Another Ultramarathon Running Blog

2018 Essex 50

I’m not sure how many people are actually going to read this blog now since I’ve decided to take a break from social media. Therefore if you are reading this now then you either subscribe to my blog or have looked up my race reports .. so thanks for reading!

Since my last big event (the GUCR) I had been carrying a few niggles, the blistered feet were in a poor state for a couple of weeks but healed quickly but I’ve also had both a piriformis issue and the knees have been sore (not helped by an ungainly death march at the GUCR).

After a short period of rest I started to run again but have felt ‘constrained’ in the running (i.e. not being able to run freely). With one eye on Sparta later in the year I wanted to bank a solid couple of months of running over the summer especially with the glorious weather we have been having. Therefore I elected to train slowly and bank some easy paced mileage whilst those niggles cleared up. Obviously resting is an option but as dedicated runners then we don’t often do the sensible thing (i.e. total rest) especially with races to train for!

Much like the start of the year, my racing schedule has been impacted by illness and injury and soon after the GUCR, I missed out on my planned Lakeland recce as I wasn’t fit to travel up and run the long weekend I had planned (sorry to miss out on catching up Matt D) and this meant I wasn’t really invested in the Lakeland event this year. Having thought this through I elected to drop this race and replace it with a run at the Essex 100 (a flat 100 miler in mid-summer with regular Checkpoints) so I could use this as a training run for Sparta with a view on focussing specifically on foot-care.

I had originally entered the Essex 100 before the Lakeland entry came up but swapped this to another of the Challenge Running races before asking to swap this back. Thankfully, I know Lindley reasonably well and he was kind enough to allow me to swap back to my original plan.

As the race got nearer and considering my current physical condition then I had pretty much decided to just run the 50 miles. I hadn’t run longer than 20-25 miles and when I did then I could still feel the niggles. As I had already mucked Lindley around enough then I was going to just drop down distance on the day to save him some further admin work on my part. There was a small part of me that also wanted to bank a 100 mile finish so leaving this open was the easy option.

I travelled down on the day with a single crew member of Adrian Lee, who will be crewing me in Sparta. In advance of the race I had also consulted with my other Sparta crew member Keith Godden and had taken some advice on footcare. I’ve tried all sorts of things in the past with mixed success if I’m honest so it was worth getting an objective view from the man who sells all sorts of running related items. In essence, we had a footcare plan to try out for these conditions.

It was an early start for us to get to the event as we had a near 2 hour drive so despite the very reasonable 9am start time, I was up at 5am and feeling tired and as a result was a little grumpy in the morning. This didn’t put me in the best frame of mind for the run I’m afraid.

We arrived, registered, listened to the race briefing and were ready to set off at 9am. I asked Lindley about dropping down mid-race which was fine as long as I did this at the 50 mile point only. In addition, you would not be eligible for any place award as these were limited to those who started the race (this is to avoid someone running 100 miles, finding out they were ahead at 50 miles and dropping down the claim the win, which was perfectly reasonable).

The event itself comprised of 3 races, a 30 mile, 50 mile and 100 mile option with about 50 or so people taking part in different distances so the fields in each race were small. The course itself is an ‘out and back’ starting from Race HQ at Felsted Village Hall and then following a country lane for 1 mile before joining the Flitch Way. From here, runners cover another 3.3 miles (for a total of 4.3 miles) before reaching an Aid Station and turning back. Each lap equals 8.6 miles meaning the actual distance you ran was slightly longer.. extra mileage for your money. These are clearly stated on the Challenge Running website so competitors knew this in advance.

The Flitch Way was dusty trail with a very slight gradient but all perfectly runnable. The trail itself felt like an optical illusion as there always seemed to be a slight gradient whichever way I ran (out or back) although I feel slightly justified in that comment when my Garmin read a 1,654 feet elevation in total at the end of the race.

We set out on time at 9am with runners settling into their positions depending upon their race distance with Craig Holgate leading out the pack. The weather was pretty hot all day but after a month of good weather (and looking for any opportunities to run in the heat with Sparta coming up) then this didn’t worry me too much.

My race plan was as follows:

  • Run between 8.30 – 9m/m pace
  • Check position on Lap 6 (42-50 miles)
  • If knees not ‘sore’, piriformis not ‘pulling’ and 50 miles completed in under 8 hours (lots of if’s) carry on to 100
  • If I don’t meet ALL of the above criteria, stop.

It was still looking like 80% chance of a 50 and 20% chance of 100 but I wanted a firm plan in my head which was clear about the stop/go decision so it was a rational scientific decision as opposed to a ‘shall I/shan’t I conversation in my head based on feel’.

Thumbs up mid-race being ably assisted by race crew Adrian.

The race unfolded as follows:

Lap 1

I was still a bit grumpy about the early start and feeling tired and ran by myself positioned behind the 30 miler runners, some 50 mile runners and a couple of 100 mile runners. I settled down into my 8.30 – 9m/m pace and covered the lap in 1.14.

Lap 2

It was feeling pretty warm by now although the Flitch Way did over plenty of shade from the tree cover each side so not too much of an issue. I maintained the same pace and completed the lap in 1.15. Runners were now passing each other from different directions so I offered up a nod or a wave as we passed each other.

Lap 3

Continued on at the same pace and move past a couple of runners. Finished the lap in 1.18 although running times were similar, I was spending a minute or so at each Aid Station grabbing a drink/food or using the toilet. Knees were starting to ache a little on this lap.

Lap 4

Knees became really sore to the point where I briefly thought about bailing at 30 miles but then settled down to a dull ache and I carried on. Lap time was 1.23 (my longest) as I needed a sit down toilet stop here. Despite this, other people had slowed and I was on a similar pace so made up a couple of positions.

Lap 5

Knees settled down to an ache and I was able to run ok. I could feel the piriformis pulling a bit on there were a couple of occasions when my leg planted and then didn’t fire when I pushed off meaning a little wobble and stumble. This was the decision lap for me and following the earlier plan felt like whilst I would probably get to 50 miles (actually 51-52) in under 8 hours, I had not passed the fitness test and would stop. Knowing the next lap would be my last gave me a little spring in my step and I managed to catch up with Ian Thomas in the 100 at the end of this lap. Lap time was 1.22.

Lap 6

Ian stayed at the CP for a little while to recover as I headed out for my last lap. I was in a much better frame of mind knowing this was my last lap and my legs weren’t feeling as bad now.

The faster 30 (35) mile runners had finished by now and having pretty much maintained a steady running pace, I had now worked my way to the front of the 50 mile runners and the 100 mile runners. I ran to the far Aid Station thanked everyone for supporting who probably were a little bemused that I was stopping whilst leading a race and looking ok, but I offered my pre-made excuses/criteria and explained this was ‘just a training run’ before heading back.

It was good to see Ian Thomas had recovered (and eventually finished the 100) after spending a bit of time at the Aid Station as we had a very brief conversation as I passed him on the way back. There was a little thought about  sticking out the 100 if I’m honest but I dismissed the thought quickly as I settled back into my plan.

I arrived at the finish with another consistent Lap time of 1.20 and completed the race (Garmin clocked 52 miles) in 7.54. Not my quickest 50 mile time by any means but a good steady run and a good ‘training’ run. I think I stopped at the point when I was still running reasonably well but things were starting to ache so happy to bank the run at a good point rather than slog out the rest of the race and finish on a low point.

Blister wise, it was a partial success (thanks Keith). I had prepared my feet in advance and there were no blisters under the soles of my feet at all which was good. My little toes often take a battering and I had cut my shoes to allow more wriggle room and worn some toe protectors. This worked well on one toe but on the other, the toe protector had slipped of resulting in a blister but thats something that can be easily corrected. I had a small blister at the tip of each index toe and need to look at what is rubbing to cause this issue so something which needs to be worked on further.

The End

I was the first person to finish the 50 but as explained above not entitled to a place finish as I dropped down a distance which was expected although I did get my 50 mile finish medal.

It would be nice to come back and run the 100 and I think the Flitch Way would be a nice place to run in the evening/night especially when the temperature cools especially if Lindley can be persuaded to drop the extra 3 miles and make the distance bang on 100 miles.. this has possible Spartathlon 100 miler auto-qualifier potential but when racing fine margins an extra 3 miles makes a huge difference between success and failure. A few extra runners in each category would be good aswell to have a slightly more competitive field of runners.

I should add that the ‘out and back’ nature of this race and simple navigation make this a good option for those seeking to complete their first 100 mile event.

Thanks to Lindley, Maxine and all the Challenge Running volunteers for putting on a well organised event and well done to all the runners who took part in the event.

Overall, I was pleased with how the run went and glad I stopped where I did which meant I was home in the evening, had a good nights sleep and my training block towards Sparta can continue without any real impact. Through a slight quirk in circumstances I ended up running 3 separate times on the Monday and whilst my legs ached a bit, the race didn’t leave me in that ‘can’t walk properly for 3 days state after a hard race’ situation.

If I had done 100 then I would probably have taken a week off, then spent a week building up the mileage before hitting usual mileage in the third week and with only 10-11 weeks to Sparta (including a 2 week taper) then didn’t want to take 2-3 weeks out of a possible 9 running weeks left. I’m getting rather sensible in my old age.. fingers crossed I gain the benefit at the end of September!

Finally, thanks to Adrian Lee for crewing me (and giving me a lift there and back). It was an easy event to crew (I think Adrian sat in a chair and sun-bathed whilst I ran the out and backs) but all good practice for crewing duties later in the year especially when ‘grumpy’ Paul appears when he’s tired/got blisters/can’t be bothered. All phrases I have used far too often in far too many races I’m afraid.

The training and road to fitness continues..


4 Responses to “2018 Essex 50”

  1. thedancingrunner

    Congrats!! You’re making me miss ultras again LOL the last ones I did were in May (50 miler & 54k). Training for my 2nd hundo now. I’m ready to get back out there to running the crazy distances! Soon and very soon 🙂

  2. Kevin Matthews

    Hi Paul, Cheers as always for the race reports – your like my personal version of Trip Adviser for ultra running!!!! I’ve been searching for my first (sensible) 100 to enter and your report has nailed it for me – I’ll be there in 2019. So, thank you again for keeping up your reports and best of luck for your Sparta training! Kev


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