A smidgen over two years ago I made my maiden foray into ultrarunning, coercing my battered body around forty-something miles of Nottinghamshire countryside. Even before I hobbled over the finish line I’d enacted my own Steve Redgrave moment, vowing to never attempt a longer than marathon distance again. Such is the runners’ psychology – added to which sufficient time has lapsed for the memories of my contorted, screaming limbs to have faded – to consider having another stab.
So on Saturday morning I set off from Breaston on the NoMad50 Ultra (note: the number reference is kilometres not the miles variety, although some hardy, intrepid types did opt for this) and to my mild astonishment, I bloody loved it. I wouldn’t go so far as stating it was an epiphany, but my experience has certainly changed my perception of ultramarathons for the better. Besides the faultless event organisation (more on that later) there are five aspects that undoubtedly contributed to the experience, which to fellow beginners I would tentatively offer up as words of advice or encouragement.
First off, there is a plethora of literature vying for the attention of the apprentice on how to run ultramarathons. Besides devouring Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning, one of the nuggets of advice that really resonated with me came from Marco Consani who sagely purports “an ultra-race doesn’t really start until it enters the last third, so if you race the first half I guarantee that when you get to the final third you will feel like you’ve been shot”.
Second, for the navigationally challenged gpx files are a godsend. Due to my numerous wrong turns at the Dukeries ultra, the principal source of pre-race anxiety was whether I’d be able to successfully plot my way around the rolling Derbyshire countryside. Armed with the four stages of the 50K route downloaded to my Strava account meant that I didn’t once need to consult the reams of written directions (which probably weren’t legible anyway thanks to a couple of ferocious downpours), although the event organisers deserve a special mention for their attention to the route, pre-race recces and markers.
Third, I am now beginning to wonder whether I’ve been too preoccupied with calorie chasing and being fuelled up. When running long distances in the past I have struggled to remain hydrated, whilst digesting gels have typically led to excruciating stomach cramps. Besides setting off with a hydro-pack the only ‘fuel’ I consumed on Saturday was a handful of jelly babies, and a third of a Tribe bar. Happily as a result, no tummy troubles, nor any sign of a deficit.
Forth, an obvious one but assembling the right kit in terms of the basics (and using the equipment whilst on those LSRs) makes a difference. Harking back to the Dukeries 40-miler part of the problem was wearing trainers designed for road running rather than traversing multi-terrains, which on the day also happened to resemble a bog. This time I plumped for a pair of Brooks Cascadia 11’s, a supportive and versatile trail shoe. No doubt purists would shake their head at this choice, but they served the purpose.
And fifthly, ultra-running is above all a social experience. It’s a time (forgive the pun) to cast the Garmin aside and not to get hung up on splits, or pursuing a particular goal. Rather it’s an immersive experience, chatting to fellow runners, as well as enjoying the surroundings. On the latter, the NoMad50 takes in some scenic rolling countryside with 605m climb with canal, trail, fields, and some road.
So would I recommend the NoMad50? The answer is a resounding yes. The organisers clearly share an enthusiasm for this annual event, and judging by the updates on Facebook have dedicated a considerable amount of time to preparing the course, including clearing stiles, treading down nettles and communicating a couple of last minute detours. And I haven’t even mentioned the super-friendly and supportive volunteers staffing the checkpoints, the race bling, and the added incentive (if any were needed) of real ale at the finish.