UltraPeaks – 40 mile ultra

Talk about jumping in at the deep end. On what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, I spent 8½ hours running/walking the UltraPeaks race.

My first ultra marathon 8 months after my first run.

I’ve written a fairly long post about my “journey” to this point so I’ll try and keep to the things I learnt during the course of the race.


For the most part, I built on a marathon base I’d already got from running Manchester in April and just kept working on running a few days a week and doing a long run at the weekend. The plan was to keep running to work (6 miles) a few days a week and then build up to a 30 mile long slow run 3 weeks before the race before tapering for the race. For the most part, I followed a normal marathon plan but with the addition of the 30 mile run to experience time on my feet and eating on the go in prep for a long day.

In the end, the longest training run I did was 26.25 miles and I abandoned the 30 miler at 24 miles because I’d stupidly gone too fast and smashed into the wall at 20 miles having run that in just under 3 hours it took another hour to do 4 miles so I figured sometimes a retreat is better and to allow myself recovery time and save gutting it out for the race itself.

In a way, I’m glad I did hit the wall because it taught me a couple of valuable lessons.

  • Going out too fast and not sticking to your pace plan can be truly unpleasant after a few hours
  • I now know how it feels to have your whole body telling you to stop
  • It didn’t do any long term damage (fitness wise and mentally) retreating from a training run that wasn’t going to plan – it was just a single training run

The race

The UltraRace team did a great job marking out the course and we all set off at 9am sharp in some stunning surroundings near Cromford Meadows with the race weaving its way into Derby city centre for the finish.

There were some very strong runner taking part as the UltraPeaks is part of a year long series and those guys were out of sight within half a mile and everyone else set off at a reasonable 8 to 9 minute mile pace.

My aim was to run as much as possible and my target time was 7 hours 30 for the distance but with it being completely unknown territory in terms of distance and running time I’d hoped to be around the 10:30 minute/mile mark which I was happy with through checkpoint 1 at 10 miles and although I started tiring noticeably at CP2 (20 miles) the pace was about on target and I was running with a nice chap who’d done the race last year and had the aim of running it all at around 10 min/mile so I tagged along but eventually he pulled away not far out of CP2.

The dark miles

Longer distance runners will no doubt wonder I was flagging before even reaching marathon distance. It doesn’t always happen but I’ll just remind you that 8 months previous to this race, I couldn’t run 3 miles without walking but I think the dark miles I experienced between about 21 – 26 miles were mostly depleted glycogen and generally having a bit of a wobble.

I knew there would be a lot of walking to do in this race and so I alternated between running a minute or two and walking until I felt a little better. The terrain certainly got hilly in these miles too once off the eternally boring flat miles of the Tissington  Trail and the temperatures were getting close to 30 degrees Celsius which didn’t help either but I knew in my mind that by this point, I was going to finish the race and I started breaking down the remaining 15 or so miles into smaller chunks mentally.

I suffer on longer runs with hiccups (anyone suggest a reason why?) and around 26/27 miles I ended up sticking my fingers down my throat to try and clear out a bit of a gassy stomach (not actually to be sick) and it helped a bit but they returned several times through the remaining miles.

Getting to CP3 (30 miles) was great as my entire cheering team of my wife & son, parents, parents in law and an aunt had been meeting me at the checkpoints and they were here at a pub with a change of tech t-shirt and a welcome pint of orange cordial and moral support for the last push to Derby.

The final stretch

You’ve probably heard the phrase running on autopilot, I’d love to say the last 10 miles were a jolly jaunt into Derby but there were some pretty undulating road miles to get through but I was finishing this one way or another and while my running was now sporadic I was still able to do some running and knowing I was towards the back of the field, I knew there were a couple of folks just out of sight ahead and a few behind.

I made it my aim to not be overtaken in the last 10 miles (I don’t think I was) and to catch at least the person in front (I think I caught at least 3 in the end).

Despite the glamorous self portrait at 35 miles, I’d been working out that the last 9 miles were equivalent to 3 parkruns so I was able to start ticking off the laps of the park so to speak. Still bloody hard work but it’s easier to deal with smaller targets at this point.

Coming round the last few corners to the finish line it was great to have Ally (my wife) run to the line with me and although many of the better runners had long since finished and left, there was still a nice welcome and lot of Coke and sweets to start trying to eat.

Nutrition & Hydration

I ran with my Camelbak and carried several gels and an energy bar. Frankly the energy bar was inedible and the gels work well but eventually they become unpalatable and the best bet is to try and eat some real food and drink a Coke at some point.

Trouble is, with the extreme duress your body is under it’s sending a lot of blood to the legs to keep going and I find the longer I run the  harder it is forcing down food to replace the massive number of calories being burnt. I was happy with the amount of water I drank throughout although I actually found it easier to drink from a plastic bottle I’d picked up at CP3 than the Camelbak.

Getting food down is something I’m working on and trying to find something I like and can eat. So far, ginger flapjacks are a good bet. I can eat them because frankly, who doesn’t love flapjacks, and the ginger settles the stomach a bit.

Lessons learnt

  1. Plasters over the nipples prevents this, I always make sure I’ve got a few plasters in my Camelbak on long runs
  2. A change of top is always welcome and gives a bit of a boost
  3. Try mixing taking a gel then some real food then a gel as you run
  4. Boredom is a reality on runs this long as the field stretches out so be aware you could be running alone for hours (I was and don’t mind) and remember to keep an eye out for direction markers

I’d love to have another crack at the course in 2013, as I’m confident I could get closer to, or under, 7 hours so I hope my schedule allows it. If you’re interested in running an Ultra, this is a great one and you’re in good hands with Rory & Jen.

This was the perfect “gateway” for me to get into ultra marathon running. The distance was massively challenging for me as a complete novice but achievable and I’ll be running the Hardmoors 60 in 2013 as well as taking part in the Adidas Thunder Run 24 hour race as part of a team so it’s fair to say my first ultra, while challenging, has me hooked.