Last year I dropped out early, this time it was unfinished business!
- What? Kirklees Way Ultra
- When? 6th July 2018
- How far? 76 miles | 10,000ft
- Website? http://www.teamoa.co.uk/ukw.html
Last year I took part in this race and withdrew after only 17 miles. I wasn’t injured or hurting, just found myself in a headspace where doing the race was literally the last thing I wanted to do and so called it a very early night. I didn’t regret the decision at the time and I still don’t. I’m not really a “death before DNF” type to be honest.
That said, it stuck in my head that as a local race organised by a good friend it should be one I complete so with my head in a better space I decided another attempt should be made and with a focus on August’s Liverpool to Leeds 130 mile canal race I was able to relax and treat this one as a very long training effort rather than enter with a laser focus on results.
My training has been a little sporadic and non-specific but I have run 3 ultras this year so far and done reasonably well (King of the Hill 6hr, Barry 40 mile track ultra and UMTLM 8 hour and roughly maintained somewhere aroudn 50-70 miles a week with an effort on a 15-20 mile long run once a week where time allowed.
My early consistency mileage wise in Dec/Jan this year put down a good base which led to a sub-35 10k PR and then the couple of ultras in March and April put down some decent long run mileage in a single go with good recoveries from each so I felt confident I’d be able to finish this one if I didn’t get too lost.
With a 5pm start on a Friday and in the middle of a heatwave in the UK loading up on water was important and having to carry quite a lot of kit was a pain but I spent the day milling around at home packing and checking my kit because apart from 6 locations on course where water was left unattended the race was unsupported by the organisers which added to the challenge.
Not too much else to do other than stay calm, visit the toilet an inhuman number of times and then head over to the registration and start and stay out of the baking hot sun!
I felt I might be capable of running 15-16 hours on the course on a good day and my plan was basically to run to feel and effort (keeping this in a training mindset) and I only set myself a goal of getting to a location 25 miles in after 5 hours and 50 miles in 10. I knew where both places where so just used my watch to tell the time.
I did track my run on Strava but on my phone instead which I kept in my pack and only used for navigation. It makes it a lot less stressful and to be honest after my run at Barry 40 mile ultra using the same approach I don’t mind running “without” a watch sometimes.
The first 30 miles of the route aren’t the most interesting and it runs through Dewsbury which owing to the afternoon start time, my only significant goal was to be out past Dewsbury by 10pm while it was still light. Beyond that, the plan was just to keep on running and ideally finish with something left in my legs knowing my A race later in the year is another 60 miles longer!
It’s a small race, last year there were 9 of us and this year 8 started. I think the difficulty of it being a self supported beyond the water stations and with an evening start means it appeals to a fairly small number of folks at this time of year but we set off down the hill at 5pm and into the incredibly warm and humid evening.
Less than a mile in and I was sweating a lot despite not working hard and just running in shorts and a club vest – I’d decided to carry 1.25L of water with me to keep me going between water points and I was already feeling like it might not be enough and I’d need to manage my intake and effort very carefully just to get around and not dehydrate.
Having chatted with the rest of the runners before the start, they’d pretty all much spoken of taking it steady and running to about a 20 hour schedule so I felt my 15 hour goal if I could achieve it would see me comfortably out front from the start if everyone stuck to their plans and I was pretty much alone half a mile into the race and never saw another fellow racer again! A win might happen if I could finish!
The first 25 miles were simply about conserving energy in the heat and I decided to walk pretty much any uphills and run the flat and downhill bits in order to get to Dewsbury before nightfall. The course becomes a lot more remote and heads out into the fields and hills around Kirklees once you’re past this point although it is pretty much dark by this point.
I knew the first 17 miles of the course from last year, and I’d reccied another 5 miles or so to get me pretty much to Dewsbury but once I’d reached that point I had to rely on my phone and route GPX to find my way.
The course is waymarked but some of the markers are very worn and not easy to spot in the daytime let alone now it was dark so although I’d planned on being able to run the flat sections in the night to maintain pace, the reality was that I barely ran a step in the darkness. It was just hard to follow a phone screen track on the (almost useless OS Maps app) and run so knowing I was in the lead and making reasonable progress – not getting lost would be more valuable in the darkness than a slightly increased pace with the risk of a fall or going off course.
By this point, I’d also missed the second water drop point and was starting to struggle knowing I’d be nearly out of water and with nowhere to refill my bottles. It was a an absolute gift to see a friendly face with water and some gels out supporting the race so I was able to top up and carry on again. Had I not gotten that water I doubt I’d have have got much further to be honest. I’m not sure where the water point was but missing it was easily done in the dark.
The first half of the course has some seriously overgrown parts where obviously it’s not been used or tended to and in several places the path was almost impenetrable with heavy brambles and stinging nettles. Pretty awful having to fight through those and the scratches all up the front and back of legs, arms and shoulders made me look like I’d been in a fight with a dozen angry cats by the end.
The night stretch
Next goal was simply to get through the night section. I figured it would be about 10:30pm to about 3:30am in the darkness but it was more like 4:30am before I could switch off the headtorch. Progress was slow but steady I guess and after switching app on my phone to follow the route on MapMayRun instead, following the track was a little easier although still not ideal. Covering these sections in a night recce would have been the best option but I didn’t get a chance.
A beautiful sunrise always lifts the spirits and after missing the 3rd water point I did spot the 4th and a few miles later I was again greeted by my guardian angel who’d kindly driven around to a crossing point at one of the reservoirs around 55 miles in (we all had trackers so at least it helped those with support) and topped up my water again although I’d not needed as much in the night section. It was warm overnight but pleasant and the dawn already felt like it was heating up at 6am!
20-ish miles to go at this point and in the daylight and on the much more scenic half of the course and I knew the route because it’s on my local trails I knew I’d finish at the point and just focused on keeping moving forward.
My achillies has been troubling me for months leading up to this race but thanks to some recent physio and rehab it’s settled down a lot and my new trail shoes (New Balance Summit Unknown) meant that my feet were actually pretty comfortable for once and although my quads were pretty sore by this point I was still able to run sporadically but this final third of the course is up and down several valleys so tough to get into much of a rhythm. At least checking the website tracker confirmed at this point I had a fairly significant lead so barring an accident winning was a real possibility!
The final stretch
The final “half” – Luckily at about 14 miles to go, I was able to arrange a pit-stop at the top of my road where the course crosses over and a sugary cup of tea some friendly family faces were just the pick me up I needed after only drinking water and eating gels for 13 hours. The added bonus of my wife and son messaging and telling me they’d also meet me another couple of miles down the valley meant a couple of miles of good downhill running to meet them passed quickly too!
I’d been out with a friend a couple of weeks ago to recce the last 10 miles and knowing the route means it’s nice to go onto auto-pilot and just get it done but the work didn’t stop – it’s very hilly with a couple of sections that drop sharply down the side of a hill only to climb back up again. I suppose the idea is for the Kirklees Way to show off various parts of the area but it’s a cruel and difficult finish dropping down and hiking back up several steep hills and the elevation profile for the last 10 miles includes the best part of 4,000ft of the total 10,000ft of climbing.
I was certainly glad to be setting out on this final stretch at 7:30am as the sun was out already and the temperatures were climbing again so I wanted to be done as soon as possible.
My original time goal was well and truly gone by this point and I knew I’d be looking at more like 18 hours but in the heat and with all the walking through the night while navigating I didn’t mind – the edge taken off knowing that with 10 miles to go and the person in 2nd about 8 miles behind I could walk and win!
Crossing the finish line after 18 hours of running and hiking up and down the Kirklees Way felt great – job very much done. It was all about finishing this time and to win was a great bonus. In the end, much like last year the attrition rate was high, only myself and one other runner finished this time which meant in the last 2 years only 5 out of 17 entrants have completed the race.
With the second place finisher ultimately coming home in 23:45 I think it put into context the difficulty of the conditions and course on the day.
I wasn’t able to hang around long – England playing in the World Cup and a BBQ to attend meant collecting my trophy and heading home for an hour’s rest before going straight to a friends house where I promptly passed out on a sun lounger :D
This race was all about finishing what I didn’t last year so happy with that but the goal was also for it to be my one significantly long training run in prep for the Liverpool – Leeds Canal Race and I think I just about got away with my hydration and nutrition but for the significantly longer LLCR130 I’m going to need a better plan and more specific crewing.
It’s only 7 weeks until that race so I’ll take a week of recovery from this one and build back to normal mileage over the next week or so if my legs feel OK.
Kit and nutrition
The toughest part by far of this race was the unsupported nature and heatwave we’re experiencing in the UK. This meant carrying a lot more water than I normally would and by my estimates I drank somewhere in the region of 10-12 liters of water and energy drinks and ate 10 Torq gels, a nut bar, half a snickers, chia bar and a ham and cheese sandwich.
My calorie intake was potentially on the low side but I don’t tend to eat much when I run so didn’t feel too bad overall although the need for savoury food later in the race was something I will address next time.
I ran in my newly purchased New Balance Summit Unknown which are the new trail version of the 1400V5 road shoes I wear and I have to say they’re great. Light and very responsive with enough padding for me they felt comfortable the whole way around.
Other than that, I wore my club vest and a new pair of Kalenji Kiprun light shorts which were very comfortable – a lot like a budget version of the Salomon S-Lab shorts and I’ll absolutely grab another pair of those shortly.
My Salomon S-Lab 12l pack was OK but I did find it a little irritating carrying the additional water in the lower part of the pack because I needed one of the front pockets for my phone and gels. It was quite bouncy when fully loaded. I think long term I’ll replace the pack with one that has more space in front pockets but it was comfortable enough and is tried and tested.
Overall, everything worked and it highlighted a that a little more attention on my nutrition plan for long races would help me finish stronger and having a crew/support on a long race is a huge help!