Oldham Way Ultra – Race report

I have to keep double checking the results page, it (correctly) says I came joint 3rd place in a 40 mile Ultramarathon!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 07.36.34The first TeamOA running of the Oldham Way Ultra saw 32 hardy souls toe the line ready to run what turned out to be a challenging and somewhat tricky to navigate 40 mile circular route with about 6000ft of ascent starting and finishing at Castleshaw Visitor Centre and taking in a pretty varied range of terrain from unmarked fields and fells through to a stretch along a canal, through some residential areas and everything between.

It’s not a marked race route so we were issued with maps and the promise that it was fairly easy to follow the course (and the idea of splitting the provided route maps so you only ever carried the section from the checkpoint you leave to the next one was a nice touch.

However, as a lot of the Oldham Way it turns out is pretty scarcely marked and in places pretty much disappears into nothing a lot of people struggled, even those with the route map GPX file. I can’t navigate but can roughly follow a route but this was beyond me and basically meant very on, my race tactic was going to have to be to stick with people who looked confident navigating!

A massive part of my personal achievement was due largely to two fellow runners and some awesome new friends I met throughout the day.

Following others

First off, Ian Walker who I ran with for large stretches of the first 25 miles was great company and himself had a cracking run for 5th place just behind myself and Billy Stott who shared 3rd although the reality of the day was that Billy I suspect could have won the event outright if he was running it on his own (he and Mark Taylor were running it with Bren who was running his first ultra) and as a local who knew the route, Billy didn’t need to consult the map much and combined with being a powerful runner put a gap between us and everyone else a couple of miles before the last CP at 32 miles and we never really looked back.

I asked if he minded me tagging along if I could keep up and my final result was very much down to him. I owe Billy, Mark and Bren beers for sure. Their company and local knowledge of the route gained massive amounts of time that would have been otherwise lost.

The kindness of ultra runners never fails to amaze me, it sometimes feels that the longer the race, the sharing spirit and comradeship kick in to greater and greater effect.

There’s always an element of risk following others in a race, and the early miles were a bit of a farce with hardly anyone being able to get the route quite right. It’s not an easy one to follow which meant the hilarious sight of nearly everyone hitting the first 2 CP’s together before finally stretching out a bit.

Mile 1-25

I had hilariously ambitious time plans not knowing the terrain but to be honest, they went out the window less than a mile in when it was clear I’d be running map in hand and almost orienteering parts of the route but the first 20-25 miles plodded by in a reasonably large group with another group a minute or so behind.

I think most people were keen to run together to ensure they didn’t get lost. I know I was. On reflection I think the slower pace due to navigation and route checking worked in my favour as I would almost certainly have gone out a lot harder in the first 25 than I did and would have paid dearly in the brutal last 10 from around Dovestone Reservoir and CP6.

Miles 25-32

I ended up having to “attend to business” as my stomach was starting to get a little agitated at 24 miles which meant I transitioned from running with Ian and a few others and dropped back a few places but struck lucky meeting up with Billy, Mark and Bren a few minutes later and joining them.

Mile 32-36

This was definitely my day. A year ago, in almost similar circumstances I withdrew at about 31 miles in the Dusk til Dawn Ultra because I couldn’t navigate (and in all honesty I wouldn’t have done this one had I been aware the route was so difficult to find) but I vowed to myself this time that I wouldn’t withdraw from this one and if necessary I’d wait at a CP and join another group of runners as this wasn’t a planned “A” race for me.

I was happy to run with the 3 guys and they were excellent company (Mark and Billy would have both been potential winners if they were racing this) and so to the breakaway with Billy.

He basically had to get back quickly for a mothers day dinner and was good enough to drag me to the finish.

I thought I was going to die as suddenly our pace jumped from plodding through the woods above Dovestone Reservoir at 10 minute mile down to sub 8 minute miles to get a gap and to drive on from the final CP as he knew there was significant hard climbing to be done but a gap at this stage of a couple of quick minutes would put us visually out of sight and in a strong position.

It actually nearly did for me as I developed a stitch almost immediately from the quick change in effort level but I managed to eventually run it off and stocked up on a quick gel at the last CP (forgot to pick up a map though which forced my hand/legs – oops!!) and we were off.

Brutal, hands on knees climbing out of Dovestone but I don’t mind that so much and while difficult it actually gave me a chance to get my breath back a little.

Mile 36-Finish

Some of the final couple of miles were familiar as I’ve run a couple of other races in the area but I’d have had zero hope of finding my way alone.

We did end up coming down a gully towards the finish that was hard running through knee high grass tussocks in which my legs simply stopped working and I fell flat on my face. Lucky to be honest that it was a soft landing. My body literally shut down for a split second and I went limp but the urgency of not losing Billy meant I had to dig deeper than I’ve ever done to get up and carry on. Hard work lifting your legs above knee height after 40 miles!

We eventually made it to the reservoir by the finish line and jogged it in to share joint 3rd place a mere 19 minutes behind the winner. Utterly delighted my legs carried me around in that time but under no illusions that while I did the running part, my result was built on the kindness of other runners who did the navigating.

Oldham Way Ultra, tough race but got my finishers medal and a little headtorch for joint 3rd place.

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So a fortunate 3rd place dictated by some lucky choices in who I ended up running with but I’ll take that all day long. I still covered the miles and I feel it in my legs a little 2 days later and the big blister from wet feet all day has eased significantly.

A friend who was staffing CP5 mentioned I might have gone even faster had I known the route, I’d love to think so but I suspect the reality is yes, I’d have gone through the first 25 miles a lot faster then hit the wall with full force! Overall, the pacing worked out about right I think.

CP tactics

I learnt a couple of valuable lessons about checkpoints which I sort of knew I should do anyway and thats:

  1. Arrive looking strong
  2. Don’t hang around
  3. Leave running strong

Even if you’ve just walked 2 miles and hurled your guts up, if you know the CP is around the corner, put on your game face, get in there, deal with your hydration and stock up on any food. Even make a point of saying how good you’re feeling.

At the later CP’s this weekend, we were aware the guy who at the time was in second was having issues with cramping and knowing there’s someone struggling just ahead puts a spring in your step. Don’t let your own pain be doubled by it giving someone else a boost!

Nutrition

I have now done the last 2 races going back to running with gels after a long spell of not using them because they didn’t agree with my stomach but I think as I learn more about my body is telling me as I run, I will probably head back to using them for racing simply because they’re quick and easy.

Early on in the race I had a tortilla wrap with Nutella which is my usual favourite (half a wrap every 5ish miles) but to be honest, for the distance and effort I didn’t eat that much. From memory (and wrappers in my pack) I had:

  • 1 tortilla wrap with Nutella
  • 5 gels
  • Small slice of some sort of sugary cake
  • A wagon wheel (oh my god, how had I not considered these before?!)

I run with an Ultimate Direction AK race vest which has a 500ml front mounted bottle and I think probably I drank about 1.5-2 litres of water and a small plastic cup of coke at a CP.

I know from experience that one 500ml bottle of water lasts me about 10 miles on a normal temperature day and the main reason for loving the AK race vest is the ease of bottle access (climbing a steep hill with hands on knees using a handheld bottle is a hassle) and monitoring fluid intake.

Not really much for 8 hours of hard running but only in the last 2 miles did I feel truly weak and that because of the hard pace Billy was setting.

Kit

I like to run with as little kit as possible while remaining safe and I while I didn’t know the exact route I was aware that there were only a couple of points where potentially help might be a little tricky so I went light with:

  • Adidas XT4 shoes / Karrimor socks
  • OMM Kamleika Jacket
  • Tech tee
  • Polar Buff (to start)
  • Karrimor Gloves
  • Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (Had spare running vest, 3 gels/tortilla wraps/phone & my little emergency kit zip lock bag)

As a side note, I don’t wear compression socks any more because I never really felt I got any benefit from them but I’m considering going back to using on races where I know there will be a good chance of ending up covered in mud because a few times my calves rubbed together and covered in gritty mud I actually ended up with some pretty painful chaffing so the protection they offer might be of benefit in other races.

Calf chaffage from running in mud at Oldham way ultra

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Really not much and to be honest, I ended up running the entire race with my jacket on, I wasn’t ever too hot or cold and stuffed my gloves and buff in my pack about 10 miles in.

I make a point of having a small zip lock bag that I just keep in the bottom of my race vest no matter what and it includes a foil blanket, a little bus/phone money, 4 plasters and vitally, a small packet of tissues. It’s useful knowing it’s there.

Training

I’d not specifically trained for this event, although I’ve trained hard over winter for The Grizzly a couple of weeks ago building my mileage to around the 65-70 miles a week (usually with about 5000ft climbing) mark and this evidently carried through to this event after taking a couple of weeks to recover from The Grizzly so it’s good to see two amazing returns on my efforts in short space of time!

Thanks to TeamOA as ever, perhaps slightly overselling how easy the route was to follow on the map but other than that, another top value, well organised friendly event. I might be back next year but I’d recce the full route in advance next time because I think anyone confident of the full route this year would have probably saved themselves an easy 45-60 minutes.