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.
In the words of my wonderful mum, "Sport can be about winning and losing, the excuses, the what ifs and if onlys. But sometimes it is about accepting your current limitations and with a mixture of positive thinking, grit, and determination still achieving a result to be really proud of."
Six weeks ago, I badly sprained my ankle and having previously suffered with a similar injury I knew how long the recovery times can be. I had pretty much ruled myself out of any further races this season, including Brighton and Hove Triathlon, which frustratingly had been my A-race post Pontevedra World Duathlon Champs in April - to finally give ETU Triathlon Champs qualification a go.
However, me being fairly competitive (okay, I am very competitive), I was determined to recover as quickly but as safely as I could. Working with a physio through work, I gradually built up my strength, going from non-weight bearing to mild strength exercises over a few weeks; plus a lot of icing, elevating and rest!
Within 5 weeks, to my absolute surprise, I was able to swim, cycle (without cleats) and do short, slow runs on soft surfaces such as on grass or the running track. I had missed the deferral/refund date for Brighton, so with the support of my physio, we thought I could possibly give it a go if I was really careful. It is a multi-lap course, so I had the option to easily pull out at any point if I began to feel the slightest bit of pain or discomfort. The worst thing would be to make it worse and prolong my recovery time.
Aside from the horrendous M25 traffic on the way there and back, it was such a great weekend. We were extremely lucky to have beautiful weather and little Ellie, chief supporter, loved her first splash in the sea! Me and my mum traveled down to Brighton on Saturday as registration and bike racking had to be done the day before, which meant we could wander around, soak up the glorious sunshine, and generally have a relaxed pre-race day. Relaxing that is, until I stupidly decided to try and put on my race tattoo without taking the plastic backing off, resulting in it just sticking to the plastic and not my arm.. But clever mum to the rescue who used a hairdryer to reattach the number to some cardboard and then reapply to my arm - genius!
Come race day itself, I had a pretty relaxed morning with a start time of 11:15am meaning a lie in, which is usually unheard of in the triathlon race world! Frustratingly, the sea was pancake flat first thing in the morning when we initially got to the start to watch the sprint race. But by the time my wave was due to start, it had become fairly choppy, but at least nowhere near as bad as at Redcar last month!
Following a hug with fellow competitors, and a 3,2,1 we were off...
The initial few hundred metres to the first buoy, I have to say, were not enjoyable at all. I got kicked in the face and had to rearrange my goggles having got a load of seawater in my eyes. Once it had all calmed down, I managed to get into a rhythm and relax. By the final buoy all I could think about was drinking some water as my throat was so dry from the salt water. I definitely prefer lake swims that is for sure!
Surviving the swim, I then ran up the beach into transition and onto bike leg.
It was my first time in cleats since my ankle incident as I knew I could rely on a flying dismount, so I was hopeful to try and push for a decent bike time. At Brighton, the bike course is an 8 lap out-and-back flat course on closed roads, so it was fast but I have to admit I did get bored. The tactic to keep myself occupied was singing baby shark to myself... it got me to the end anyway! Overall, my power was down by about 10%, but considering my time off training due to injury, I was fairly pleased with that and my bike split was actually faster than the Age Group winner!
The run was the bit I was most worried about. I hadn't run further than 2km on tarmac or 7km on a track surface post-injury. All of which were pain-free, but it was still an unknown as to whether my ankle would be okay over this distance.
As it was 4 laps, I knew I could easily stop if it did become at all painful, so I set off at an easy pace and adopted the run-walk strategy (I did 4 minutes running, 1 minute walking), to be mindful not to set myself back with any additional stress to the injury. Baby shark returned and the laps were slowly ticked off, all the way to the finish line!
Never in a million years did I think I would be racing at Brighton, but the human body is a wonderful thing. It was possibly my slowest ever 10k, maybe even slower than a turtle in peanut butter, but I couldn't be any happier that I got to race and finish, which is the most amazing feeling having initially thought I would be sitting this one out only a few weeks ago.
The time did not matter on this occasion - for once it was the taking part, enjoyment and finishing that mattered! And I did just that!
A big thank you to my amazing mum who acted as top supporter, dog looker-after, taxi driver and general awesome helper over the weekend!
About the author: Helene Wright is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Run Reigate is an annual running festival held in Reigate, Surrey and attracts over 3,000 competitors. This huge celebration of running consists of a half marathon, 10k, and 5k, and takes place on fully closed roads.
Registration & Pre-Race
When you sign up for this race, you have the option to pay extra to have your race pack posted to you. The other options are to pick up your pack from Reigate throughout the week leading up to the race or to pick it up from the registration tent on the day. Having so many options means that you don't have to queue and picking up your race pack on the day is very easy and straight forward as most people already have theirs.
The running festival and start/finish are located in Reigate Priory Park which is a beautiful park in the heart of Reigate and there are lots of different tents from various suppliers, such as On Running, Wagamama, as well as the park's cafe which is open and plenty of portaloos!
Queuing for the toilet before a race is always a pain – I nearly missed the start of a race once because I'd been in the toilet queue for an hour! Thankfully, there are free public toilets a short walk from the park as well as toilets in the park's cafe and of course the portaloos which are provided by the race organisers. This meant there was never too much waiting around, which there could've been with so many people in attendance.
There was a mass warm up before the race hosted by ultra runner Susie Chan and the atmosphere was amazing. The start was very well organised – there were thousands of people to get over the start line but the start pens were well laid out and it was all very civilised. There were also pacers for various finishing times which is always a nice touch.
Out onto the run, and it was a beautiful day. The route is on fully closed roads and it is absolutely amazing how many supporters there were! All of the residential roads had people outside their houses cheering us on, playing music, and giving out jelly babies. Kids were giving high fives and it felt really special.
The first half a mile or so is all uphill which was a surprise however it's a pretty gentle incline and actually helps to get you warmed up without blowing you up too early on. After that, the elevation profile is gently undulating, with a few small inclines but which are always followed by gentle declines. The only stinger is the hill in the last 2 miles which I had heard people talking about right from the beginning.
The route is all on beautiful country lanes as well as some residential roads. Despite the sunshine and heat for the 2019 event, the majority of the run is in the shade thanks to the trees and this meant no one was suffering and no one was complaining about the heat!
The route is all on smooth tarmac and there are no technical areas at all. You can just enjoy your run and the beautiful scenery.
Organisation & Support
The support at this race was some of the best I've ever experienced and really made this run special. There are bands playing music at various places around the route and there are plenty of marshals. The whole area of Reigate & Banstead clearly enjoy this yearly spectacle and it's great that so many people come out to cheer on the runners.
The run is organised very well and everything went smoothly. Right from the moment you arrive, there is free parking available in various places around the town with car park marshals directing you. You receive a beautiful medal at the end of the race as well as KIND bars, water, bananas, and a race t-shirt.
I can honestly say I really enjoyed this half marathon and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, enjoyable race.
Have you ever had a race where everything just falls in to place and it all just feels ‘right’? I had an experience of this recently, when I travelled to Kazan, Russia to compete for Great Britain’s Age Group team in the European Championships.
Lead up to the race
This year was my second year trying my hand at age group triathlon racing, having raced in Glasgow last year. My first big race of the 2019 season (Weert, Netherlands – standard distance) went well and I came 8th in the 30-34 age group. I was left feeling that I could have done better though; I had struggled with my confidence on the bike and my pacing during the run was not as good as it could have been. Based on this, I made a very last minute (comparatively speaking) decision to go to Kazan for the sprint distance event in eight weeks’ time. This left me with some homework. First, I had to sort the logistics; travel, where to stay, a Russian Visa and insurance! Second, my coach and I had a plan to work on some of my (perceived) weaknesses from the Netherlands.
Before I knew it, the end of the school term (I’m a teacher) was here and it was the summer holidays. My taper week during the first week of the holidays passed in a haze of nerves as I made my final preparations; I had never travelled to such a complex location to race and I was doing so on my own! It was some comfort to know that I would be meeting other familiar faces once I got there, alongside two fellow members of my triathlon club. Strangely, as soon as I landed in Kazan on Friday (very early in the morning!) these nerves disappeared; I was ready.
Arriving in Kazan
There’s a lot more to preparing for a European Championship event once you arrive in the host city, compared to doing a UK or local triathlon. I had to register and sign a disclaimer confirming my participation on Friday, attend the ‘Parade of Nations’ and official opening of the Championships and go to a race briefing at the team hotel on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, I collected my bike from “Tribike Transport” who had transferred my bike overland from the UK (way less stressful than travelling by air with a bike, even if I had to do without my bike for two weeks beforehand and two weeks after the race!) I then did a recce of the bike route before attaching my race numbers and racking it in transition during the afternoon. There was an opportunity for a swim recce, however I passed on this as the water looked less than appetising and I didn’t want to risk picking up a bug the day before the race!
There was also the opportunity to watch the elite women’s and men’s races which were on throughout the day, and pick up some tips ready for the next day! Saturday evening was spent preparing for the race itself; laying out kit so it was organised, putting on race number tattoos and making sure I ate and rested.
Sunday morning dawned grey and overcast, with temperatures considerably cooler than the previous few days. Despite this, it was confirmed that the swim would be non-wetsuit as the water was higher than 22°C; this suited me as the swim is probably my strongest discipline and not wearing a wetsuit doesn’t bother me. I feel that when the officials make this decision for me, I’m happier as it levels the playing field and I’m not left wondering whether I’ve made the right call to wear or not wear my wetsuit!
Other than that, it was a standard set up in transition, warm up and get to the starting pens ready for the start. This was a great opportunity to suss out the competition; I was already familiar with the other Team GB girls (Sarah and Ty) in my age category as we had taken the time to meet and get to know each other beforehand.
Before I knew it, it was time for my wave start; we had to get into the water from the pontoon and await the start signal. Ty and I had come up with a plan to try and get out of the water together in order to work together on the bike, however as soon as the whistle went I lost her in the confusion of the start!
I got a good start and found myself out at the front drafting another girl, however we quickly ran into the back of the men’s wave in front and I lost her too in the confusion. From that point on I was on my own in the swim. I paced it well and got out of the water feeling as though I had made a good start, although I had no concept of where I was in the field. I made my way along the long swim out route (almost 500m) and clocked into transition in 12 mins 55 secs.
I was quick out of transition and did my best bike mount to date to get out onto the bike course. I quickly caught up with Siobhan, a girl from a different age category, whom I had gotten to know before the race. As a draft legal race, the rules had specified that we were allowed to draft anyone of the same gender regardless of their age category, so Siobhan and I clubbed together to push each other through the first half of the bike course. We worked well together and soon managed to pick off several men ahead of us, although we did not see any other women!
As we approached halfway, I got the feeling that my pace needed to increase, so I was pleased when another group of girls caught up and we could work as a bigger draft pack. I quickly clocked that none of the girls in this group were in my age category, therefore we were able to work together without directly impacting on each other’s finishing position.
I was feeling really strong at this point and knew I could go faster; fortunately another girl (Holly) felt the same way so we agreed to push on and leave the main group behind. Holly and I worked brilliantly together, forging ahead and opening up a gap between us and the girls behind. Whilst we didn’t know it at this stage, we were also closing the gap on the girls in front too. I clocked into transition at 33 mins 34 secs and an average speed of 34.73kph!
As I ran into transition it was at this point I realised I was in the lead for my age group as mine was the only bike racked; all I needed to do was hold onto the lead and the win was mine for the taking!
Another quick transition and I was out on the run; I felt stiff to start with but soon eased up and settled into a strong pace. The support on the run course was fantastic; having spent the days leading up to the race with various members of the GBR team and their friends/ families, I was certainly not at a disadvantage having travelled out there alone!
So many people were cheering me on and this really helped to get me into ‘the zone’. I focused on picking people off in front of me; most were men and irrelevant to my race so I just concentrated on maintaining the pace I had set. The 5km course felt like hard work towards the middle, but as an out-and-back course I was able to see how far ahead/behind the competition was.
As someone who likes the thrill of chasing and being chased, this really suited me and before I knew it I was at the finishing straight. I had a tough sprint finish and a head to head with a Russian girl from another category but finished strong and in 5th place overall; I had achieved a run split of 19 mins 42 seconds and an overall time of 1 hour 9 minutes 24 seconds, meaning I took GOLD in the 30-34 age group!
The rest of the day passed in a blur; there were my team mates to cheer on, photos to take, cola to drink (after that swim this was essential!) and most importantly of all, the medal ceremony to attend! It was a fantastic experience to hear my name read out “The European Champion for the 30-34 age group is… Anna Larkins!” and to go up onto the podium to receive my gold medal. I still can’t quite believe it was me! Ty and Sarah had done well too, finishing 2nd and 4th respectively.
Some races go well enough, some go ‘ok’ and some you just want to forget. This race was in a class of its own. Everything went to plan; I was mentally and physically prepared, I played a good tactical game out on the course and raced well. It was an experience I will never forget regardless of how any future race goes! Age group racing may not be elite level, however it gives anyone who is willing to put the time and effort into their training the opportunity to experience a taste of what high level sport performance can be like.
I’ve made so many friends through my travels to Russia and the Netherlands this year and I have made memories for life. Whilst Kazan has been a highlight, it has been a huge honour to wear the GBR colours in all of the races I’ve done and I hope this continues for years to come!
About the author: Anna Larkins is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador
The North Downs Way Half Marathon is organised and run by Hermes Running who provide organised running events in Surrey and London. This challenging trail half marathon follows the North Downs Way with a climb up Box Hill thrown in for fun.
This event is organised by Hermes Running who organise runs in and around Surrey, Kent, and London. The North Downs Way Half Marathon and Marathon are overseen by David Ross who has been organising events since 2012. He is an experienced marathon and ultra marathon runner himself so knows what runners want and expect from a race and his mission is to make sure his runs are scenic and enjoyable, something I'd say he's definitely achieved with the North Downs Way Half Marathon.
This event sees a half marathon and a full marathon run concurrently on the same out-and-back course. The start is at The Bridge House Hotel in Reigate which is a great venue as it means runners can relax in the comfort of the hotel lobby before the race starts, and make use of the facilities instead of queuing for portaloos in a field! For the 2019 race, despite it being the beginning of July, it was raining profusely so it also meant we were able to stay dry and warm before heading out to the race start.
The race start is in a field near the Reigate Hill car park and David gives a short race brief before the off. Parking is a bit of a pain as there are only a few spaces at the hotel and the next nearest place to park is a very long walk down Reigate Hill to the station. It acts as a decent warm up for the race though! But it was quite a sight seeing hoards of very wet, chilly people slogging up this hill before the event had even started.
Overall the race is organised very well and it's all very straight forward.
This race is advertised as being 'challenging' and challenging it is! Not for the faint-hearted, the half marathon is once out-and-back while the full marathon is twice out-and-back. This is a trail run and gets very technical in places. There are some sharp, steep descents and ascents as well as stairs and single-file sections, tree roots and rocks to jump over and thick foliage to push through.
Despite the challenging nature of the run, the views are superb and the route is beautiful. You forget how much your body is hurting because you're focusing on your footing as well as enjoying the views.
The turn around point is right at the Box Hill lookout so your reward for making it up Box Hill and to the halfway point is a quick respite with some snacks and drinks provided by the aid station while enjoying the views out over Box Hill.
The route goes through various different sections including open fields, woods, and tracks. There is a very short section on a pavement next to a road as well. Many sections are single-file which means overtaking is a challenge however by this point most of the runners had settled into a steady rhythm and so this wasn't a problem at all. You do have to be careful when the faster runners are coming back the other way and us slower runners always stepped to the side so they could get past quickly and easily.
If you're a recreational runner like me, this is not a half marathon you would do for time. There are some sections where running is simply impossible due to the technical nature as well as one particular hill that is so steep even the fastest athletes were having to walk. This is definitely a run you do for fun instead of a PB but it really is great fun and I loved every minute of it.
The race is held at the beginning of July so I expected it to be very hot. However, it just so happened to be fairly chilly (14 degrees) and raining the day of the 2019 race so this made it a lot easier but also meant the route was slippery under foot at times. If it had been very hot, it would have been a lot more challenging.
The support at this race is absolutely outstanding. Because it's an out-and-back route, you see the faster runners on their way back and everyone smiles and says, 'Well done! Keep going!' to each other. Then on the way back you see the marathon runners heading out for their second lap and so cheering them on and congratulating them on an insane achievement is a real mood booster, especially when they smile and say well done back.
At no point was I on my own: there were always other runners around me the whole time which really motivated me and kept me going. The camaraderie between the runners was the best I've ever experience during a race; it was the friendliest race I've ever done.
There are two aid stations on the course, one at roughly 3 miles and one at the turnaround point. This means the half marathon runners get to pass an aid station three times (twice for the first one and once at the turnaround) and the marathon runners will pass an aid station six times. The aid stations are stocked with water, juice, dates, Chia Charge bars and various other snacks.
As this race is so challenging, you can expect to add on around an hour to your normal half marathon time, and up to 90 minutes to your marathon time. Because of this, some of us slower runners didn't finish until over 3 hours after the start. I was really impressed that there were lots of people at the finish to cheer us on and support us as we finished. It's great that they all stuck around for so long, 3 hours is a long time to wait! There was an aid station at the finish with plenty of provisions and the addition of a big bag of electrolyte powder which was well needed and appreciated.
Overall the support at this race was outstanding and the best at any race I've ever done. I really enjoyed this race even though is was so challenging and physically demanding and I'd massively recommend it to anyone. Just make sure you do lots of hill training and don't skip leg day at the gym!