A month or so ago I stuck myself on the waiting list for the ‘Millenium Way’ Ultra as I didn’t think I would get a place in the hilly local ‘Grindleford Gallop’ a week later. 10 days before the event I was invited to register on the event – oh lord what have I done?
The Millennium Way is a 38 mile run from Newark to Burton on Trent following the ‘Millennium Way’ pathway – an official route. It is organised perfectly by the lovely ‘Beyond Marathon’ guys who I had done the ’12 Labours of Hercules’ with a couple of years ago so I knew these guys put on a great event. A snippet at £21 including chipped timing, coach to the start and food (very important!) what more could you want on the 1st day in March?
The finish was at a leisure centre in Burton-upon- Trent. I say ‘the finish’ as this was a one way ultra. We were instructed not to turn up before 6.30am. Registration was a quick affair, number, chip band and safety pins, then a quick faff (a.k.a pre race poo) before heading to the three coaches for an hours’ drive to beond the middle of no where – the start.
At first they’ll ask you why you are doing it, but later they’ll ask you how you did it.
The three coaches dumped 150 runners at the end of a little lane. A little wee behind a little bush and then a little walk to the start of the Millennium Way – on an old disused railway line took us to the official start.
The organisers gave us one of the best briefings I have had. Clear and concise instructions, warning us about the muddy fields, cows and donkey en route. Most importantly we were warned not to go out too fast. ‘If you are feeling comfortable, then slow it down’ were were told. Wise advice.
I glanced round, once again I felt that others looked really professional as I huddled in the mid pack of runners. Before I could get kit envy we were off. Instantly the front pack sprinted out. I was determined not to burn out too soon. It would have been easy to do and you could see why as pancake flat pathway stretched nearly 10 miles in front of 150 crazy runners to Stafford.
Never be intimidated – New Balance
The first 9 miles followed the pancake recipe, one disused railway line, an egg coloured path, a couple of flowers poking their little heads up in hope of spring, lemon flavoured jelly babies and lots of lots of sugar. Beat up 150 runners or so and fry and toss them about for 38 miles. Ultra runners Pancakes.
The first few miles did actually fly by and the crowds of 150 people soon spread out. I was just running simply, until my rucksack came undone and out flew some chocolate coated fruit, pink and white mice and an emergency gel for later. ‘Ohhh goodies’ said two runners as they came flying past me whilst I struggled to pick up my goodies. ‘you’ve not lost a glove either have you’ they chirped, I checked my glove box, no, the glove wasn’t mine.
The rucksack fiasco threw me a little and I slowed my pace, keeping pace behind the guys who had just passed me, 6 miles in, 7 miles, 8 miles, 9 miles of horizontal running. I decided I do like vertical running of the delightful Peak District more so. Soon I was in Stafford and the guys were waiting at the end of the path to chip us in. I approached with a smile on my face and turned the corner to the first check point and foooooood! The reason for running!
Today is your day, your canal is waiting for you so get on your way
The first check point welcomed me with some delights of peanuts, flapjacks, malt loaf (buttered), jelly babies and dolly mixtures, oh yes! A kind marshal filled up my water bottle that I had been sipping gently on for 9 flat miles as I grabbed some malt loaf and a couple of jelly babies. Happily stocked up with my goodies I went on my way.
Through a diverted Stafford I ran, checking the GPS route on my watch at regular intervals. Nearly a mile through the town, diverting due to building work. Not very exciting I will admit. Runners in front of me were speeding along as I got stuck at a main junction as the lights were at green for what seemed like eternity. I wanted to run not jog on the spot like an eager sunday morning town runner.
Back on the pathway finally, I was glad to get out of town. A comment from a passer by ‘What’s going on? Is it the Stafford 20’ – hmm a week early people, and with rucksacks? Come back next week.
Sunday’s are made for Running
The first muddy field excited me, squish squash, we were warned about the mud, I was in my element dancing along the rough terrain and squidding into the muddly puddlly puddles. Apparently someone had lost a shoe in this field the year before. Loving it, mud lickenly loving it.
Back on the flat path after the muddy field gave the legs a little rest. I was feeling good but took on some Macaroon bar that I had chopped up – these bars are great 25p from home bargains and you don’t need much, just a couple of little pieces and very refreshing. Macaroon heaven. The joys of running long.
Keep going along the canal said the instructions not needing the GPS I followed the flatness of the waterways, saying good morning to the Sunday morning dog walkers as I ran on by. I caught up a runner with a dog and we chatted about Ultras, in particular Hardmoors, he did the 30 this year too, and was doing the 55 later this month. I told him I wasn’t but was keen to do more Hardmoors again. His dog acted as a great pacer and a most enjoyable spot for me to run with said one man and his dog. He told me he had gone out too fast and knocked it down a minute a mile slower. I couldn’t even tell you what pace I was running at, it was just a happy pace.
Running – if there’s any activity happier
Soon the next checkpoint arrived, around 19 miles, a little table scattered with more goodies on the canal pathway. More goodies oh yummy. I love ultra running. I chipped in and jelly babied out with some flapjack as well for good luck and went on my canal way. 2 miles they said then you cross the river – don’t forget or you will be on the wrong side of the river an will have to swim. This isn’t the Millennium aquathlon but that could be an event for the future? Maybe not.
I took a quick glance of my watch to note the 2 miles so I wouldn’t miss it and off I ran. I had left one man and his dog to devour the flapjacks and dog biscuits at the last check point. I could see a couple of guys way in front on the canal. The muddy paths were nice and gave something of a variety to the easy canal pathway of yester-step.
The bridge approached and a nice little arrow pointed us left over the bridge – this was one of only about two navigational signs from the organisers, apart from this it was self navigation. I crossed the bridge thinking the other guys had sped along but then saw them looking at me from the other side of the river, I waved at them and shouted them to get over to the other side. They soon caught me up and we chatted as we ran. One guy local and another originally from the States but living in Norfolk. I love ultra running you meet such a variety of lovely people. Still loving it.
Finally we were off the canal and ran into more delightful muddy fields. We were on the look out for cows and donkeys too! Oh the joys of ultra running, you just don’t get cows and donkeys on road races.
The most memorable races end up with mud on the faces
The route was also marked with red and white official millennium way footpath signs, some hard to spot but the GPS did its job for me. A couple of navigational issues after coming off the canal path where the watch was pointing up a random posh persons’ drive. Hoo Humm wrong way. One of the kind guys who I had passed and chatted to on the canal pointed down a little pathway, to where myself and fellow runner next to me could see the little white and red signpost, hidden in the overgrownness of overgrown brambles. Back on our way there were now three of us running along the muddy fields, jumping across the hedge-ways and squeezing through little gaps.
Then we saw in the distance a couple of people who we were about to catch up. I wasn’t aware at this stage that I was third female. I knew from the way they marked me down that I was about 20th overall at checkpoint one, (17th in fact) and had moved up a few places into checkpoint to (13th in fact) but wasn’t sure how many superdooper females were in-front of me.
We caught up the said girl in front and chatted a little bit about donkeys and cows as we navigated around church together. We found the donkey but didn’t have to chip in and out, instead greeted donkey with some donkey language and hurtled over the stile to leave donkey to content with 100 or so other runners. A very muddy and cow infested field awaited our tiring feet. The cows were ready for a stand off with us, now four of us. The American runner got a head start as the rest of us tiptoed across the mud and cow poop, yes I defiantly stepped in cow poop, as I tried to eye up the cows precariously. Moo…
Today I feel Moo-velous!
Once out of the field I left the other girl and trotted along with the other two guys. The local guy was having a few cramp issues so I offered him my nunn tablet drink mix, not sure it did any good but its the thing to do on ultras, help your fellow friends and all that.
Checkpoint 3 soon approached, we had run more than a marathon by now, in fact 29 miles. Check point 3 was even more of a plethora of goodies, with onion bhaaji’s, samosas, peanut butter and jam sandwiches along side malt loaf, flapjacks, sausage rolls, savoury rolls, and jelly babies. ‘Take lots of food, help yourselves’ the kind friendly marshals said. I took a couple of sausage rolls but didn’t really fancy them so stuck them in my pocket. I managed to take a bite of a peanut butter sandwich but dumped the crusts. I didn’t know what I wanted to eat by this time in the game but this is somewhat crucial nutrition time, as so many people can bonk after 30 miles.
After a cup of coke (flat coke is an ultra runners dream after 30 miles – try it!) and a little water refill I was off on my way again. A couple of other guys were resting at the check point but I was keen to make a move and be on my way.
Back into lots of boggy fields we went. At points I led the group then one of the guys would get ahead of me, then I would take the lead again, playing passie an ultra runner for a few miles. The game passed a few miles and a a few fields or two. Far too many stiles played havoc with the cramp of the local guy. Another stile and another and another. Plenty more muddy puddles awaited our hurdles over the stiles and negotiation skills through kissing gates and other types of gates that probably have snogging type names.
Running is the answer the question is pretty much irrelevant
I began to drop the other guys and ran on my merry way, mile 30 mile 31 mile 32. I was feeling good, I quite like the 30s. Back on the canal I went. I caught up a guy who I found out was called ‘Carmine’ and we chatted a little. He kindly told me that there was only one female in front about 5 minutes ahead. I wasn’t about to chase her down that would be impossible in 6 miles. 5 minutes is a long time for 6 miles in the last stages of an ultra. I was happy where I was. We chatted a bit more then I pulled away and kept on running.
It began to rain, first drizzle then heavier rain. I couldn’t decide whether to put on my waterproof but decided against it instead just rolled down my sleeves on my top. The straight run back to the leisure centre was a little draggy. I recognised the A38 through the trees the monotony of the whizzing lorries and cars. 6 miles just 10km, I broke it down in my head, struggling with the flatness and monotony of the canal though making reasonable pace. I counted the bridges like sheep, crossed one, recrossed another and hit a rather muddy patch of the canal thinking whether I had gone the wrong way as it was just a grass banking. The GPS route was however spot on so it must be that away – straight on and do not fall asleep.
I know I prefer hills, I love the challenge of the hills, the variety and the excuse to walk. This Ultra was interesting, the first time possibly that I have ‘run’ a whole ultra, run run run, ran ran ran. My only rest bite was in and out of the checkpoints to take on a bite or two, no rest for the flatness. It was hard, hard to keep pace hard to know you were not approaching a hill. Flat is hard. That is all.
Running like you do, Running like you do
Running like you do, Running like you do
What are you waiting for?
I needed more cake – Kendal mint cake – hurrah I had some left in my pockets probably squashed up with a sausage roll but I didn’t mind as the freshness of the mint melted in my mouth and I was on my way again to battle the last tediousness miles only in my mind.
I could see the breweries of Burton in the distance, just a couple of miles I thought in my head as I began to pace it up a little, trying to fight the rain and counting the ripples in the canal.
Finally the watch told me to turn off the canal and back onto the road to the leisure centre. I turned up the lane and turned up the speed to an ‘ultra sprint’ (an ultra sprint is basically a slightly little bit faster a pace than I had been doing previously) to enter the leisure centre and the finish area.
A round of an applause welcomed me from the organisers and those that had finished alongside those that had pulled out. I grinned as I handed back my chip timing and immediately got offered a cup of tea and a pasty. I welcomed the cup of tea but declined the initial offer of a pasty. Only because there was no Hendersons Relish I am sure. Honest.
Fellow friend Chris who had been running with Amy (both who I did 12 labours with) had had to drop out at CP2 and had been sat drinking tea and eating pasties and cake whilst he waited for Amy. I welcomely sat down and drunk tea. Before I could even take my socks off to see any damage I got offered toast – oh my I love toast after a run, and would I like anything else? Oh some soup, thank you – cuppasoup – salty salt lovely salty, and would I like a pasty with that? I had some cake instead and a cup of coke and then more cake which was delicately distrusted across the tables.
I was presented with a lovely ‘Millennium Way’ certificate, I had done the 38 miles in 5.43 and come in 2nd Female (1st Female was 5.37 so Carmine was right – about 5 minutes ahead). I found out a couple of days later that I was 6th overall. What a bargain!
- Time: 5.43
- Position: 6th out of 131 finishes
- Gender Position: 2nd Female