If I may, before the review, can I please be a little forward, and share with you a little foreword?
The 100 Marathon Club
I am not a particularly fast runner. I am not a particularly good runner. I am definitely not a disciplined runner.
The ever-growing gaggle of arseholes (supposed coaches, and armchair elites) tainting the Twitter community that I once loved, would not even class me as a runner at all. After all, I do like a good walk, a good selfie, and am not there to win it. #celebrityjogger
With this in mind, my new aim is not 100 miler, or a sub 4, although I would like one, or even a 100K again. Instead I want to join the 100 Marathon club, as many of my running friends have. Up until now I have run/walked/crawled 20 marathons in a little under 2 1/2 years. Not bad, but I did start late and am now mid-40s and thinking I may never get there without really going cray cray (This year I have 13 more). But I have a chance. That, and the rules have changed a little since some of my buddies did it.
- Multi day events, where there are distinct times for a marathon or above, will count as one per day. With Race to the Tower being 2 days of marathons and Fire and Ice being 5 days of 50Ks, there is a decent chunk right there.
- Ultras, where the distance is anything over a marathon in a single sitting is also countable. So my 100K of Race to the Stones (#21) counts as one, as will St Illtyd’s, the rescheduled Green Man and, this weekend’s race, the Amersham Ultra (50K), or, as I am considering it, number #22 on my quest towards the 100 Marathon club.
Now I had this conversation just the other day and the opinion was that just churning out marathons can be dull and take the fun out of it. I understand that point of view, and I would probably feel the same if I ran just SVN and Phoenix races to make up the numbers. But I am not. Sure, 1 in every 4 is a SVN or Phoenix lap race, but most are not, and I do really mix up my race calendar with overseas runs, mountains, hills, cities and mud. Speaking of which…
The XNRG Amersham Ultra
The preamble. My racing calendar has been a little organic, chaotic, reactionary of late. It started so simply, I would book half a dozen marathons spread over the year. Job done, see ya later. But a call to arms meant a 10K at the Olympic Park in the first week of the year, that then caused me to believe (correctly) that I could get a 10K PB the following week at Victoria Park meant I was up and running (excuse the pun) ahead of schedule. The first marathon of the year was supposed to be Transgrancanaria (this years Ultraks), shortly before GMU45 (this years Comrades). However, I decided to run the Craft Half a fortnight before to give me some time on feet, and time on the trails. This race broke me a little, my thigh still hurts 4 weeks later, and we dropped down to a pitiful 10K and received no medal for it too. It’s no wonder we turned to drink.
Fearing that I was going to arse up TGC I signed up for and ran a last minute SVN Marathon the day before Valentines Day to cheer myself up and give me the shot in the arm I needed before flying out to Gran Canaria the week after. And, thankfully, it did. I was determined to finish TGC and, without showering myself with the wet golden sprinkles of glory, I finished. 2 marathons in 10 days. Job done. And so to last weekend.
I nearly didn’t fly back because of #snowmageddon
Green Man was booked because I had to defer Fire and Ice for a year due to family commitments. I had already booked the Big Half for that weekend, and, feeling I could not do both, I gave anyway my Big Half spot. Then I had, as already decided, binned GMU45 as I was not physically ready for it. But, due to the snow, it was cancelled anyway. I may well do the 30 IF, and it is a big IF, they reschedule. I instead booked a RunThrough 10K at Victoria Park (again). But that was also cancelled because of the snow on the Saturday. Meaning that I was in London and the only race going ahead all weekend was the Big Half, which I had binned anyway. No, no races for me last weekend. All plans trashed not once, but twice (maybe even thrice?).
The Amersham Ultra was a random race entry. Coach Jenni Morris (who’s own race entry prompted me to sign up), Helen and Ally were all signed up and I was on the 100 Marathon Club trail and so, missing out on GMU, I thought I might as well climb aboard the Met Line to Amersham. A 50K Ultra a fortnight after TGC was far more attractive than a 45 miler a week after it. And so I signed up, and booked myself a swanky hotel the night before as prep, and read Ultraboyruns review of the race. If you fancy a read, then take a look here.
Side Note (And this is awesome)
Instead of charging an entry fee for the one day ultra marathon, XNRG ask you to donate £48 pounds to fund a vital operation, or if you prefer, you can start a fundraising page instead – and raise the amount that you feel you can. And from that…
100% of donations go to children’s operations in Africa with Humanity Direct
Ah, yes. My On Cloud Ventures, the waterproof trail shoes I bought at the beginning of last year and used for Cakeathon Marathon, Portland Coastal Marathon, Bovington Marathon, the Craft Half and TGC died. They died, tearing along the seam on the side on both shoes. And, given that I do not train in them, they literally fell apart after 114 miles. And so a new pair had to be purchased for this one, and brand new they would be too.
Setting the Stage
I stayed in Amersham overnight at the swanky DeVere Latimer Estate and took a cab to the school that would be race HQ for the day. It was already bustling and there were plenty of people I knew there; Susie Chan on her road to recovery, Shaun, Superman Tim, Helen and Ally the photogirl runner. UKRUNCHAT’s Jenni Morris was supposed to be there too and it was her signing up that prompted mine, but she did not make it in the end.
A tea and coffee table was set up (tick), race number collection was easy and fast (tick), we did end up with the kind of race timers used to tag criminals under house arrest, but there was a race tee (tick), showers (tick), proper toilets (tick) and plenty of seats to chill around on before the start when the walkers set of at 8am, the elites at 9.30 and the rest of us a 9.
There was a good crowd. A representative from Humanity Direct thanked us all, and told us of the good work we were doing providing much needed funds to help children in the poorest of countries
Then came the race briefing. This was very thorough, but to save time I shall convey this as if Charlie Brown was listening to his teacher giving the briefing.
It started so well. Okay, that was the race briefing. Then it all went bad. I had brand new waterproof On Cloud Ventures, my trail shoe of choice and we immediately ran onto the playing fields of the school for a lap to thin out the crowd before heading out and into town. We were on residential roads for the shortest of time before mud, mud, glorious mud oh, and horses, aggressive horses.
Horses would be a theme. There were a lot seen in the day, in the valleys of Buckinghamshire. Some would just watch you go by. Others would not even look up from their hay. Many ignored everything and slept in their horsey onesie like coats. Others, especially the first herd we came across, were gallopy angry, territorial horses. The kind of horses that were quite scary.
It was after surviving this first trial that I saw Susie Chan and got the following happy, smiley beardy race photo.
And then mud.
Before a muddy field.
More muddy hills.
Some more muddy paths.
And then some really muddy paths.
And then, for a change, some mud.
Before a lot more muddy fields and muddy hills, punctuated with some really fast and yet muddy alleyway behind houses, a few grotty and graffitied underpasses, a crossing of town, a few roads, a few bridle paths, some busy roads, a lot of kissing gates, and stiles, and a kind of gate I hadn’t seen before that you part like the waves and separate like a V. And then as I neared my target time (yes, yes, I know I wasn’t really supposed to have one) I saw the school, turned up the hill, around the car parks, and then realised that I had come the wrong way and that the finish was from the opposite side of the playing fields. I cursed myself, ran back out, picked up the trail, and then ran the extra KM down the residential road, up around the extremities of the playing fields, and then finally, along the route that lead me to the finish line. Luckily no one saw me, so really the only time I got lost was where I actually knew where I was.
How I did?
Badly. Well, saying that I finished and in one piece. I did feel very nauseated at one point and very much at the end. My fingers started swelling at 6 hours and I had the whole Captain Kirk swollen finger thing for a while.
Timewise I could have done better but it was my third marathon and above in 23 days and, if I had not been so stupid at the end and gone the right way, I would have beaten my TGC time (my only real time target).
These races are tough and getting through them is no mean feat. I commend anyone who can do them with a degree of speed and confidence as I muddle through with neither. If the race organisers are called Extreme Energy, you know there is something of a challenge coming your way.
Okay, not the greatest, but this is a charity medal for a charity event, and I got a tee too. So I cannot complain.
No scores on the doors, as this is an ultra, not a marathon. It would be like comparing tangerines and satsumas, utter insanity!
One thing though, and I can thank Coach Jen for this, is that a 50K has a different race mentally. A marathon is full of pressures, with times and focus. But an ultra, even a 50K, that is only 4 miles more than a marathon, all the pressure is off. You are just trying to finish and instead of time, you are running from CP to CP (the CPs here being 12K from the start, then next 7.5KM, then the longest gap of 14K from there, then 7.5K then 7 to the finish). You are just trying to finish. And THAT is exactly what I got from this. That, and follow the bloody signs. Oh and that I was “woefully undertrained and over ambitious.” And my bloody Garmin battery died YET AGAIN!
You see, this was not a race to be taken lightly. Trail marathons are tough. I have run a few and I DO NOT look forward to them. This does beg the question of “why do I do them?” and my answer would be that sometimes they just fit in the calendar.
I did not feel great about this race but only from a personal achievement perspective. It was very well organised and friendly. Other than the lack of promised marmite the aid stations were well manned with supportive marshals, well stocked and varied. One had jam sandwiches and chocolate spread sandwiches, another sausage rolls, and another slices of cheese. Free tee, free tea, medal, timing at CPs, online tracking, all the good stuff. Cannot fault the organisers and highly recommend their races, even if just as prep for a longer trail effort like Stones, King and Tower.
But it was the toughness of the course I could not really handle when I had barely exercised since TGC. Long periods of muddy fields, or paths where the mud is more like slush and you slip all over, a few hills. I really enjoyed any road surface I could get to. There was a point, I think after the 2nd CP where you were in town, and ran through a park, across a road and around by the station. It was bliss. I do need to get my finger out when it comes to Tower, and Green Man now it has been rescheduled for September. I need to be able to handle the mud, as well as I do road. So, something to aim for.
Would I recommend the Extreme Energy Amersham 50K? I would, for the people who I know who love this kinda thing really would have had more fun than me.
Would I run the Extreme Energy Amersham 50K again? No. I really am not cut out for trail. I think, other than Race to the Tower, and Green Man Ultra, and Fire and Ice, that I will be keeping my trail shoes hidden away
And that was…
100 MARATHON CLUB #22