My First 50 mile Ultra Marathon
GB Ultras Pennine Barrier 50 mile Ultra Trail Marathon
15 hours 9 minutes
About 2 years ago I met this bloke at my running club who was training for a 200 mile ultra marathon from Southport to Hornsea. As I ran with him I asked a couple of questions about how that worked…….when do you eat?…..when do you sleep?………what if you get lost?…… Anyway I ran for a while listening to him go on and on about ultra running, as I left that evening on my car ride home I couldn’t help but think ‘crazy idiot, who runs that kind of distance, I’ll never run further than a half marathon’. A year later and a half later I ended up engaged to the crazy idiot and embarking on my first 50 mile ultra marathon.
We’d talk all the time about various ultras and I crewed Ian a little bit at his second 200 mile Ultra. Seeing the grit and determination of these runners as they push their body to the extreme to see just how far they could go was a truly inspiring experience. There were absolute machines that completed it in 47 hours……….are they even human? To the back of the pack that wanted to see just how much their body could take……..I will never ever forget Julie Valentine’s sprint finish…….sprint finish! At the end of 200 miles!! And 100 hours!!!! SPRINT FINISH! To the DNF’s of people that had given their all but could no longer continue, which was heartbreaking to see just how devastated they were………the fact they’d actually done 140 odd miles is just astounding anyway.
It really got me thinking, if these people can do 200 miles I could surely give a 50 mile a go. I decided since I love the mountains and hiking I’d rather do a nice picturesque ultra with the odd ‘hill’ and before I knew it Ian had signed me up for Pennine Barrier – that was a surprise email, let me tell you! Now bear in mind this was 7 months before the race and I’d not yet run a marathon. So that was first on the agenda, you need to have completed a marathon to compete in a GB Ultras event…….. So training began for Manchester marathon in April. With Manchester completed next was to focus on Pennine Barrier.
I joined on the recce run the week after Manchester – this was planned to be 13 miles (ish) on the Saturday and 26 miles (ish) on the Sunday. My thought process was that if I could do this weekends recce the week after completing my first marathon, then I’d feel like I could at least attempt Pennine Barrier.
The recce was fantastic – led by Emma Marks and Matt Rushbrook – 2 of the GB Ultras ambassadors, they were there to offer help and support along the way – not just about the route but also about kit and other bits of training that would help with the actual race.
I should also mention it was made super special because on the first day of the recce Ian proposed to me at the top of Malham Cove, which now gave the race a really extra special feel.
As race day approached I was rather surprised that the feelings I was getting were that of excitement rather than actual nerves. I was quite happy for that though!
We travelled to Malham on the Friday night to register for the race and it was at this point the nerves kicked in, pretty much as soon as I saw the gantry in the showfield. At this point I was really glad I’d volunteered at previous events and made friends with quite a few of the GB ultras family, as they assured me all would be fine and I’d smash it and Ian would look after me. We collected our numbers – Ian got his usual number 15 (yes he’s a regular) and I was issued 115, a very nice touch from the RD’s.
I had a surprisingly good sleep the night before the race and after registration a bit of the excitement came back. Race morning prep went without a hitch (I even made the brews in the hotel!) and we were at the start line ready to go. Chatting to others at the start and it became clear I wasn’t the only one taking on my first ultra today – glad to see I’m not alone for picking an extremely hilly course for my first one!
Before I knew it we were off, the first part of the course will forever be my favourite for reasons I mentioned above, and off up Malham Cove we went!
We kept a nice steady pace and it was great to see the runners leading the pack on the out and back section at mile 3 – so glad this was at the start and not the end. And say hi to friends on the course.
Malham tarn was lovely and quiet and just like a Harry Potter set. Then came the first climb up fountains fell, as we slowed a little we were over taken by a couple of runners……but never mind this was a (ultra) marathon not a sprint. And the slower pace at this point really help the steady pace maintained towards the end of the race. The run down the other side of fountain fell was just what I needed, it relaxed me into the race a bit……and I could see the first checkpoint. I’d managed the first 11 miles!
Now I’d been looking forward to the first checkpoint after Nicola Bruce had advertised all over Facebook that her famous spanakopita would be there. Imagine my disappointment to find it had all been eaten!! Only kidding Nic, there was plenty of other goodies to keep me going.
A mile after checkpoint one we finally arrived at the base of our first peak pen-y-Ghent. A nice easy one to break us in. We were soon up and over. It was on the way down from pen-y-gent that I started to notice just how many people were doing the three peaks that day, the majority of them completely oblivious that anyone else was on the trail.
I wasn’t looking forward to the next bit, the trail from pen-y-gent to ribble head viaduct, I’d done it on the recce and thought it a little bit dull compared to the mountains, it went by quite quickly however and we soon approached the second checkpoint.
A quick bit to eat and water top up and we were on our way again. Whernside was next and is by far my least favourite of the climbs, it just goes on, and on, and on. By now there were hundreds of people on their own 3 peaks challenge and the biggest challenge I found was getting past people, we got stuck behind one family and before I knew it there were about 50 walkers also stuck behind them. After what felt like an eternity we finally made it to the top! The descent went a lot quicker and I picked up my pace knowing we were nearing a proper toilet and an ice cream shop! We had about a fifteen minute break at the shop but I didn’t want to sit down for fear of not getting back up again. We were just over half way with our last climb looming in the distance – Ingleborough.
We had a quick stop at checkpoint three then headed to our final (ish) climb. Most people I speak to really hate the Ingleborough climb but for me it’s my favourite. It was my third time up this peak but the first time I’d actually have a view at the top so I was quite excited. There’s a long staircase to climb before getting to the base of the actual climb, and once we’d past this bit it was nice to see Race Director Wayne there checking on how everyone was doing and to take some pics of course!
On to my favourite bit – the scramble up Ingleborough. It’s a steep fast climb and you make it to the top way quicker than Whernside. Unfortunately the descent isn’t so fast and it feels like an eternity before you get to the signpost that tells you it’s still 2 miles to Horton-in-ribblesdale and our next checkpoint. Well I’m pretty certain whoever calculated that distance was completely wrong! The 2 miles were never ending and I was starting to get hungry (and hangry) and needed the toilet, I really hated these 2 miles. As we headed into Horton-in-ribblesdale I nearly missed the check point as I was so focused on getting to the toilet, thank goodness for the lovely lady who yelled me back. At this checkpoint I had a real good moan about how long the last 2 miles had been and how much my legs were starting to hurt. We took the opportunity here to roll our legs out a bit with the roller Ian had brought along, and I moaned some more. Those poor volunteers just had to listen to me moan, and they were so lovely about it.
We headed off again and stopped at the toilet just up the road. I don’t really know what happened in there but I came out fully refreshed and ready to tackle the last 15 miles. Jelly beans in hand onward we went. Back up, yes up, pen-y-gent………..well half way up to go back down the other side to checkpoint 5, the last one! The climb is really steep, steeper than I remembered but it wasn’t too bad knowing the checkpoint was just on the other side. Checkpoint 5 reached and I’ve never been so happy to see fresh oranges, I ate lots. Then back on our way for one final climb back up fountains fell.
The whole way round this race all I’d done is comment about how I couldn’t believe people were going to do the 100 mile race, they would get to the end of the 50 miles, turn round and go and do it all again. I am in absolute awe of anyone who attempted this, let alone finished……… This leads me onto a conversation we had on the way up fountains fell. There were four of us in a little group and I asked the question – if you got to the end and someone said they’d give you a million pounds to carry on and do the 100 would you do it? There were some very strong words spoken and a definite no was the answer for 3 of us, after thinking about it Ian decided he would do it again………..as I’ve already mentioned he is a crazy idiot.
We made it up fountains fell and with relief were happy it was all down hill from here on! With about 8 miles to go to the finish we saw the first 100 mile competitor coming towards us……..they’d finished the 50 and were 8 miles back into the 100! And we’d still not finished 50!!! In all I think about ten people passed us on the way back out, seeing them have the energy and determination really spurred me on to the finish. About a mile and half from the finish we saw Shelton who had attempted the 100 but decided to turn back and he ran the last part of the race with us. No offence to Ian, I love him to bits but it was nice to have some different company for a bit. We passed Janet’s foss and had a quick photo, it’s just so beautiful, then onto the finish only a mile away. In the last couple of miles we’d overtaken a few runners, but some were starting to catch us back up again, I was determined they were not going to overtake us.
As we came out of the wooded area you could see the finish, I was slightly ahead of Ian and Shelton and all of a sudden I realised I was actually going to do it, I was going to complete 50 miles. Well that was it, I started to have an emotional moment and this continued for the last half a mile to the finish. I was so proud of myself, and not at any point did I want to push Ian off a mountain, though I think at times he probably thought about pushing me off one. It was the best feeling ever to finish and to see friends at the finish line too was amazing. We finished in 15 hours and 9 minutes, collected our medals and tee shirts then headed to the marquee for tea and soup……….possibly the best soup I’ve ever tasted.
Pennine barrier was definitely a challenge for my first ultra marathon but it’s a beautiful route and superbly organised by GB Ultras, I got to run it with my favourite person in the world and share the experience with friends along the way. It’s safe to say I’ll be back to do it again next year without a doubt………………. Did I mention – I’m an Ultra Runner Now!!!