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What is it like to Run an Ultra?

What is it like to do an Ultra? Biddulph RC member Simon Hodgkiss tells us about his time doing the Manchester to Liverpool GBUltra… a great read for anyone considering one!

“A 3am alarm call is never normally a good thing but in this case the excitement had already taken over, car packed, Pete my running buddy and our support crew all on board and it was on the road to Manchester United ground and the start of the M2L 50 mile ultra marathon.

When we got out of the car a little over an hour later there a definite buzz around the car park. Off to registration, then to kit check, to the tracker pick up and finally official start photos and we were ready to go. Dawn had arrived and the sun was giving a fair indication of the way the day was going to go… Hot!

Standing on the start line I took a few deep breaths, tried to mentally focus on the way I wanted it to go, 5,4,3,2,1 and we were off. Out of the car park gate and headed around the block for a nice warm up mile before running down the steps onto the canal path.

The temperature was already a fairly balmy 9 degrees and it was not even 8am. Everyone around was chatting away, so much so, if I allowed myself to stop thinking about the fact I was running an ultra marathon it could have been a club run. 4.5miles later and we left the canal and headed towards Charlton water park where a loop of the lake was first on the cards. Amazingly as we were heading down the path we were passed by the first of the few  runners who had done the loop and were heading back to the canal, they were already 4 miles ahead…. These guys were flying!! But it is still early days and we all had a lot of running to go.

Half way round the lake and checkpoint 2 which I bypassed, a little too early for me to need anything so headed back to the canal. The sun block and glasses were firmly in place by this time and despite 250 people all running in the same spot it was hugely peaceful and all you could do was smile.

We headed over to Dunham Massey from here and onto what seemed like the longest straight track in the world. Luckily we had arranged with our support crew to meet at regular intervals with extra Tailwind and fresh tops.

Latchford locks was next on the route, slightly shy of half way at 22miles and what a fantastically fun thing this was, running along the concrete islands, up and down a short length of the ship canal. At this point we were joined by Pete’s wife who upto this point had been support crew along with my wife Fiona, but now joined us to use it as a training run of her own.

It seemed like no time at all before reaching the ferry tavern at Warrington where, amongst the burnt reeds of a little fire that was a reminder of the conditions we were doing this in, we said goodbye to running Liz as she put her support crew hat back on.

Speke island and checkpoint 5, the sun by now was incredible and we left to head towards the quite stunning structure of the Jubilee bridge, reflecting of the calm waters of the Mersey, now we were heading away from the track, past Land Rover and into a reasonable size industrial estate, this led to Halewood Doorstep Green park and this in turn led to three supporters who had turned out with a table, a garden sprayer full of water, a selection of snacks and beer. The beer needed to wait, but the water spray was fantastic.

That ticked off and only sixteen miles left we headed to checkpoint No.6 at Speke, arriving at the checkpoint I was pointed in a few directions, the way to head when leaving, the table with the food and drink and the Marshall doing spot check kit checks. After a quick regroup and refresh Pete and I set off again in search of checkpoint 7. Running past a few houses we saw a freezer draw full of water bottles on the pavement just outside one of the gates, this really nice person was offering free chilled water and the use of the loo to anyone that needed… You have to love the spirit of people.

Mile 43, I appear to have hit my wall. Fuel level was okay, body was okay, mind was definitely not. The mental game now came into play, run to the next tree, now to the bench, overtake the man walking his dog, anything to try and keep moving. This was a very long mile, but as if by magic feed station 7 came into view, the chance to take on some extra snacks, plenty of flat coke and get the body prepped for the last big push.

Leaving here with only six miles to go was a bit strange, ‘it’s only a club run’ I tell myself, we do them twice a week. The mind believed but the body was having different thoughts, I had been told I was in position 82 according to the tracker and with the first 100 runners getting gold medals my competitive streak kicked in. All I had to do was stay at this pace for another few miles, picture the finish, picture getting the medal, it’s all mind games that you play with yourself.

There it was! The finish line!! The track past by the side of the field that we finished on. Off the track and onto the tarmac, round the corner,in through the metal gates and onto the playing field. Suddenly felt the need for a sprint finish to crown the whole thing off with. Through the finish arch, stop the watch, check the clock, get given the most fabulous finishers medal I have ever been given… And relax.

This is a truly spectacular event that I completed with a fairly respectable moving time of 8hours 29mins. Sat there on the grass with the breeze slowly cooling me down thinking about the last few hours was magical, so much so that 24hours later I had entered my next one.”

This was a little over a year ago and I have now run six Ultra Marathons including this one. Various distances but four of them at 50 miles. Most notable was Snowdon which had not only the 50 mile distance but at a combined route altitude of over 14500 ft and taking just under 16 hours was the most physically demanding.

So far this year I have run one and had three either cancelled or deferred due to the pandemic but hopefully at the time of writing have two that may still get the go-ahead later in the year, fingers crossed. 

It is a part of the sport that gives me a feeling like nothing else, I have met some wonderful people and made some exceptional friends. I really advise everyone to try just one in their running life, you will not regret it. 


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