Race Review – Round Reading Ultra 2021

A while back I stated quite categorically that I wouldn’t run the same marathon more than once. Why? There are just too many races out there, and limited time in the remainder of my life, so why would I? I was a little deluded. I would build an early doors race calendar and start signing up for races the year before.

Athens changed everything, taking the long way back and joining Lew, Jenni, Dasen, Keith and Emma on an Ouzo fuelled adventure back to where it all began.

The global pandemic has since thrown a spanner in many people’s works, including mine, and the stark realism is that you need to run what you can when you can. 2020 and all the deferrals and cancellations meant that I was desperate to grab any chance of a race by the horns. Beachy Head 2020 became my first rerun marathon since Athens, and 2021 is rife with repeats.

I ran the Serpent Trail in July for the second time, having run it in 2019 when the summer version became my favourite trail race. Race to the King preceded it, doing the double in a repeat of my first trail marathon in 2016. Race to the Stones I ran last month, again, from 2016. South Coast Challenge is next, and I ran that in 2019 too, on my way to 14 maras/ultras that year.  And that is followed by Tring Ultra, one of my 2019 haul. In October I have Loch Ness, a rerunning of my favourite UK road marathon from 2017 and then, depending on the US State department either Chicago (unlikely) that I first ran in 2019, or Manchester, my road marathon PB from all the way back in 2016.  Finally, next up I have Green Man Ultra, the GMU30, the Green Boy, which I have run 3 times before, albeit in the other direction, oh, and this, the Round Reading Ultra, which was the first race of 2020 post Lockdown 1, and is now…

100 Marathon Club number 59.

Coming atcha!

The Set Up

My race prep and kit choices have been a bit hit and miss of late. I have a poor set of shoes to choose from. Only one pair was broken in, the rest bought over lockdown and untested on anything further than a stroll around Hampstead. And those, my dear old trusted Nike Flex 2016s, are now no more, after being left in a portable khazi half way along the Ridgeway. This has left me with new, experimental shoes, including my Hoka One One, pronounced On-nay on-nay, not 1 1, and it was those that I chose for this race, despite my road shoes for trail errors made recently.

I also stayed in Reading this time and not the village of Sonning. Sonning is home to the Berkshire County Sports Club, where the race HQ, start and finish is located. It is also limited in it’s hotels. You either have the Bull Inn, where Lew and I stayed last time. It was great food and drink wise, but had no soundproofing and was swelteringly hot. Or some fancy 5 star hotel with an exclusive restaurant that cost and arm and a leg. I went with a central Reading hotel and a car service to the start. This would be a mistake as the hotel has zero soundproofing and I was up all night. Still, the car service worked one way at least, and at 7.15 I was at the start line and ready to go.

How I did

It was the sensible and structured social distancing start. You stand on coloured discs 2 metres apart in each direction. The discs are coloured. Each 2 minutes a group of 6, or maybe 9, is let go, everyone moves forward in unison to the next set of discs and awaits the next group to leave until it is your turn. All very safe. All very sensible.

Much like the Run to the Sea Brighton, actually pretty much every race, I am ready ahead of time. Bag dumped, dressed and ready to go. And, much like Run to the Sea Brighton, the marshals asked I was ready, I said yes, and I was allowed to go ahead of my allotted start time.

In the podcast for this race on The Hundred Marathon Club I stated that a lot of these trail 50Ks in the home counties blend together, and they really do. After running down Sonning Lane, and turning at the church I expected to hit the river. We did not hit the river. That could have been the Tring Ultra, or London 2 Brighton, or any of the other races thrown into the blender of my memory.

I did hit the river, eventually, it took a few more twists and turns, and then it was the lovely boat houses and rowers, willow hanging low and blue skies. And then the countryside opened up. Quaint little villages populated by quaint little villagers.

There was a business park filled with modern glass buildings including the new Virgin Media HQ. Here we hit one of the great checkpoints. I didn’t use them much, I was on a mission to get my best time of 2021, given that I am unhappy with how the year has gone timewise. But then I saw this cutie. And I had to stop.

As I said, I haven’t been happy with my times this year. Sure, this was my 8th ultra of the year, and that is something to be proud of, given the first 7 were in a 12 week stretch. But my times were rubbish, over half an hour more than my average. So I needed to keep going.

I found  my group, you know, those people who you are always close to. You may lose sight of them, but then on a long straight there they are, just in front, or just behind, overtaking each other and saying hi.

A woman at the George Pub, on the other side of a bridge to me, just after we ran a motorway stretch, upset me. She was trying to be funny, the hideous troll, with her bespectacled partner and another couple, shouting that I was first, and winning the race, laughing over her pint. It annoyed me as I ran to, then through the last checkpoint. It drove me on to  what was my fastest time of the year by half an hour and my 3rd fastest 50K time out of  15 races at the distance. It put me on a good footing. I am going to smash GMU next time out. I have a plan.

The Bling

Looks the same but made out of wood and not metal. Like that episode of Futurama where Bender is on the island.

In Summary

I have been bashing these out and am not time conscious normally. I have to make up for the 18 months of races we have lost. If that means running 35K of a 50 and then marching in the rest every two weeks then so be it. This time though I did ok. I was only 3 minutes slower than my time last year, and that was a personal best for a time. 3rd fastest 50K and if anything if I hadn’t pet the dog, and had walked a fraction less, I would have beaten it. Still, it is what it is. It was a well organised, well marshalled, well signposted race, and a nice route to boot.

WOULD IT RUN THE ROUND READING ULTRA AGAIN? Yes, but I would stay in the local swanky hotel in Sonning.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE ROUND READING ULTRA? Yes, I would recommend all three Ultraviolet Running races.

Next up: The Green Man Ultra (GMU30)

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