I’ve had time to do some really important reflection since completing the Serpent Trail 50k Ultra, and it has been important, as it has given me that opportunity to look at what went well with the training and the event, as well as what I can do differently next time. Yes, that is right, next time. I’m going back next year to do the event again, but more about that in a moment.
My main objective on the day was to get to the finish line. I didn’t really have a ‘set in stone’ time that I wanted to finish it in. In terms of meeting that objective, I did it, but there is something niggling away at me that says I could have gone quicker.
I felt my training for the event was consistent and pretty much spot on. I just need to refine it a bit. I did no other events or races in the build up, and it was the first event I’d done for quite a few years.
I’ve got two events coming up before the end of the year that I am now focusing on – the Great South Run and the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon. I’m back into training again having taken a few days off and have been doing those runs at a slightly quicker pace. I need to start adding in some focused tempo runs and some speed work now.
The plan for next year, in terms of events, is to complete the Jubilee 70k in June and then a month later return to the Serpent Trail 50k. Initially I thought it was a total no-go and that I wouldn’t recover in time. I gave it a lot of thought and came to the conclusion that I have around a year to train for both events, I have a good base endurance already, I know I can complete a 50k course, and I want to use both events as a fundraiser for a couple of local charities. It is ambitious, but more than achievable.
I’m taking the learning from this year's event and really refining my training and plan for the event.
I felt I took far too much nutrition and fluid with me, so will make sure next year I’m taking enough to get me to the checkpoints/aid-stations and top up at each. Obviously, focusing on some speed work will hopefully lead to running at a faster pace and will help get me around quicker. I’m also planning on doing some training runs on parts of the route for the Serpent Trail, so I am covering some of the hillier parts of the course quicker – I feel I lost a lot of time on those sections this year. I also need to move through the checkpoints quicker.
I believe that I can knock an hour off my finishing time and will have that in mind now with each and every training session. I’ve got around a year to really fine-tune everything and get back to the start line fired up and ready to go again.
I’m currently looking at some early season events as well, and I am toying with the idea of some trail half-marathons in the build up. I’ll use those events as fast training sessions and an opportunity to work on some of the more technical aspects of trail running.
By the end of this month, I would have run over 700 miles so far this year, which is amazing. By the end of the year, I should be close to 1,200 miles – I would never have imagined that at the start of the year. I’m still planning on doing the longer runs still, I’ll need to for the marathon at the end of this year and I want to maintain that high endurance work rather than having to start that build up at the start of next year. In training over the last few months, 20 miles runs became the norm and I actually enjoy them, so I’ll be doing plenty more before the end of the year. I actually find I’m much more motivated with the longer distance runs than the shorter ones.
So one ultra under my belt already and time to start training for the next two – bring it on 😊
As I write this blog post, my legs are still aching and my feet are still blistered. Most importantly though, I’m still smiling, and the post-race pain is worth it.
On Saturday, I completed the Serpent Trail 50k ultra. It was my first attempt at completing an ultra-marathon and the first endurance event I had done for quite a few years. I had one expectation going into the event – get to the finish line. The week leading up to the event hadn’t got off to the best of starts as I damaged my left foot and, on the start-line, it was still bruised and sore. My race vest felt fairly heavy as I had the mandatory kit plus nutrition as well as 3 litres of energy drink and water. I was fully aware going into the event that this was going to be tough, and I would need to dig deep, both physically and mentally.
The weather leading up to the event hadn’t been ideal, and much of the course was really muddy. The course was stunning. I don’t think I’ve run on a course as varied in terrain or tougher than that. It was hilly as well, and my strategy was to walk some of the hills to converse energy and take on nutrition.
The start was quite congested in the first couple of miles and being on single track it was difficult to pass other runners in places. I also managed to go off course within the first couple of miles – I was flying down a hill and missed one of the course direction signs and only realised when I got to the bottom of the hill with another runner closely behind me that I was off course. Not great, having to run back up hill to get back on course. Several miles later I managed to go off course again for around 150 metres after misreading a direction sign. I decided I needed to pay more attention for the rest of course.
About halfway through the trails became a bit clearer which was ideal, and I managed to get a good rhythm going, but this was soon broken by muddier sections and more hills. 20 miles in and I was feeling good, feeling positive, and feeling focused on getting to the finish line. I was moving through the checkpoints as quickly as possible after refuelling and topping up my water bottles.
The weather was strange. When we started, it was raining, but it was also muggy and humid. The sun did break out a couple of times, but then it also rained again – the joys of racing in the English summer, I guess.
Around mile 26 was the last checkpoint, another packet of salt and vinegar crisps, an energy gel, plenty of water and headed off again. Up and down hills and only 3 miles to the next aid station. Mile 29 and I hit the last water stop on route still smiling and still laughing and joking with the volunteers and marshals. Only 2 miles left and it felt like the longest 2 miles I’ve ever run in my life – it seemed more like 10 miles if I’m being honest. With 1 mile to go I tried to urge my legs to pick the pace up a bit and as painful as it felt they did respond……….just!
Through another woodland trail and then suddenly a left turn and I could see the finish line. I picked the pace again, it felt like I was sprinting, though in reality I was probably shuffling along. Crossing that finishing line felt amazing. I felt shattered, and my legs felt painful. It was worth it though.
So after months of training, I achieved my goal and feel pretty pleased with the effort that I put in. I also learnt quite a lot during the event – about myself and what I would do differently in future. My head is saying do some more ultras and my legs are in total disagreement - I’m sure that’ll change very soon.
The plan is to build on the training I’ve done and do a few shorter distance events (Great South Run (10miles) and Portsmouth Coastal Marathon (26.2miles)) and then build up to a 70km next June and hopefully a return a month later to the Serpent Trail 50k and a quicker time (mud permitting!).
So many months of training are now completed. The early mornings, training in all weathers, running longer training distances than I’ve ever covered for an event before. It is all completed now and the next time I run will be at the Serpent Trail 50k. I’ve run over 600 miles in my training this year in preparation – I’ve never run that far in a calendar year before, let alone 6 months!
The start of the week presented me with a major challenge. I managed to stub three of the toes on my left foot quite heavily early on Monday morning and feared that I may have broken one of my toes, they were bruised and there was some swelling as well. For months, I’d been careful in my preparation and recovery to avoid injury, and one slight accident less than a week before the event could easily have thrown everything away.
Had this been any other event I would have skipped my last couple of training runs, but this is different.
Monday morning I headed out for a 6-mile run to see what the impact was. Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as I thought and although it felt painful at times it was manageable – that was a relief. Tuesday I went out for another 6-mile run. The foot still felt painful, but it was manageable. Thursday was the last run before the event and I did 8 miles at what was supposed to be an easy pace, but I was feeling good so picked it up a little and the foot felt much better – a couple of twinges but more of a slight ache than anything painful. So apart from the damage to my left foot the training has gone well. I’m feeling strong, I’m feeling both mentally and physically prepared, and most importantly I feel ready.
I know that whatever challenges the event throws at me, I will be able to overcome them. I’ve made sure that some of my longer training runs have been over tougher terrain than the event. I’ve done my research into many aspects of ultra-running; nutrition, mental preparation, kit, and recovery.
Years ago when I spoke to people that competed in ultra-running events, I admired them but thought it wasn’t for me. I had a change of mindset a couple of years ago (about the time when I first started this blog) and decided to enter an event. I didn’t make it to the start line for multiple reasons – the main one being at the time my head and heart wasn’t fully committed to it. It has bugged me since, and now I have an opportunity to put those bugs and that disappointment in myself well and truly behind me.
I’ve found over the last 6 months when I have been fully committed to training for this event that my mindset has changed dramatically. When I started this blog a few years ago I wasn’t in a happy place, I didn’t like myself, I was frustrated with myself, and I had no goals that I was aiming for. Now I’m determined, stronger, and know if I push myself further than I think I can go I can achieve so much more. It feels good. Getting to the start line has been a major positive, crossing that finish line will be cathartic, but won’t be the finish. It will be a new beginning.
I know that these events are tough both physically and mentally and require huge efforts of endurance – that is why I am drawn to them. I think getting across the finish line and resting on my laurels and saying I’ve ticked that box, I’m done with it would be a huge waste. I know that I’m going to be tired and aching at the finish line and the following days and those inevitable words – ‘never again’ – may be muttered but the tiredness and aching muscles will pass and the thrill of completing the event will override this and thoughts of what next, could I do it again but a bit quicker, could I go further, could I do a tougher course?
And it starts again, those months of training, those early mornings, the planning, the physical and mental preparation and getting to that point where I can say I’m ready for this. That is a massive change from when I first started this blog, and with time and belief anything is possible if you want it enough.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.