Desperately Seeking Mile Markers

Gloucester 50km Ultramanrathon Race Report – 27th Jan 2008

When I lined up for the Gloucester 50k last weekend, it felt like I hadn’t run one of these things in a long time. In fact, it was getting on for two years since I had last raced a distance of more than a standard marathon. I don’t know for how long you can remain and ultra runner after doing your last race but I guessed that I was stretching things a little. Anyway, there I was, lined up with around fifty other eejits ready to run as hard as  I dared for a fraction over thirty-one miles.

Mr.Delmer, of this parish, was lined up in the same crowd although he was taking a more relaxed approach to proceedings. Despite being in the shape of his life he had decided to run this one on an exploratory basis. He wanted to run well within himself for twenty miles and then to pick up the pace in the remaining eleven miles. A thirty-one mile run is a daunting task under any circumstances and even Peter’s conservative plans would make for a tough run. For myself I was planning to race this at my marathon PB pace, which, quite frankly, frightened the shite out of me. I had targeted a finish time of 3:20 which meant going through the marathon point at around 2:47. This was a tall order but I hoped I was in the shape to give it a realistic try.

Joining the Athenry contingent for the weekend was Ray Lanigan from Waterford who had hooked up with us over the Connemara Web Forum. Ray was looking fit and ready for the fray. This was to be Ray’s first attempt at an Ultra Marathon and he also had relatively sensible racing plans, which mostly involved being alive and preferably vertical at the finish line.

The weather was beautiful. There was clear blue sky above and little or no wind to affect times. The roads were traffic free and we had been promised a virtually flat course. Where on Earth was I going to find an excuse if things went wrong? The usual pre-race routine was carried out without too much fuss. The race was scheduled to start at 11:00am and all I really wanted to do was run. I’d been working towards this race for a couple of months at least and I just couldn’t wait to make a start. For good or ill I just wanted to get out there and run.

Peter Delmer - Gloucester 50km Jan 2008

Just after 11:00am I got my wish and we were off. There was a marathon length race on at the same time over much the same route and we all set off together into warm spring sunshine along idyllic English country lanes. As the organisers had decided that there would only be distance markers for the 50k race at the 10, 20 and 30 mile points, good judgement of pace was even more important than usual. I had to try to settle into a rhythm of 6:25 per mile and just keep banging them out for as long as possible. Our merry band of marathoners and ultra marathoners divided momentarily in the first mile and then returned to the same route for the remaining miles. The course was spoon-shaped with the marathoners doing three loops around the end of the spoon and ultra runners doing four before returning to the sanctuary of the common start/finish area.

From the off I could see only four runners ahead of me of which one was in the marathon race. The ultra runners had race numbers on their backs as well as on the front which is essential when two races are mixed like this so that you can tell who you’re running against. As it turned out, I was to be quite grateful for these ‘back numbers’ later on in the day. So, within the first mile or so I had tried to settle into my pace of 6:25’s and to let the scenery slip by. I was running in fourth place with the small matter of thirty miles left to cover.

Quite soon I was out on the ‘loop’, which we’d have to circle four more times before returning to the finish. The route took us along beautiful quiet rural roads and past small quiet villages. This was old middle England as I’ve always imagined it might have looked a hundred years ago. Peter had commented earlier it was like running in ‘The Shire’ from Lord of the Rings. As I worked my way around the first loop I was a little disconcerted to find that the course was not flat at all but contained several gentle but significant climbs. As is usual I suspected these would get progressively more difficult as the laps went by. I was running on my own for the most part. I could see the third-placed ultra runner about 100m ahead of me but he didn’t seem to be extending that gap much. I could also hear one set of footsteps a little bit behind me but I couldn’t tell who they belonged to. The first loop of just over six miles came and went, water bottles were retrieved and gels were consumed. I hoped I was on pace but wouldn’t be able to confirm that one way or the other until the ten mile marker arrived.

Running races like this can sometimes seem like running through treacle. At least in the early stages, nothing changes quickly. I eventually passed my first official distance marker at ten miles to find I was 40-50 seconds down on schedule. This was obviously a little disappointing, but what can you do. I often start these long races slowly and then manage to pick up the pace without having to increase effort and I just had to hope that this would happen again today. I just didn’t feel safe pushing on with twenty miles left and my main concern was being able to keep a decent pace going right until the very end. The chap in third had disappeared off into the distance by now. There was no way in this wide Earthly world that I was going to chase him. If he came back he did; if not I was running for fourth.

The task was just to keep going, to try to smooth out the uphill sections and not to hammer the quads too much on the down-hills; to just switch off the brain and watch the race as if someone else was doing the running. Another lap went by and the footsteps I had heard for miles behind me came past attached to the second placed marathoner. I told him he was looking strong and running well. He didn’t understand my Irish accent and I had to repeat it. I was unaccountably mortified. We ran on. A couple of miles later I was surprised to come around a bend and to see the leading marathoner, whom I hadn’t seen since very early in the race, standing in the middle of the road with hands on hips. He had dropped out, and I never did find out why. I tried to say something brief and consoling like ‘Hard luck mate’ as I went past but he didn’t understand me either. I’d have to give up on the communications and stick to the running.

Gloucester 50km Jan 2008 - The Finish

Twenty miles came and went with the bad news that I was two and a half minutes down on schedule and fatigue was starting to take hold. The pace I had wanted to run was fairly challenging at the start and I couldn’t see myself making back those two minutes. It was going to be a ‘time-loss-limitation’ exercise from that point on. I was tired but not falling apart by any means. What really helped me at this stage was that I was starting to pass by runners who were at the back of the marathon field. Without exception these runners were hugely encouraging as I went by. It’s a great help to have a cheery wave and a positive word from a fellow runner when you’re working hard. I don’t know why but such encouragement from spectators, although obviously welcome, isn’t as effective or helpful as that which comes from another runner.

I was very glad when it came time to head out on my last loop. Just knowing that I wouldn’t have to retrace my steps again helped to lift my spirits. I felt like I might be slowing up a little but had tried to reserve some energy for the final miles and was determined that while I might slow that I wouldn’t pack it in and jog to the finish. I was wearing Athenry colours and I wasn’t going to just give in without some sort of a fight. As the last loop progressed I was finding it harder to pass marathoners. At this stage I was passing people who would be finishing the marathon distance in about 3:30 and so they were very decent runners. It was a little like the whole race had slowed down even though I was pushing as hard as I dared. Although it wasn’t marked I was guessing that I had passed the marathon point of my own race in about 2:52 – 2:53.

As I turned around the last bend on the last loop I spotted something in the distance that I hadn’t seen in many miles, the third placed ultra runner. I told myself that if I’d made up so much ground on him that he was probably in even worse shape than I was. Within a minute or so I was behind him. I tried to move past quietly but as soon as I was along side he spotted my ultra runner’s race number and shot forward like a startled hare. I stuck with him and hoped for the best. I came back up to his shoulder and he went on again. I was still with him with about a third of a mile left and gave it one push of my own. Thankfully he didn’t come with me and I moved from fourth to third in the shadow on the finish line.

My final time was 3:24:32 which was four and a half minutes over target. I have to be quite satisfied with the result though as it’s not often I place that highly in races. I didn’t have to wait long for Peter to follow me across the line in 3:43:40 (8th place) and our honorary Athenry member Ray ran superbly well to finish 12th in 4:03:45. Ray in particular deserves great credit for this performance in what was his debut ultra as he had carried an injury problem into the race that he made very light of. This is surely only the start of a great ultra-running career for the Waterford man. Peter has targeted the Connemara Ultra in April as his first competitive ultra race and given his recent good form at shorter distances he’ll surely be one of the pre-race favourites for that event.

A final word of thanks to the organisers and race stewards for a good race and to all the friendly people we met on the day, and there were so many of those. Peter, Ray and I were very appreciative of all of the kindness shown to us on our trip to Gloucester and we hope to see many of the same friendly faces again in Connemara in April.

Position Name Club Age Group Time
1 Julian Randall Thames Hare And Hounds M 03:16:35
2 Paul Harwood Leamington M 03:18:31
3 Mick Rice R R C M40 03:24:32
4 Allen Smalls Colchester Harriers & AC M 03:24:37
5 John Pares Buckley RC M40 03:28:29
6 Tim Charles Cheltenham Harriers M 03:34:08
7 Jeremy Mower Gloucester AC M40 03:39:37
8 Peter Delmer Athenry AC M 03:43:40
9 Timothy Rainey Sale Harriers M40 03:55:01
10 Heidi Wilson Club Runners World L 03:57:35
11 Ian Corless Tewkesbury Tri Club M40 03:58:26
12 Ray Lanigan Unattached M 04:03:45
13 Joe Green Nailsea Rc M40 04:06:58
14 Ronald Shannon Bitton Road Runners M40 04:14:17
15 Paul Brackett Woodstock Harriers M40 04:14:59
16 Robert Westaway Serpentine RC M 04:18:37
17 Robin Gardner Woodstock Harriers M50 04:18:53
18 Adrian Lavery Tewkesbury AC M40 04:24:11
19 Michelle Laws Tewkesbury AC L 04:25:17
20 Laura Robinson-Brown Unattached L 04:26:30
21 David Thomas Sarn Helen M40 04:27:55
22 David Wintle Hogweed Trotters M40 04:29:15
23 Kenneth Sears Almost Athletes M50 04:29:57
24 David Ross Sutton Runners M40 04:33:17
25 David Rose Wreake Runners M40 04:37:46
26 Stephen Hobbs Ripley RC M40 04:38:14
27 Russ Watson RAF Triathlon Club M 04:43:56
28 David Liles Unattached M40 04:43:56
29 David Palmer Vegetarian Cycling AC M40 04:45:29
30 Eleanor Robinson Ripley RC L60 04:48:30
31 David Miles Ripley RC M40 04:55:44
32 David Ridley Maidenhead AC M50 04:59:02
33 Chicken Cox Newcastle (Staffs) AC L 05:00:20
34 Lucy Gettins Compton Harriers L40 05:01:32
35 Margaret Ehrenberg Sparkhill Harriers L50 05:03:28
36 Lucy Prosser Malvern Joggers L 05:04:35
37 Stuart Brown Malvern Joggers M50 05:04:35
38 Sid Morrison 100K Association M60 05:13:48
39 Phil Howells Tewkesbury AC M60 05:14:46
40 Simon Emsley Maidenhead AC M40 05:35:04
41 Andree Lyon Peel Road Runners L 05:35:57
42 James West Scoop Club M 05:35:57
43 Adam Prance Unattached M 05:41:28

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