Coaching client Dan Shrimpton shares the tale of running and winning his first ever 100mile Ultra.
I sat on a bench outside Lindisfarne Priory in the midst of my last minute kit faff, looking at a procession of lycra clad athletes who all appeared confident, relaxed and fit heading to the start. I wondered what on earth I was doing there.
The priory was the start line for the 2015 St Oswald’s Ultra.
I was really excited to see this race existed. It ticked all sorts of boxes for me.
First box ticked was that the longest course was 100 miles and that was my aim for the year, my first 100miler.
Secondly its route was to take me along the coast line where I grew up, played and worked and finished more or less where I was born, so a trip down memory lane that really appealed and one that offered stunning countryside.
Third on the list (things are better in threes) the race offered UTMB points (4) just in case….
The reality of the St Oswald’s Ultra on the 26th-27th September was that it was going to offer a whole lot more.
The course was truly stunning, covering the best coastline in the country studded with dramatic castles and picturesque harbours. This was then followed by a meandering path up the River Coquet through lush farmland and some great pub based aid stations. The route would then cut up onto the Northumberland fells into the national park, over open moorland, through thick forest and open farmland before its final hurrah on an 8 mile stretch on the Roman wall to finish on a bridge over the North Tyne at Chollerford.
The support en route was awesome with a never ending supply of cheerful volunteers and marshals giving food, drink, motivation and help every 10k or so for most of the course. I reckoned that the Pea and Ham soup at the check at Tomlinson’s Bunkhouse in Rothbury was the best I’ve had, even if I did tweet about it as “Pea and Jam” by mistake. The route itself was well marked using reflective flags and cards for the night sections. The night navigation had its moments (particularly when trying to distinguish between reflective sheeps’ eyes and reflective way markers) but the signage and route maps meant I kept mostly on track.
After a photo call in the priory, all 3 races; 50K, 100K and 100miles set off together in the still dawn across the causeway separating Lindisfarne from the mainland, the atmosphere was both eerie and exciting. We cut inland and up some small hills, all the while debating amongst ourselves whether we were going too hard or not. I tried hard to keep my heart rate down in the zone I had agreed with Marcus my coach.
After a loop through some mixed and ancient woodland we turned back towards the coast seeing Lindisfarne, Budle Bay, the Farne Islands and Bamburgh Castle stretched out in the distance, the climb was worth it!!
The race dropped back towards the coast and those of us on the 100 mile course chatted happily and settled in to our respective rhythms. Like all my Ultra running experiences my fellow competitors were great company but the groups began to gradually stretch out.
Hitting the coast I found myself on my own without anyone in sight in front or behind. I began to recognise familiar territory from my youth, heading under Bamburgh castle. I enjoyed the sights and the comfy rhythm I was tapping out. Enjoy it while it lasts I thought!
The coastal paths took me through costal fishing villages with easy navigating, the race briefing advice of “just keep the sea on your left” stuck in my mind. Further on I dropped into Low Newton where I chatted for a bit with another 100 miler and probably bored him silly telling him of my old summer job teaching sailing on the beach there. On to the most dramatic of the coastal castles at Dunstanburgh before clipping across the headland to the 50K finish at the Jolly Fisherman on the harbour edge in Craster.
The marshals at the check were great but I was a bit concerned when they were surprised at seeing a 100 miler arrive. Was I overcooking it? Was my pacing wrong?
“Well I’m following my pacing plan, running to heart rate so it looks like I’m committed to this now”, I thought…”I’d better crack on”! There was still a long way to go and much further than I’d done before, oh well.
The coastal path wound on with great views and perfect running conditions, still and cool.
At a check north of Alnmouth I hit the front – not meaning to and scaring myself silly at the thought of more than 60 miles still left to go, potentially on my own. I was still feeling comfy and my heart rate was on target.
I worried about this for a bit glancing back to spot the runners that I was convinced were closing in on me. Coming into Warkworth, having left the coast I stopped worrying as my parents were there giving me a cheer and a welcome distraction. Here I picked up my first drop bag. Christmas had come! I now had a packet of fish and chip biscuits (must have for a child of the 70’s like me) and some cold boiled new potatoes in a bag with lots of salt….They were awesome!! Easy to eat and really refreshing.
I set off again past another castle and off up the Coquet, it was a gorgeous section with beautiful woodland, lush farmland, oh and some cows! I slowed a bit as the navigation needed more of my attention.
The sun came out and the temperature rose. I was grateful for the salt tablets and water dished out at the pub checkpoints up the river! It was a beautiful late afternoon as I hit the track leading into Rothbury. This was great I was going to be heading up onto the fells in the light!
Next another cheery stop off, a change of top and my second drop bag at Tomlinson’s in Rothbury, oh and the amazing soup! I now had more potatoes to feast on too.
The climbs started in earnest out of Rothbury and over the moors into the National Park. In my own head I tried to rationalise that I was going as hard as I could and so shouldn’t worry about who was chasing me as there was nothing I could do about it! I did still worry but didn’t look round as much. I was still feeling pretty good.
Next up was the forest section, this started tricky in the dusk but the way markers lit up as soon as I gave up trying to save my head torch batteries and switched it on! Nav in the woods was now easy and before I knew it I was on to the next checkpoint with jovial marshals before heading out into the pitch black and more cows. Somewhat surprised cows this time! It turns out they were not used to Skinny blokes in lycra, wearing lights on their heads disturbing whatever it is they do at night in their fields.
Fields in the dark proved to make for challenging navigation. Phil the race director kept popping up to see whether the route was navigable in the dark. His route marking worked as I seemed to make the checks without massive problems. As my friends know I’m not the most gifted navigator, so if I could manage the route then the race team had done a great job in marking it clearly!!
The last indoor check was at Kirkwhelpington. The effort was beginning to tell on me and I allowed myself a sit down and was given a cuppa soup – Heaven. The guys manning the aid station were awesome and gave me a great lift. Another top on now as it was getting chilly and I was off out for the last 20 miles.
The last 10 miles dropped me down onto the Roman wall. I was absolutely nailed at this point but the end was in sight, the night was clear and still with a massive harvest moon. It felt really special to be running on the wall itself in the magic stillness of the small hours.
Heading off the wall and down the road to the North Tyne, a mist hung in the valley, one final turn and I was turning towards the bridge over the river and the finish line at the George at Chollerford.
Crossing the bridge I was met with a warm welcome and congratulations on finishing my first hundred!! I was so happy to have done it and to be able to sit down. I hadn’t been caught, I hadn’t got lost in the back of beyond and my race plan for pace, kit and nutrition had worked like a dream!
After 103 miles of eating mostly Cliff Blocks and boiled potatoes I relished a cup of tea in the warm.
In the end I didn’t get caught which added to my delight at finishing the 100 mile race. After 2014 where work stopped me from doing much other than pile on the pounds ,2015 had turned out superbly! The biggest difference has been the support I have had from Marcus Scotney my coach. I started working with him in December 2014 and he has helped structure my training with a strong scientific base and it has re-booted my running. The mini targets and variation and challenges in training sessions have made it real fun. He has also really helped me with my race strategy from my mental outlook through pacing and finishing with kit and nutrition. Oh yes and he’s a sound bloke too!
After a bit of a refresh (zombie like consumption of tea and soup) I joined the welcoming party to see the others coming in, it was awesome! The camaraderie, smiles and palpable relief at reaching the line was something to watch. I totally got it, my last 10 miles had been pretty hellish too.
What an event, the organisation was awesome. The marshals, volunteers and race organisers were so friendly and helpful that everything felt easy (bar the last 10 miles!!). The atmosphere amongst the runners was chilled and friendly; everyone wanted everyone else to succeed. In the end, however, the star of the event had to be Northumberland, how can you beat views like this???
So here I am 2 weeks later – what have I got to show for my 19hrs of effort?? Awesome memories, 4 black toenails and a big smile on my face!
Thank you Sport Sunday for the photo’s.
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