“Thought you had retired?” was the question I had been asked for about the third time on the run. “Well, yeah, sorta” came my unconvincing answer.
After completing Spartathlon last year, I had decided to take a physical and mental break from running due to a loss of interest (my heart wasn’t really in it) and a few physical niggles which I had been carrying for months/years and never seemed to clear up.
Since then I took a bit of a break from ultra events and have switched off from the scene but have been keeping myself ticking over with regular mileage to keep in some sort of shape. The COVID19 outbreak earlier in the year forced a change in pattern with lockdown actually encouraging me to make more use of the ‘one run a day’ which kick-started a bit more effort but it has always felt like two steps forward and one step back with the constant niggles.
Fast forward to July and the good news is my longstanding (2 years) piriformis issue has finally cleared up but I’m still being troubled by knee issues and mentally I can’t say I’m excited about running events yet to be honest.
Entry into the Reading Round Ultra was a last minute decision (the closing date was a week or so before the event) and only came about after I managed to recce the 50km route in about 4.5 hours (including a break halfway) with Alex. This had been my longest run for 10 months and got me thinking I could actually get round on the day perhaps a few minutes quicker but I knew I wasn’t in shape to finish in the sub 4 hour time I had run last year.
So, with self-expectation duly set I entered the event and it felt a little ironic that having taken a break from events last year, nobody had really raced due to COVID19 and I was taking part in one of the first events being hosted post lockdown.
The venue and arrangements for the Reading Round Ultra had changed due to COVID considerations. All start times were based on small groups leaving in 2 minute intervals to limit numbers and social distancing measures were in place at the start, finish and checkpoints. In addition, the organisers transported your own supplies to each aid station so I had carried a couple of snacks an gels and left a bottle of drink at the permitted checkpoints.I think the organisers (Ultra Violet Running) did a good job with the organisation and social distancing measures and the switch to West Berkshire County Sportsground (an enclosed area) with bar/showers etc was a big improvement. It was great to see people finishing and hanging about watching other runners finish after the event and I hope they continue with this venue going forward.
The Reading Round Ultra was a 50km route around Reading and involved a mix of riverside paths, trails and country lanes with a handful of road crossings. There were a few diversions from last years route due to some work along some of the footpaths and the course had been adjusted in a few places and checkpoints moved from previous years.
As a late entrant I was in the penultimate group starting just before 9am with other runners (including Alex & Wendy) setting off from 7am onwards. This gave me the advantage of having people to chase down ahead of me and avoiding a super early start but it did mean we probably experienced the warmest weather and it was feeling pretty humid on the day as lined up on the start.
Paul Beechey was also running (still recovering from injuries and just planning to ‘get round’) and started in the pen behind me which added a bit of early pressure as I didn’t want him catching me up a mile in and I set out reasonably quickly but ran on feel and only used my watch to keep an eye on the course route especially where there were a few diversions.
I set out along the Thames Path and ran down a few early groups and then passed the first Checkpoint without stopping and made my way through Purley and through the Sulham area. I was feeling pretty warm from the exertion of weather already with my running cap absolutely soaked with sweat by this point.
The route passes very close to my house about 10-12 miles in and I ran past ignoring that fleeting thought of just running to my front door, bailing and enjoying an iced drink.
“Thought you had retired?” (Arriving at CP2) Photo Courtesy of the RRUM Team
I continued to pass people along the course working my way through the field as we ran along the Kennet & Avon canal, stopping briefly at Checkpoint 2 (Fobney Lock) to grab the first of my bottles before heading towards and beyond the Madjeski Stadium/Green Park area and on towards Shinfield/Earley.
It was around the 20 mile checkpoint that I caught up with a few of the local running club (Reading Joggers) and bumped into Ken Hughes which led to a few more ‘Haven’t you retired?’ conversations and after taking in more fluids (and my need for hydration was increasing at every checkpoint) it was back out for the last 10 miles or so.
My pace slowed around here (this being the furthest point I had ran), it was becoming more of an effort to maintain any sort of pace and I was definitely starting to run out of steam. The next section was more pavement and roads as I headed along a long road to Winnersh and the last checkpoint couldn’t come quick enough as I was running low on water and took the opportunity to take on plenty of fluids, cool down for a minute and top up my supplies, this was my longest stop of the race and whilst only 1-2 minutes I really needed it.
It was quite nice knowing the next stop would be the end but I still had 5-6 miles left to cover, I was still running reasonably well but not quite at the same pace or intensity as I had been at the start but it wasn’t quite reduced to shuffle pace yet, the race distance was only a 50km but I felt like I was definitely out of practice with any sort of effort running. It’s these moments during a race when you are probably being the most honest with yourself and at that point I was asking myself ‘how an earth could I contemplate running a 100 miler if I’m feeling like this after 20 miles?’
I continued on and caught Wendy with a couple of miles to go who was participating but pacing a colleague James (?) and I pressed on towards the end. The last couple of miles started to feel like a real slog and I was flagging towards the end and thankful for a few seconds of respite when waiting to cross a busy road and found myself needing to take a couple of 20 second walk breaks in the last mile. I was pretty knackered by this point but managed to trot to the finish line finishing in 4hrs 20mins (placing 15th/250) which was the sort of time I had expected but it felt like a real effort today to only knock 10 mins of a training run time of 4.30 (with a 10-15 min break in between although it was much warmer on race day which may have been a contributory factor.
Overall, this was both my best and worst race of the year by virtue of being the only race of the year for me! Fitness wise, I know I’m not in race shape (carrying a few extra pounds and having not really undertaken any specific training i.e. speed or long runs) so not too worried about the finishing time which reflected my current fitness, I was more pleased with having been able to run 50km for the first time in ages.
Post race drinks.
In terms of other runners, Alex had a brilliant run finishing 2nd overall in a great time of 3.20 (the winner ran 3.05). Paul Beechey made it around the course in 4.45 as he continues to work through injury issues and Wendy paced her client to a finish. Well done to all the Reading Joggers who completed the event aswell including Nick Steward (who actually admitted to being one of the few people who actually read my blog, so get’s a special mention 🙂 ). With the enclosed venue and bar, we had a few drinks and watched the other runners finis the race and chilled out for an hour or so at the end.
Post race I was pretty wiped out, my knees were feeling very sore and I felt pretty drained so it took me a week to start to get back to normal and it will continue to be a slow and steady build up to the * possibility * of any future events, maybe. Genuinely, I need to be confident that I can run anything niggle free and finish a race and mentally I’m not yet in a place where I’m really excited about events so not there yet. Thanks for reading.
Race Website here