Not exactly the return to ultra running I had hoped for at the @pennine_barrier_ultra 50 miler this weekend.
It’s been 3 years since my last ultra and much of the last 2 years has been spent trying to get over some wicked achilles tendonitis so while I was looking forward to this one I was nervous as hell and ultimately I pulled out after 34 miles and 7.5 hours of mostly fast hiking.
My achilles were both very sore and I just didn’t have the mobility to run and despite generally feeling pretty good and strong, my desire to hike another 15 miles wasn’t there and my “comeback” will just have to be another day.
Ultimately I’ve not had enough mileage over the last year or two – particularly the longer 3-4 hour trail runs to be anywhere near where I’d want to be to compete. A couple of years ago, I’d have definitely been targeting a sub 9 hour finish on a course like this but my goal of 12 hours still felt reasonable.
There was plenty to be positive about, I genuinely felt extremely strong climbing all of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (not to mention the climb of Fountains Fell at the start too!) and my descending remains a big strength so with continued work on my achilles on the trails I’m confident I’ll put in a decent shift in a longer race again as the road running and shorter distances aren’t causing the same problems for my achilles as the trails.
My nutrition was on point for once as well, a few gels and then took a gamble on using Tailwind at all the checkpoints. Worked a charm.
I also bought a pair of poles the other day, I know how to use them and was always something I’d considered but never got round to buying so pleased I did. They help massively on serious elevation.
I’ll have to pay closer attention to logistics next time, it was a massive hassle having to book a private taxi (£25) to get me back to the finish when I withdrew as I had to get up at 3:30am to drive up on my own I was a little at the mercy of my own body and the course!
There wasn’t anyone from race staff generally sweeping the course so getting back to the finish if you don’t have crew is either a case of sort yourself out (per the race info I guess but all the previous races I’ve done have had someone “floating” to ferry runners back on some sort of schedule) or wait until the checkpoint is closed and you might get a lift back but for me that would have meant waiting nearly 5 hours and so having some crew would have been a benefit as it’s a strung out course if you do need to retire for any reason.
Pretty easy standard long day out kit for me, I was impressed with the protection offered by my new Salomon S/Lab ultra 3, they’re not as light or “fast feeling” as I’d hoped for but for a long day out on very rocky trails they were very comfortable. You can see why they’re so popular at UTMB.
I decided on the poles a couple of days before the race, using them isn’t new to me and they were a treat we figured both me and Ally will make more use of and the Mountain King Trail Blaze were a nice choice although with them collapsing into 4 sections made them less than secure in my Salomon S/Lab ADV12 vest no matter which of the pole carrying setups I tried so I was happy to use my Naked Belt which to be honest was nice and snug and held them without any movement.
The mandatory kit list was a little odd, considering it’s effectively a mountain race where conditions could turn nasty quite easily, there was no requirement for full body cover – just a baselayer and waterproof taped seam jacket and then two headtorches but no waterproof trousers.
I also do wonder about a lot of events that make the entrants carry a map and compass but don’t do spot checks on whether the person can use them. Honestly, I can’t navigate a parkrun so while I carried a map and compass they’d not have been much use. Hardly the fault of GBUltras of course.
Everything went pretty smoothly on the day and this was the first event I’ve done with GBUltras and so it’s they seem a great bunch.
I also attended one of their free recce weekends a few weeks earlier which covered the 3 peaks part of the course which they put on entirely for free even if only a few people turn up (about 40-50 did on the day I went) which was massively appreciated and a really nice touch for those like me who definitely like to know where they’re going on race day!
The course had some fairly minimal markings at key points but to be fair, there’s an accurate GPX and most of it follows a major national trail so it’s not too difficult getting around but I’d definitely recommend a recce anyway.
Checkpoints were well staffed by their volunteers and had the standard fare, sweets/chocolate/fruit/sandwiches and then water and tailwind was available and there were plenty of helpers so no waiting around if like me you prefer to be in and out of a CP as quick as you can.
Race registration on the morning took about 2 minutes although there was a bit queue for a limited number of toilets (about 15 mins) turning up on race morning with less than an hour before the start was fine. Parking at Malham showground at that time of day was easy and free all day.
Overall, despite the DNF I guess I should look at the upsides and can continue to focus on building back to being able to run these events without the constant nag of my achilles one day!
Congrats to all the runners who did finish, those medals are well earned on this one. I’m going to tentatively put this race down as “unfinished business”.