a couple of gels and a change of shoes/shirt by the track we were ready to go.
My aim for the race was to run 7:15/mile pace through to 30 miles which I’ve done before and then essentially see if I could hold on to the end which would be the 4:45 goal but right from the start my Suunto was showing how wildly inaccurate it can be sometimes and reporting a mid 5 minute mile pace for the first couple of laps so I took it off and ran by feel from then on which was a little tricky but I settled into a pretty comfortable pace ticking off laps just around the 1:50 mark.
Although the pace was a tiny bit off my original goal, there was a reasonable wind blowing across the top corner of the track which would definitely add to the effort over the course of the race so I just figured without my watch anyway I’d just run to feel and work out my pace on the fly when I hit various milestones through the race.
The first 10 miles fly by pretty quickly – to be honest I was a bit starstruck seeing Steve Way do his thing, he went through 10 miles in 60 minutes flat and honestly was just cruising so easy at that pace it was a joy to watch even as he went past me once a mile for the next 4 hours (until he won in 4:13).
The next goal was to get to 20 miles feeling comfortable and somewhere around 2:25 to be on pace but the wind was starting to just help my legs feel a little tired and I went through in 2:28 so about 10s a mile off goal pace but to be honest I wasn’t too bothered at this point.
I’d started the race in my Adidas Takumi Sen flats which had been fine to 20 miles but my feet were starting to feel a bit delicate so I swapped to my Hoka Tracer 2 for the remainder of the race at this point and just kept focused on ticking off lap after lap – 161 laps is lot but half done now.
The marathon distance came in 3:16:59 which I was reasonably happy with, not too far off what I planned on but the legs were definitely beginning to fatigue and although I kept ticking off laps in the 1:5x’s I was definitely hurting and knew it was going to be a hard fought half marathon remaining.
At some point around 30 miles I briefly jumped into 3rd place but it was short lived (about a lap!) as Steve Speirs closed me down and went past as I was tiring and he just looked to be getting stronger and stronger. Ultimately he gapped me by 20 minutes in the last 10 miles.
35 miles came around with a bit of light rain but not enough to really bother changing or putting on a jacket – it wasn’t too cold – but my legs were shot at this point. I did wonder how I’d fare without specific training doing runs beyond the 3 hour mark and the answer was that it hurts and you go pretty slow.
My laps beyond 32 miles were into the low 2:0x mark and my stops at the food table at the end of the finishing straight were just a few seconds longer each time as I took on small amounts of water and some coke + gel but I made the effort to either be properly running or stopped for a few seconds rather than walk. Not for any specific reason, just figured it would hurt a little less to keep my stride consistent as racing long distance on a track is so repetitive the fatigue is sometimes more localised than trail racing or even roads.
My lap counter who’d been supremely encouraging and helpful all morning gave me a couple of countdowns now as he could see I was suffering and so it was great to hear “only 20 laps” and then “only 16” followed by “just 10 more” at which point I felt some relief that the race was reaching the last couple of miles and then I’d be able to sit down and have a brew..
I was in 4th and although at this point was half an hour over my goal time (which was perhaps a bit optimistic) I felt I’d had a strong enough run and although I tired from 30-35 miles then really had to hang on from 35 to the finish it wasn’t too bad a day out and my 5:17:20 finishing time equated to 7:55/mile pace for 40 miles.
If I look back to where I was even a couple of years ago running under 8 minute miles for that amount of time would have been unimaginable so I was ultimately happy with that and but for the wind and realistically a lack of specific training regarding long runs for time on feet I could certainly do better next time. 4:45 better? Maybe. Sub 5? I’m sure that’s possible.
Ultimately I finished 4th behind a truly world class ultra runner, a Welsh international champion and a guy with a 15 hour 100 mile PR and ahead of a lady who’s represented England all the way up to 24 hours so can’t complain!
This was my second track ultra following last year’s 24 hour race and once again, the purity of the running challenge combined with sharing the track creates a really wonderful running experience and I’d absolutely continue to do track ultras in future and recommend them to anyone who wants to try something different.
When else do you get to just run for hours on end and share the same space as such an amazing variety of athletes?
I didn’t have time to hang around unfortunately as I had to drive back home right after the race and I felt I’d be better off having a shower and heading off before my legs stiffened up too much and I wanted to allow for more rest stops on the way home so the 4.5 hour drive down was more like 7 when I added breaks and the truly dire weather and roadworks.
I’ll definitely be back to Barry again in the future, it’s a classic ultra that deserves support and the organisation, friends and volunteers who give their time really made it a great day out.