The Barry 40 was first held in 1986 and is one of the oldest ultra marathon events still ‘running’ today. The race takes place at Jenner Park in Barry (i.e. Gavin & Stacey land for those who were a fan of the show) and involves running 161 laps of a 400 metre track. The event has a ‘loose’ cut off of 6 hours but if runners are close to finishing then it’s likely they will be allowed to complete the event.
The race is quite traditional with its format with a small number of entrants participating. However, this makes the event quite intimate and the Race Director Mick McGeoch and his team go to great strides to make every runner feel welcome regardless of their level of ability.
Runners before the start of the race (Thanks to Paul Stillman for the photo)
I was probably the first person to enter many months ago and the event held numerous attractions for me such as; wanting to take part in one of the oldest ultras in the UK; I had family in the area, it was a good warm up for Crawley 24 in April and it was also a designated Welsh Ultra Championships event so nice to say I at least participated in an event with some good athletes.
I travelled down on the day with Adrian Lee who was going to act as crew/lap counter for me and we arrived at Jenner Park on an overcast day. I’ve run a few low key marathons in my time but I think this was the smallest field I’ve ever taken part in with no more than 10 runners in each of the 40 mile and Marathon categories.
Many thanks to all the volunteers without whom we couldn’t organise the event (Photo by Paul Stillman)
However, in the 40 mile category there was a strong field with a number of good names participating. How many races have you ever run when 90% of the runners participating have completed a sub 3 marathon?
(Here’s the list of excuses paragraph!) My build up towards this event had been below par through illness. The flu I picked up towards the end of Jan had resulted in me missing my decade-iversary of the Thames Trot and DNF’ing the Arc of Attrition a week later after realising less than 5 miles into the race that I didn’t have any energy to run. Unfortunately, the illness still hadn’t shifted a month later and this had impacted my running with lots of slow junk miles but especially feeling pretty lethargic on any long runs.
I ran the Hillingdon 6 Hour event at the start of Jan when reasonably fit and ran 47-48 miles in 6:15 and so at peak fitness I would be hoping to get close to around 5 hours. Based on my current level of health and fitness, I was expecting to run around 5.30 at the event. This was also going to be a fitness test and decision point for Crawley 24 in 3 weeks.
Race Start (Photo thanks to Paul Stillman)
After the runners were introduced to their lap counters and a couple of photos were taken of the groups then we started the run. Grant Jeans (running the Marathon) set out quickly along with Steve Way, Nathan Flear, James Young and Tracy Dean on the 40. The weather was cool and good for running but there was a bit of a breeze, so ok but not perfect conditions.
Race updates were given to runners over the PA system on a regular basis so we knew how everyone was getting on.
I spent the first couple of hours running with Steve Speirs. I hadn’t met Steve before but we were Facebook buddies so I was aware of his good running pedigree. It was great to share some miles together as we chatted about running and races as the first couple of hours passed quite quickly. We ran around 7.30m/m pace for around the first 20 miles and then I started to fade having tested my current level of fitness and then settled into an ultra shuffle for the remainder of the race.
Pictured with Steve Spears (Photo by Paul Stillman)
My nutritional approach was to eat something every 5 miles or so and a I worked through a variety of food including a Cornish pasty, couple of bananas, jaffa cakes and a couple of gels and drank energy drinks, coke or water. I felt like I had consumed sufficient calories but was lacking a bit of energy and didn’t feel like I normally would during that part of the race which I put down to health/fitness.
“Honestly, I once had a decent race” (Photo by Paul Stillman)
This meant the second half of the race became simply a case of grinding out the laps and ticking off the miles. I felt like I hit a low patch between the 20-30 mile and was perhaps mentally a little better from the 30 mile point to the finish when the outstanding miles reduced to single digits.
In the overall race Steve Way was dominating and finished 1st in a time of 4:13 whilst Nathan Flear was 2nd in a time of 4:41 with a strong run following recent injury niggles. This was also enough to see Nathan finish as Gold Medallist in the Welsh Ultra Championship. It was great to meet Nathan (along with partner Tori who was designated lap counter on the day) at the event and I’ll be seeing how Nathan gets on again at the GUCR in May and Spartathlon in September which if all goes well we could have the highest number of Welsh finishers ever this year (2).
Steve Speirs ran brilliantly, paced it very well and moved up the field a few places in the second half of the race to eventually finish 3rd overall in the race and Silver Medallist in the Welsh Ultra Championships category. Great run Steve and hope to catch you at another race in the future.
Grinding out the laps (Photo by Paul Stillman)
The weather took a turn for the worse with the wind picking up and rain descending to make conditions worse for the last hour of my race. As I saw out the last few miles, there were only a few people left out on the track and I realised that I’m definitely not 100% fit and healthy enough to take on a 24 hour race at present.
I finished my 161 laps in 5:36 finishing 6th out of 7th runners but did earn a ‘default’ Bronze medal in the Welsh Ultra Championships as only 3 runners were eligible for the award although with the ACP 100km event in 3 weeks time this may have had an impact on the number prospective entrants. However, this does give me a medal that 99% of my friends (i.e. all the non-Welsh) will never earn, Ha!
Gold Medallist winner Nathan, with the default Bronze Medallist (Photo by Tori Robinson)
Thanks to Mick and the Les Croupiers team for putting on a wonderfully low key event. It’s clear that the team put on the race for love of the sport and try and make the event very personal for all of the runners involved in the race.
Despite a below par performance I really enjoyed the format and nature of the event and would definitely like to come back again in the future and run quicker… at least I have a benchmark time to beat now.
For those Ultra runners based in the UK, I would heartily recommend this event whether you want to have a crack at a good 40 mile time, want to use the race as preparation for a 24 hour track race (i.e. Crawley), have any sort of welsh ancestry and want to increase the level of competition in the Welsh Ultra Championships (surely we can improve on these numbers to at least create a bit of competition for these medals?) or simply wish to participate in one of the oldest ultra races in the UK then please take a look at the event at the following link here.
Finally, huge thanks to Adrian for giving up a day and acting as my crew/lap counter for the day. This is probably one of the constraints over race numbers within chip timing desirable (but has a cost) therefore the services of these volunteers are vital to organising a race of this nature and Adrian’s and all the other supporters time very much appreciated.
(Update). As I’m still suffering some form of illness I have sadly withdrawn from Crawley 24 hour race in a few weeks time as I’m not in a fit and healthy enough state to try and run a 24 hour race. Sometimes you have to break the cycle of planned races and reset your approach and this is one of those times. This gives me a couple of months to work on getting fit and healthy for the Grand Union Canal Race towards the end of May which is my next focus with a couple of marathons already in the diary as warm up events.