I’m a Top 10 kind of guy, occasionally Top 5. I don’t win races. I enjoy the buzz of racing but it’s not the reason I train. I like to think that if there were no races I’d still be out running or riding my bike. It’s my hobby and my therapy. An escape from life’s responsibilities. I raced my first ever ‘ultra marathon’ earlier this month.
Technically, an ultra marathon is any race longer than a marathon, but at 30 miles this was a baby of the ultra world. In fact, there were two distances being run for this event – The Green Man Ultra 45 & 30 miles. The 30 mile version is affectionally known as the Green Boy. I had a ‘proper’ ultra coming up 6 weeks later – the 50-mile Butcombe Trail on the Mendips (before everything got cancelled in 2020).
I had picked the Green Boy as a stepping stone to the big boy. It felt a bit like swallowing a spider to catch a fly… Anyway, to my surprise I only went and won the race. I took the lead in the first few hundred metres and never saw my competitors again. From the times at the checkpoints, I set an early lead and continued to extend it throughout. It’s a strange feeling to be racing solo for 4 hours and 15 minutes. You have no idea what’s happening behind you and have to just keep pushing on. I felt like I was running well, but in the thickest of mud or on the steepest of hills when my pace dropped, I had to keep telling myself that it was the same conditions for everyone and that I had to just focus on maintaining my same effort level. The 45-mile race started at 8am and the leaders started coming through Checkpoint 2 (also the 30 mile start line) at around 10.15am.
By the time we started at 11am, around 40 participants of the longer route had passed through. This at least gave me some people to chat to as I passed them, sharing a few words of encouragement. My family came to the final checkpoint to cheer me on before heading on to the finish line. I’d told my wife that I expected to be through between 2.15 and 2.45pm based on the previous year’s results. I had no real idea but guessed I’d be somewhere between 5th and 10th out of the 75 participants in my race. The looks on their faces when I arrived just before 2.15pm in first place was a mixture of pride and confusion, mostly confusion! I gave them all a brief high-five before running on. I felt like I got my kit and nutrition right on the day. I wore Inov-8 Roclite 315 trail shoes, and my Sundried t-shirt and socks of course!
The route was a mixture of trails and road so I opted for cushioned trail shoes. They soaked up the shock of the tarmac better than my lightweight trail shoes, however they do have a tendency to soak up the mud and water from the puddles too. But it felt like the right compromise. Nutritionally, I ate an energy gel every half hour, in the second half of the race a couple were caffeine gels to give an extra boost. At the first checkpoint I grabbed a chocolate biscuit and half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But after a few bites I started worrying about getting a stitch so ended up running along with a sticky mess in my hand for a few miles, taking tiny nibbles! I drank about 3 x 500ml flasks of water during the race. And lots before and after. I stopped a couple of times mid-race to wee in bushes – I remember being really relieved that I could go as soon as I’d stopped. I was saying to myself, “I’m a runner, a runner who can wee and can run.” It’s weird the stuff you do during such a long race. Maybe it’s just me!
The final 7 miles were tough. Loads of hills where I had to walk briefly to catch my breath. Each time I counted down from 5 and then started running again, fearing that a longer break would result in losing the lead. Looking at my heart rate data from the race I only spent 20 minutes at ‘threshold’, for me this is above 157bpm. Most of the race was at ‘tempo’ (between 140 – 157). I think the higher efforts were at the end where I was pushing hard on the hills. The fact that I could push hard at the end makes me feel like I’d paced it well.
I overtook 3rd place in the 45 mile race about a mile from the end. I set a bit of a gap but then started looking over my shoulder and convinced myself that he was actually second place in the 30 miler and was catching me! I needlessly raced hard to the line. My kids were waiting at the finish, my eldest waited until I was near and then sprinted to beat me to the line! She was super chuffed and kept hold of my trophy all evening – I let her have this one!
About the author: Mark Jerzak is a regular contributor to 220 Triathlon Magazine, an athlete, father, and Sundried ambassador.