In April I ran the Hermannslauf 31km trail run in Germany, but didn’t have anything else in the calendar for the rest of the summer. After moving to Dorset in May, I found out there were lots of local trail races close to our new house, but unfortunately most of them were so popular they had already sold out! So, on a bit of a whim, I decided to enter the Dixon’s Carphone Race to the Stones. It’s a 100km race along the Ridgeway trail that can either be run or walked, in one go or split over two days. The race starts in Lewknor (Oxfordshire) and finishes by the Avebury Stone Circle (Wiltshire). Obviously me being me, I thought it would be a great idea to tackle the 100km race in one go. Not one of my brightest ideas.
Now, for full disclosure, this is not the first ultramarathon I’ve run. Back in March of last year (2016) I ran the Green Man Ultra (GMU45) 45-mile (72.4km) race that utilises the community forest path encircling Bristol. It was a cold, muddy but bright day, and it was the furthest I had ever run in my life! However, I’d trained well for it, and was running at least two half marathons a week, either as my commute to or from work (and occasionally running both ways in one day!). It took me 9 hours 41 minutes to clock a distance of 73.35km, and I was pretty broken at the end. Fortunately my parents were there to scoop me up into the car and drive me the 20 minutes home.
The Green Man Ultra 45 miler, March 2016
After I got home from the row (more on that in another post soon!), I decided that although I needed to give myself some time off exercise to recover properly, I equally needed to have a goal on the horizon, to make sure that the time off didn’t just turn into me being lazy. Since neither I nor my friend Jo had managed to get ballot places for the London Marathon this year, we instead opted for the Hermanslauf 31km trail run, held around Bielefeld in Germany. I should just point out that after we both lived in Oman, Jo moved back to Germany, and this was in fact a local race for her! As entries normally sell out within about 20 minutes of opening, Jo was on entry duty whilst I was bobbing around in a boat mid-Atlantic.
I got back to the UK midway through February, and after a week or so in the UK (trying to find a new house etc., all fun stuff to do!), I was straight back to the Middle East for a couple of weeks work in Oman and Qatar. I joined in with the usual club runs with Muscat Road Runners (our old running club in Oman), and even managed to sneak in a hot and hill half marathon (HETT – the Heat Equator Time Trial). My running was a bit slower than normal, but I managed the 21km with no problems, just under 2 hours, so I figured I’d probably be ok for the 30km in April, and that my residual fitness from the row would see me through
March training in Oman
The road up and over the hill by the lake was in fact rather hilly, taking us through yet another little patch of forest (what’s the difference between a large wood and a small forest?), with a very interesting (read: definitely only for 4×4’s or motorbikes) road down the other side of it. Back down in the valley between the hills on the other side we rounded a corner and promptly stood on the brakes, as there was a three-foot deep ditch with a stream in in front of us. It was probably about three feet wide, with a variety of logs and planks scattered across it as temporary bridges. From the most recent-looking tracks it seemed like the only vehicles that had been using it recently were motorbikes, over one of the flimsier-looking planks of wood. We had great fun moving the logs around to try and make sure we had something sturdy enough to hold the weight of the car as we crossed, including using the waffle boards in earnest as ramps rather than just to get us out of sand or mud. Somewhere we have a video of us driving the car across; Niall behind the wheel and me directing from the other side, whilst simultaneously doing the mosquito dance as I was being eaten alive.
The road from the lake to the monastery; dirt tracks through the woods, meadows, marshland and streams to be bridged
After the incident with the wheel nuts, our first port of call when we crossed into Mongolia was to find the Land Rover dealership in Ulaanbaatar to buy some new wheel nuts. Crossing the border from Russia was simple enough – the usual paper filling out, car inspection etc., but on the whole not nearly as bad as it could have been. Car insurance purchased, monies changed, and we were on our way to Ulaanbaatar. We headed towards Ulaanbaatar, fuelled by little fish biscuits, enjoying the scenery and working out where we were going to head off-road before reaching Ulaanbaatar. We figured if we had to go there, we might as well make the journey there part of the trip.
The last of the tarmac for a while. Hello Mongolia!