Saltmarsh Ultramarathon 2019 Race Report

5 October 2019

The race director counted down and shouted “Go!” 
I quickly maintained the 9:00 per mile pace I wanted. 
Runners were soon strung out along the grassy trail. 
I briefly spoke to a competitor with an American accent, who had previously run a 50k race. His predicted time was several hours quicker than mine.
I passed through a number of kissing gates, herds of cows and sheep.
Although I intended to commit to a 4-mile run, 1-mile walk strategy, the runners close ahead kept me motivated to run. 
I first walked during mile five when there was a short incline.
I kept eating my tasty vegan bars and sipping my homemade sports drinks.
I grabbed a bottle of water at the first aid station, barely stopping. 
I maintained a reasonable pace, my race position between 25 and 30. 
After 15 miles I came to the first checkpoint. I retrieved my bag of food and drink, and used the toilet. 
I didn’t want to lose momentum so I kept running, with only short walking breaks.
The saltmarsh and countless boats around me looked the same. But the weather remained mild and overcast.
Then stomach pains struck me. 
I had completed 22 miles, not far off a marathon. 
I was reduced to walking. Anything quicker would result in pain. 
Runners passed me; I was helpless to pick up the pace. My race position was between 40 and 50.
I went to the toilet several times, but the pain refused to subside. I kept hoping that the second checkpoint at 28.5 miles was very close. 
Eventually I reached it. 
I re-hydrated and refreshed myself. I thankfully felt better. 
I still needed to walk, but I managed to fit in some running too.
Runners kept passing me as the sun emerged from behind the clouds. One runner told me he was from Milton Keynes. 
I focused on eating smaller portions of food. 
I kept my time at aid stations short and passed runners that had previously overtaken me. 
At the last checkpoint I was surprised to see my fiancée. Her support was much needed as she took away unnecessary weight from my backpack. 
I was rejuvenated to push the last 10+ miles to the finish line. 
Runners were shocked that I was still running. But I was cautious; for the first time I had to navigate some tricky sections of the course alone.
I soon returned to the coastal trail and knew I was on the final stretch. I read some inspirational words from my fiancée in a small notebook. My tracker stopped working but I reset it without much effort.
The path ahead continued for miles without the finish area in sight. 
I tried to keep to half-mile walk, then half-mile run strategy. I kept my map in my hands. 
I saw no one in front of me, but plenty of runners behind. I remained motivated to stay ahead.
Then the park came in sight.
I saw the inflatable finishers’ arch and my family in the distance. 
I stopped my watch and I could finally sit and enjoy the medal around my neck.
I had become an ultrarunner. 

I first came across ultramarathons in late 2013, inspired by audiobooks such as Eat and Run (2012) by Scott Jurek and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2007) by Haruki Murakami. Ever since I have wondered whether I could complete one and how well I would fare.

My nearest ultramarathon is less than a half marathon away from where I live; the Saltmarsh Ultra. The race is along Maldon District’s salt marsh coastal trail. At the start of 2019 I set the challenge as one of my running goals. The time had come to try and there were no more excuses to use. 

I mitigated the two major factors that could prevent me from finishing the race; getting lost and getting injured. I studied the route weeks beforehand and had printed detailed satellite maps for all the trickier sections. My physical training had been consistent since the start of the year; 40+ mile weeks were common and my highest was 63.1 miles. I even tried my run-walk strategy on several occasions, including experimenting with hydration and fuelling techniques. 

Due to my confidence-boosting preparations, my experience of my first ultramarathon was generally positive. I finished 30th in the solo event, avoided getting lost and realised a long-term dream. My recovery has also been quick, with only blisters on my feet and light muscle soreness to show for my 10 hours, 29 minutes and 30 seconds of effort. However, by eating too much too soon, I was forced to learn the importance of fuelling during ultramarathons. Still, similar to my first marathon, the result of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone has only made me more determined to improve as an athlete. 

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