Ranger Ultras - North & South

Training has been going quite well up to 3 weeks ago when I decided to do my first Parkrun in over 4 years.  A good time (15.54) showed that I still have a bit of pace in the legs despite my now advancing age, but unfortunately the pain returned in my right ankle that caused me to take over a year away from running.  I've done very little activity since and with the Spine now on the horizon I've been starting to get concerned about whether I will be able to have a decent training block, or even start.

I was therefore more than just a little worried about my last race before the Spine, whether I'd be able to get round, or get round but cause even more damage.  Sometimes I've had these minor injuries in the past and somehow after a race they just sort of melt away, so this was what I was hoping for.

Day 1

I had it in my head that as the first day was 'just' 50k, to treat it similar as I would a marathon in terms of relative effort.  Writing this with the benefit of hindsight, it was pretty idiotic which was evidenced from the first ascent near Mam Tor where I managed to achieve the 3rd fastest ever ascent (out of c. 2,000 logs) according to Strava.  This should just not happen in winter conditions with a rucksack on and just goes to show that I went off way too hard.  I was getting occasional grumbles from the tendons around my ankle, usually caused from an uneven foot strike, which other than worrying me thankfully tended to wear off as the day progressed.  I felt pretty good up to the 10 mile point, in the lead with no one in sight of me.  However, the wheels soon rapidly fell off, made much worse by significant road sections causing one of my calfs to pull, followed by the other not much later.  My back then started to get sore a little later and it caused my pace to fall off a cliff.

Starting way too hard, lesson learnt.

I managed to get to the half way checkpoint before the organisers had arrived (probably further evidence of how fast I went in the first half) and although I just about had sufficient water I had to ration it a bit before arriving at the 39km final checkpoint.  At that point I was still in the lead and had no idea by how much, but I felt it was only going to be a matter of time before I was passed as I was moving really slowly by now.  I was soon proven right as another runner went flying past me, the speed differential so great that I wondered whether he was even in the same race as me.  I could do nothing about it and my calfs were just screaming at me all the way to the finish.

I finished 18 minutes behind the leader in second place, although I was first back of those doing both days with an 18 minute lead.  I knew any chance of starting Day 2 was at best 50/50.

Day 2

I could only walk with significant discomfort but despite this my competitive instinct took hold and I lined up for the start on Day 2.  I was hoping that once underway my legs would finally start working again.  I decided from the off to take a 'defensive' strategy, to defend my Day 1 advantage if I was able to and if not then to just get round in one piece.  The weather had clearly deteriorated overnight and there was cold driving rain not long after the start and I think is what you would call character building.  At the off, one person who had only entered the second day went flying into the lead, never to be seen again, whilst there was a peleton of about 5 of us who had run yesterday taking it steady towards Jacob Ladder.  This suited me fine and although my calf pain was always there, I could at least keep moving.  As Jacobs Ladder hit I pulled away from the others but I was going at a pace that felt comfortable and throughout much of the technical Kinder section I was on my own.  On the descent from Kinder to the first checkpoint at 16km I hit some flagstones and I soon realised that any flat or downhill hard surface was very painful and I just couldn't move at any pace.  As a result I drifted back to the group who I was previously with.  I was also by now getting quite cold from the heavy rain and gales, so I took the time to get my cagoule on and wait for the pack to catch me.  However, I found that my fingers were so numb that I struggled to unclip my rucksack and then was unable to do my jacket up.  Once I joined the others there was a small road section and I was struggling to keep up with them as I just didn't have the movement in my legs.  I decided to put in the extra effort to stay attached to the group as if they got ahead the chances were that I'd never catch them again.  After the first checkpoint it became clear that anything uphill I could hold my own, and if anything I was slightly stronger.  Anything flat or downhill, especially on harder surfaces I was extremely weak.  As a result I started to move up and down the group a bit, before a more significant uphill section and I broke away, getting to the midway checkpoint at Hayfield about a minute up, with another a further minute or so back and the other 2-3 runners not yet in sight.

Start of Day 2 - Trying to get my legs going.

It was at this point that my focus was mostly about defending my time advantage from Day 1 and I knew every km ticked off meant that it was becoming more and more unlikely that if I was overtaken it would be by enough to lose my overall combined lead.  I felt like if I could get to 10km to go ahead of the others, the chances of losing 18 minutes would be low, and if I could eek out my Day 2 lead to 5km to go it would be all but impossible to lose my advantage.

Despite the disgusting weather, I was working well on the uphills and I got to the final checkpoint with 6km left and no-one in sight behind me.  I knew the chances were that I was likely to have lost time in the preceding 5km as it was mostly flat on a hard gravel surface which was to my disadvantage and much of the final 5km was sharply downhill.  With about 2km to go I was overtaken out of nowhere by 2nd male who was almost 40 mins behind me after yesterday (2nd, 3rd and 4th from Day 1 were all women) and I knew that I didn't need to defend.  The final km to the finish was all downhill on tarmac so the pace was just not there and although I could have found some further speed had I really needed to my mindset was all about combined result over both days and there was no need to destroy my calfs even further in a sprint finish.  I finished 2nd, 18 seconds behind the winner.

Overall, I won the combined event, stretching my total lead to about 30 mins ahead of second and 40 minutes ahead of 3rd.  Considering I was seriously considering not starting the second day I am glad I did, although my legs now feel like concrete.  I'm hoping that a week or so of rest will do them some good, and early indications are that my ankle issue going into this race seem to have dissipated, but time will tell.

Prize for the North & South Ultra

The event was the final of the Ranger Ultras 2023 series.  I won the points competition, having entered almost all of their races and my prize was a rather swanky map box!

2023 Points Competition Prize.

Next stop, the Spine Race in January!


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