Monday, 28 May 2012

Northants Ultra 35. 27/05/2012.

Race 5 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.

They don't often come as hot as this, not even in midsummer. There was no let-up on Sunday from the intense sunshine and high temperatures we'd been enjoying all week. Runners would be wilting in the heat, dehydrated, nauseated, vomiting, cramping and reverting to the survival plod, when only four weeks earlier an icy gale and multiple cases of hypothermia and wind blindness caused the abandonment of The Fellsman (reported earlier in this blog). Isn't our climate exciting. At least it's not boring. I love it for all its challenges and surprises.

The Northants Ultra 35 (miles) is based at Lamport Hall and is run in beautiful, runnable, undulating countryside. After saying 'how do' to race organiser Guy Travers of Go Beyond and getting myself registered, I helped Tony to erect the Runfurther sponsors' flags. Then it was time to mingle and chat as we began to cook in the early morning sunshine - Sam Robson, Helen Skelton, Mick Plummer (a fellow Grand Slammer, no less), Fraser Hirst, Dick Scroop - more familiar names than I recall last year.

Vicky Mousley and Helen Skelton.

When Steven Adams (Principal of Go Beyond) put the call out over the PA to gather for the start, everyone seemed reticent to go anywhere near the inflated arch. Is it a superstition thing? I'd already walked underneath it (in the wrong direction) to gain my starting position, having remembered the routine from last year. For a while I stood alone in the starting chute, as usual far closer to the front than my ability warranted. Soon a few of the more confident runners joined me, one of them being Duncan Harris. We exchanged pleasantries (our paths don't often cross), while the majority of the runners lurked hesitantly off the back end of the chute.

Duncan Harris looks disturbingly relaxed considering what he's about to do.

As 08:30 approached and final instructions led to the countdown, Steve's radio mic went all Norman Collier on him. We could just about make out "three-two-one-go" from the intermittent sound bursts and we were off running across the grass towards the hall before turning left out onto the lane and left again down to the main road. A right down the A-road and left at the next footpath that descended across the fields of sheep launched us into the event proper. Phew it was hot already. I wondered how on earth we were going to survive such heat, but Guy did tell us that a breeze had been forecast for later.

The remainder of the day melted into a survival blur - trying to keep hydrated with water and electrolyte, hydrate and fuel with 600ml of full sugar Coke until it ran out, and fuel with the homemade fruit cake from the checkpoints, my Nutrigrain bars, an AccelGel, a Clif bar (uncharacteristically soft and edible in the heat), two cheese and onion rolls and Clif Shot Blocks. It seemed to work and I felt as though I was going quite well. I actually seemed to acclimatise to the heat and direct sunlight even though I was being basted in my own juices, though it did seem strange to be seeking the shaded side of the trail to cool down when usually I would be running on the sunny side to warm up. It felt like running in a foreign country, and it's still only May in old Blighty.

A prominent feature of the day were the fields of rape, their vivid yellow expanse drawing the eye and demanding attention. A lot of the route was on minor country lanes and tracks, when navigation was easy. However when the path crossed fields or the golf course, navigation became more challenging. The supplied flip maps were essential but they could not help with the micro navigation when the line of the footpath was not visible on the ground. I remembered most of the route from last year, with only one field section on the final leg catching me and plenty of others out and bringing us out onto the road too far to the left.

Yours truly amidst the ubiquitous yellow.

I ran with WDAC runner Julian Blackwell on and off for a while. Pleasant conversation was exchanged before he gradually pulled away in the later stages keeping stronger than I, to finish 19 minutes ahead.

An impressive turnaround was observed in Dave Bowen, who reminded me that we chatted last year (he tried his hand at my beloved Bullock Smithy Hike last year!). As I was catching him up after checkpoint 3 I saw him lean forwards and irrigate the ground with a stomach-full of water. He was in survival plod mode with rebelling digestive tract. I said that he needed some proper food inside him to kickstart the digestive system and offered one of my cheese and onion rolls. He declined with thanks because he was expecting to meet his support with pasta at Long Buckby. As we passed through I left him there refuelling as I plodded on. Shortly afterwards he came steaming past like a new man to finish 38 minutes ahead. What a comeback on functioning digestion.

An exhausted Dave shortly before his rejuvenation by pasta.

I was extremely impressed by Dick Scroop's performance. His training is certainly paying off. Where once he used me as his target in races, now I use him as my target. I was chasing him several times but could not hold on. He finished 11 minutes ahead as the first MV65 finisher, seemingly unfazed by the heat. Dick, you are a machine and I'll have some of what you're on, thankyou please!

Tony (fellow flag erector) had a storming run as far as the last checkpoint, where apparently he was in 8th place, but a cramping body and legs that would no longer support him forced a retirement. How frustrating was that? Thankfully he seemed to have recovered by the time I finished.

The forecast breeze did pick up slightly as the day progressed, which took the edge off the heat, but after the last checkpoint with only six miles to go, it had dropped. I was running in an oven (OK, it was upper 20s C but it's an oven to us) and my wheels were falling off. I felt nauseous even though I had been hydrating and fuelling. Any effort made it worse and, save for the odd burst of shuffle, I walked the majority of that final leg, getting overtaken all the way, to finish in 7:07. That was 44 minutes slower than last year. With last year's level of fitness I would have been around 20 minutes faster than that.

Phew, finished at last! Steve is poised with the medallion.

I felt wrecked by the time I passed underneath the finishing arch. The finisher's medal was hung around my neck and I made a beeline for the tea tent to begin my rehydration. It was unbelievably hot in the intense sunshine without breeze. The cool grass offered scant relief. A leg massage later (with donations to Teach Africa) confirmed that the legs were in perfect condition. It's just the engine that holds me back.

The winning time was 4:16. Such an unimaginable feat was perpetrated by Duncan Harris and Craig Holgate. According to the results they passed through every checkpoint at the same time. Perhaps one didn't know the route while the other did. If true, imagine what the winning time would have been if they were both familiar with the route. There again, perhaps not. I feel a headache coming on.

Nearly three hours after finishing (that's three hours more baking time in the sauna), the last runner having finished and the sponsors' flags having been packed away, I drove out of the grounds of Lamport Hall in conditions that might never happen again for this event. What an amazing day!

I took a few pictures to help me rest and recover along the way.

I hope I recover in time for next weekend's Games 100.


  1. Jeez, there is no holding you back, you put me to shame :-)

    Good luck for next week

  2. Best of luck on the 100, Nick. You are an inspiration, I could never do the amount you do. You put us all to shame. Lovely to catch up with you on Sunday, I love the series, always bump into the same people, great stuff!

  3. Really fantastic! Congratulations! All the best for the 100. Hope you recover well before the race.

  4. Neither of us knew the way! Safety in numbers and all that. Glad I wasn't running in the heat of the afternoon :-)

  5. P.S. Can I pinch your photo of me for my album?

  6. Duncan, that's even more impressive. There were a few long ways round, that hidden footpath behind the hut and the invisible path across the middle of the golf course that you'd never dream of taking unless you knew, to possibly make the race longer than it needs to be.

    You didn't run in the heat of the afternoon but I'm sure you were generating plenty of your own in the morning to compensate ;-)

    Feel free to use the picture for your album.