The Severn Path Ultra
This is stage 3 of a 5 day race following the River Severn from its source all the way to Severn Beach, the mouth of the river – 210 miles in total. I went for the 58 mile stage 3 from Shrewsbury to Holt Castle near the Malvern Hills – I had to really, it’s just round the corner from home, and organised by Steve Worrallo, who also organises the Malvern Hills Ultra, another great race I’ve done twice now (check out http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk/ for more great events from Steve and his team).
I turned up to register about 6.30am on Saturday morning, and there were already lots of casualties from the previous two days racing (26 and 45 miles). Some had already gone home broken – one competitor had flown in from South Africa specially, but ended up going straight home before the end of day one. These are tough events, and this was proof.
I was one of five others who turned up for stage 3 only (call us the ‘newbies’). Only three competitors from the previous two stages started with us at the official start time of 8am, the others opting to set off at 6am and 7am as they needed the extra time after the previous two days. One newbie sneakily started early at 7am too, but we caught him up and passed him later. About 30 of us were running today.
Start to CP1 (Shrewsbury to Atcham – 14 miles) – I knew where this finished, as it’s near the Mytton and Mermaid pub and Attingham Park where we go regularly, but I didn’t know the route at all. A couple of the newbies knew the route, so I slotted in behind them. Four of us broke away from the rest of the pack, and eventually there were only two of us, me and Dan (his first ever ultra!). We passed one of the 7am starters – he wasn’t moving very quickly and I wonder if we made it to the end of the day. We came in to CP1 together and I was welcomed by my two boys, Sam and JJ, and my gorgeous wife, Jan, who had agreed to meet me at every CP on the route – a tough day in store for her as our two boys can be a handful. It was great to see them at the CP, but my tactic is always to fill up the water bottles, grab some cake and head straight out, as it’s easy to waste precious time at checkpoints. Less than 5 minutes and we were on our way again.
CP1 to CP2 (Atcham to Ironbridge – 12.5 miles) – I knew most of this route as some of it is a regular training run along the River Severn, also part of the Ironbridge Half Marathon and the Tinsel Trail routes. As soon as we headed off, two more competitors came in. Justin (leading after the previous two days – a lean mean marine) and Jim (training run for the South Downs 100 in a few weeks) were right behind us. This was quite tough in places, and we wasted a bit of time making sure we were on the right path. Justin eventually passed us and I said to myself right then, I’m not sticking on his heels, it’ll kill me. By the time we finished this leg we had overtaken all of the early starters, so I was now joint second. Usually it’s a great feeling overtaking somebody in a race, but today I was full of respect for everybody I went past as they all looked like they were giving it everything. We got to CP2 for another great welcome from the Minihane clan, some nice oranges and a pair of new socks (it’s an amazing feeling putting dry socks on after over a marathon in wet feet). I was warned by Denzil (check out http://www.codrc.co.uk (I know, don’t ask me!!) ) that my feet would get wet again in about 5 minutes because of flooding on the path, but I was too tired to listen. Off we went to CP3.
CP2 – CP3 (Ironbridge to Bridgnorth – 13.5 miles) – this was all unknown now. I knew the way in the car, but not along the river. As predicted by Denzil, my feet were soaked within 5 minutes – a large flooded section of the path was unavoidable. I ended up alone on this leg eventually – Dan felt strong and he charged ahead. It was his first ultra and he wanted to find his limits. I knew mine, so I thought ‘Go Dan!’ and dropped my pace a little. We had been doing 9.30min miles for a while and that’s too quick for me over this distance. He gradually got further and further ahead until I lost sight of him. On parts of this stage (and the next) I ran through fields where the nettles and foxgloves were more than waist high. I had shorts, not tights on, and by the end of the stage my legs were trashed – bleeding, itchy and tired (I’m still scratching them now as I write this). I came into CP3 feeling pretty good, but now I was getting hunger pangs which are difficult to suppress on a diet of gels, bars and jelly beans. I grabbed some flapjack, a few hugs and kisses and I was off again. The boys were being very entertaining and it was hard to leave them to run another 18 miles into the unknown, but I shuffled off slowly and eventually picked up my pace to a respectable 10.30 minute miles.
CP4 – CP5 (Bridgnorth to Stourport – 12.5 miles) – I don’t really remember much about this leg. I think I just kept on plodding. I got a bit confused as I ran though Stourport as it was busy, there were lots of people around and part of the route along the river was blocked by party goers so I took a detour hoping to find my way back to the river. I did eventually, which was a relief. I came in to the last checkpoint tired but elated, as I knew it wasn’t far now. There were very few people around now, and the CP was manned by a lovely lady on her own. A quick chat and a hug with Jan and the boys, then I filled one of my bottles with water (only one this time as I wanted to save weight), had a glass of squash and I was off for the final leg.
CP5 – Finish (Stourport to Holt Castle – 6.3 miles) – yes, only 6.3 miles to go!! I just told myself it was an easy 10k and I was finished. The trouble was there were lots of fields all the way to the finish, and I hate running through fields, especially when they are wet and the grass is long. It’s like running through soup (I imagine anyway!). It was just a case of keep on doing the ‘ultra shuffle’ – one leg in front of the other, baby steps, go go go. I walked a few miles probably, my mind refusing to let my legs run in the stupid fields. I got lost too for a couple of minutes – I just knew I was going the wrong way but wasn’t able to just stop and turn around to go the right way. Some drinkers outside a pub saw me looking at my map and said ‘I bet you’re lost aren’t you’ and I said ‘Er, yes I probably am’. They thought that was pretty funny. So did I, and it cheered me up. I turned around and found where I needed to be, literally half a mile from the finish (I’d gone the whole race without getting lost, even texting Jan to say I must be really clever not to have gotten lost yet, as everybody else had. KISS OF DEATH!). Anyway, as soon as I saw Holt Castle my pace increased and I was doing 7.00min mile pace by the time I crossed the line. I’m always able to find a little something in reserves at the end of the race – I like to finish fast, even after 61 miles of shuffling! 12hours and 18 minutes it had taken, and it was my first podium finish, a respectable third! I caught up with Steve briefly who told me lots more people had pulled out. We stayed at Holt Castle for a bit for a quick cuppa and some pasta (there is always great grub at the end of one of Steve’s races courtesy of Steve’s wife). I expected some more finishers to come in while we were waiting, but none did. I’m looking forward to seeing the official results for this race – there will be a lot of “DNF” and “DNS” I suspect. Much tougher than I thought, and I bet I’m not alone with that thought.
The best bit of the day had to be high fiving my two boys as I crossed the finish line, getting a nice hug and kiss from Jan, then being handed my medal and t-shirt by Steve. Don’t underestimate the difference it will make to you on the day when your family are with you – I felt emotional every time I reached a CP and it made me more determined to carry on. Would I have come 3rd without Jan and the boys cheering me on all the way? I’m not so sure, and I wouldn’t want to find out either.
Trail Marathon Wales next in a few weeks time. Should be a doddle compared to this!
[Kit - Raidlight Endurance pack with Raidlight bottle and Camelback Podium bottle, Brooks Adrenaline 2011 road shoes; Food - 9-Bar, Clif Power Shot Blocks, SIS Go Gels, Torq Bars and Gels, Dried Apricots, Sunset Mix, Sports Jelly Beans, Water with Nunn tablets]