It isn’t often that I do races more than once (especially long ones – I like a bit of variety!), but after doing this extremely well organised, friendly and scenic route last year, I said I’d be back. Starting just outside Sherwood Forest, the route is on relatively easy woodland trails before it passes through the stunning backdrop of Cresswell Crags at Mile 23. It then crosses Clumber Park, before passing through farmland and looping back to pass the Thoresby Estate and returning to Sherwood Forest. With my solo Thunder Run training well underway, this race formed an ideal opportunity to get some decent miles in the legs on beautiful woodland trails.
The day started at the somewhat ungodly hour of 4:30. Had a quick bowl of porridge and honey with a cup of tea before setting off on the 90 minute journey to Nottinghamshire. Had a five minute snooze in the car (it’s ok, Roger was driving – thanks Roger!!) and felt quite refreshed upon arriving at race HQ. Ate my second breakfast of Wow butter (like peanut butter but not peanuts) and jam sandwiches and did the customary multiple loo visits before the race briefing at 7:10. We were informed about how well marked the course was (I remembered this from last year), how there was a new finish (course extended to be 41 miles) and the importance of making the cut off at the last checkpoint (34 miles) by 4pm. There was one little surprise that we weren’t told about though – more on that in a bit!
Moving outside to the start area, I was feeling a little nervous and apprehensive, as my last long race (Wrexham Marathon) saw my first ever DNF. I tried to put that out of my mind and concentrate on the task ahead as we set off. There is a 30 mile race running at the same time, so I tried not to take too much notice of those going off at a quicker pace. My plan was to run at about ten minute miles, walk and eat/drink up the hills and not stop for too long at checkpoints. I settled into my pace fairly quickly, until all of a sudden everyone ahead appeared to stop. I thought there might have been a narrow stile causing a bottleneck – however, it soon became apparent that there was significant flooding that required us to wade through water over our knees for a good hundred metres. It was actually quite refreshing on the legs but I was concerned about getting wet feet so early on. I needn’t have worried though – within a few miles my feet were nice and dry and I had settled into a comfortable rhythm.
Coming into the first checkpoint at 7 miles, I grabbed a quick black coffee, some squash and a handful of salted peanuts and Hula Hoops. This was to be the theme of the day – grab salty snacks and leave as quickly as possible! The next checkpoint wasn’t until 17 miles, but I had plenty of food and water in the lucky race belt borrowed from Roger so all was well. Well, until Mile 13 – unlucky for some, and it certainly was for me! I tripped rather unceremoniously and fell hard onto my knees and hands. I lay there, quite stunned, for a few seconds and then told myself I was ok and I had to keep running. I could see that my right knee was bleeding quite heavily but it wasn’t too painful to run on. The worst thing was my hands as I had taken quite a chunk out of one of them. I gave everything a quick once over with an alcowipe whilst jogging and still felt strong going into Checkpoint 2. More squash, some cola and more peanuts and Hula Hoops saw me through the halfway mark way under my target of 4:30. I finished in 9:39 last year but really wanted a sub 9 hour finish today. The next checkpoint came along quite quickly, at Mile 23. I knew then that there was a big gap (11 miles) until the next one, so I made sure I had full water bottles before making my way through the farmland section. Miles 20-25 were my slowest so far, but I found a new spring in my step after a much needed pee at Mile 26 ? Felt strong going through 30 miles and confident that I was going to finish in a cracking time. A somewhat irritating factor at this point was that my watch decided to add miles for me (done at 5 second pace!!). There’s nothing more annoying or confusing for an exhausted ultra runner who doesn’t know EXACTLY how far they’ve gone! Coming into the final checkpoint I was starting to feel really quite sick and a bit dehydrated, so I had some caffeine and electrolytes and felt almost instantly better. Quick stop here for yet more Hula Hoops (bad salt cravings!) and then off to complete the final seven miles. This seemed to go on forever and my legs were feeling quite tired now – not helped by the sore knees. I knew that the finish was different this year so I wasn’t sure how far I had to go once I’d gone past where the course had changed, so I was beyond relieved to see a marshal telling me that it was only 400m to go! Got around the corner and I could see the finish, and the most welcome sight of Roger running towards me ? He took a few nice finishing pictures of me grinning like an idiot as usual, then we went back into race HQ to get my medal (engraved with my name, which I thought was a nice touch), race vest and veggie soup. Felt a bit emotional as I realised that I had smashed last year’s time (even on the longer course) and gone way under my 9 hour goal, in a time of 8 hours and 43 minutes. I’ll be back next year to see if I can go under 8 hours!