9 month ago I failed to make the start line of ‘Round Sheffield’ – a 50 mile relay (and that year the first Sheffield Ultra) due to injury 2 weeks before the event. Gutted was not the word to describe how I felt after all the training and route reccies I had put in. So I vowed I was doomed to ever do a 50 miler. However I had spotted the NoMad Ultra, 50 miles circumnavigating the city of Derby…NoMad…
So c-come on. You got it wrong. To prove I’m right I put it in a song. I don’t know why…..One Direction Lyrics
There were two starts, 6am and 7am. I had placed myself in the 6am start (the slower of the two) as I really had no idea what sort of time I would complete it in.. I was stepping into uknown territory, and that excited me as well as frightened me. There is something surreal about standing on a random path at 6am in the morning in shorts & waterproof as the dark morning clouds spat with rain (how rude) supported by a purple rucksack knowing there are 50 miles between you and the finish. There is something slightly scary when the organisers tell you to ‘go’ and you all trot off to spend the day running around Derby.
So off I went, placing myself somewhere mid pack, and then after only a few minutes stepping it up a little to place myself behind 3 or so other guys. I didn’t speak to anyone for the first 3 miles or so as the 6am group meandered down the cycle path and through ample fields and over little bridges. I was earwigging conversations with other runners which allowed me to get into my own head space and beginning to understand my own challenge ahead. It’s not like a 50 miler hasn’t been done before, there are far bigger challenges out there, as I found out later the 1st and 2nd place runners had completed the ‘Spine Challenge’ (Google it if you don’t know what this is) but for me this was my first 50 miler and I wanted to just complete it intact and happy.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RUNNING IN 14 WORDS
-Build step by step. -Push yourself, but not too hard. -Learn. -Keep it fun.
Down the canal we went, pacing through nicely, beep beep beep, but I refused to look at my watch or the pace, this was going to be fun and was not about time but about a day out just simply running in new territory with newly found friends. Within 4 miles or so I struck up conversation with the lads I was running with and we discussed all things like running, running and running all of us with endlessness of determination. Polite ‘Good Mornings’ gestures to the narrow boat owners did not go amiss as they watched us with bemusement running by. What else would I be doing this morning? My local park run?
It’s only 16 Park Runs! – Author: Me
The first leg was very much on canal, very flat and my concern here was not to fall into the canal. I was enjoying the conversation and the miles just sped by. I can not even recall the first check point apart from taking a couple of Jaffa cakes (are they cakes or biscuits?) and some nice flapjack. (Are they flapping or not?) Although I had my own stock of cereal bars, malt loaf, fig biscuits, dried banana, coconut water and a couple of sickly ‘gels’ I opted for the less plastic food at the check points. It was probably not necessary to stop as long at CP1 but it would have been rude to run ahead especially as the four of us were at this point leading the way. So I happily stood and nibbled on the snacks with everyone else. Munch munch munch.
Venturing onto the next leg, this was a 10 mile stretch. The course was marked in areas with big yellow arrows and on occasions some blue ‘ascis’ tape, however instructions were a must at the same time. I had worked out the art of reading instructions and running at the same time. Multitasking at its best. The course soon dropped back down onto the canal after a small stint through a residential area. One guy was racing ahead whilst four of us had made friends, a nice little group and still chatting away. We had been told at CP1 that the course went almost in a square but did we listen? Oh no we thought we knew the route and continued on oblivious to a big yellow arrow on the track. We were soon put back on our tracks as someone’s’ Garmin began to beep telling us we were off course, so we put ourselves into reverse gear and made tracks back down the correct track. By this point some of the other guys and girls were catching us up.
10 miles and lots of blissful canal later we hit another residential area to CP2. The CP2 car had only just arrived and had to shout us over as we raided the boot of their car for more flapjacks, Jaffa cakes, water and other goodies. This time I took a 9 bar as recommended by one of my fellow runners. Over the period of the day I ended up consuming 4 9 bars, what a looser I could have at least consumed 9. Really. This time we didn’t waste too much time and were soon on our way first negotiating a roundabout then a corner shop and a dog walker before dropping back onto trail.
Ultra running is so glamorous. So much so that I do things that I wouldn’t normally do. All politeness goes out of the window, whether you are going to burp, blow off from the other end or if you just want a wee you just have to do it. I turned round to people I was running with and politely said I needed a wee, and off I went to wee, that was it. Hell I had known these guys 5 minutes and there I was bending down almost in front of them to do what I needed to do. Really… oh where is my lipstick and mascara when I need it? And lets do a little dance around my purple rucksack too.
I have to find another port-a-tree. – Ellie Thayer
It was at this point that another runner came hurtling past us, was he a relay runner? one of our lot or a 7am starter? He looked pro with buff on head and seemed to know the course. This was ‘Eddie’ as I found out later, a 6.35am starter from Long Eaton Running Club itself. Eddie managed to make a wrong turning just before we dropped onto a path leaving four of us to lead the pack along a flat stretch of a nice disused railway line now a well maintained cycle track. Here we picked up speed and got into a rhythm of just running. I had no idea on distance or pace I was just in blissful ultra land. So that bit was easy and required no concentration. A large yellow arrow painted on a bridge indicated to go ‘up’ and then through rather narrow footpaths with overgrown nettles.
The easy path was now to be balanced out by rickety fields of crops, squishy cow pat fields (wet feet alert) and plenty of farmers gates which some we had to crawl under and others we had to jump over. And more challenges awaited as we ran through waist height crop fields, muddy little pathways infested by more nettles and sticky bud plants and the tricky ploughed fields with tractor tracks that had hardened like toffee drying in a freezer.
There is something very satisfying about being stood in the middle of a farmers field looking for a stile or an arrow or some blue ascis tape whilst trying to make sense of a scrappy bit of paper which had become so mongled that I could hardly read it, alongside other bewildered ultra runners doing exactly the same thing. Ever experienced this on a 10km road race? Fear not, it’s coming to road near you next year. Or Not. Eventually after jumping over lots of long grass we all found the little opening we had been searching our souls for, suspiciously marked by the blue ascis tape and off we went again.
Ultramarathon Basics left foot right foot left foot right foot repeat, repeat, repeat
Another interesting encounter was the stand off between the cows and the ultra runners. In one particular field the cows suddenly came hurtling towards us, now a group of 6 or 7 of us. We had no choice but to jump over a random gate. Unfortunately one of the guys in the group jumped over and suffered from severe calf cramp. This had nothing to do with the cows (calfs..) I found out later that he was to surrender at CP 3.
Eventually we had the courage to get back into the field and plough on through the herd of cows. This had allowed another girl to catch us up as we talked about gates, what an oak tree looked like and maybe even what a blade of grass looked like. We were now an even bigger group running down towards the next village. Group consensus was that we follow a path down towards a church, rather than follow what I thought in my head was the ‘NoMad’ pathway sign. I wasn’t going to disagree so I followed on but intuition told me we had gone too far down, and there was no ‘pond’ as suggested by the instructions.
Almost disappointed with myself for not going with my instinct I began to ask locals where the ‘Bluebell Inn’ was – home of CP3. We had to go back up a hill to get to CP3, so this gave me opportunity to hurtle on up the hill and stride out towards the pub. Again I stocked up on a few little goodies, including another 9 bar and some water. I was now using Nunn tablets as my coconut water had all but gone but I had another stash at my dropbag at CP4 where I was also supposed to meet my lovely friend Becky. But alas that did not go to plan as the mobile battery had sadly bonked and had enough of this running lark due to silly battery life whilst trying to run an app.
In an ultra you should eat like a horse, drink like a fish, and run like a turtle – Unknown
Suddenly a number of other 6am starters descended on CP3 and it began to get really busy. I had to get away from the busyness, seeing very little point in hanging around, apologies to all those lovely friends I had been running with for the past 20 something miles but it was time to go, and go I did along side a couple of other guys. I was feeling the love for this now across undulating fields and dropping down meadows and trails. This is the life I was in my element.
One other runner was in front, a strikingly tall guy whose name I found out was ‘Ian’ a 7am starter. I ran towards him, feeling the love for the event. If you ever come across a ‘runners high’ this was it. It had taken me some 28 miles and I was riding on a wave of happiness. We had a brief conversation as he asked me if I was a relay runner. We ran together for a while up some of the bumpy fields, across bog stricken streams and into many more ‘cow’ fields, this time without the stand off from the moo cows.
26.2 isn’t a marathon, it’s a warm up – Unknown
Back on a minor road a couple of other guys including ‘Eddie’ had taken a slightly different way but we still ended up on the same path. Myself and Eddie ended up running together for a while down towards ‘Duffield’ the only bit of the course that I knew. Big cheers at the CP I had forgotten that I had a dropbag and was now using the CPs just to grab a bit of food, including a jam sandwich, more flapjack, refill the water and go on our merry ways.
The marshals wished us luck and we were off. Just the two of us now as we climbed up a hilly road and up some rather steep steps. This led us into more nettle infested passage ways, woodlands and more mud glorious mud. A cyclist on his merry way did an amazing face plant right in the middle of the cowpatted mud. I stopped to ask if he was ok and then proceeded to follow Eddie down the path convinced we had gone the wrong way. But there was light at the end of the path, well not quite light but ascis tape and a yellow arrow. We were on track. Under the A38 myself and Eddie went, chatting along, running along, and trying to work out where the next lane was.
We were soon caught by Ian and his running buddy Justin. We were all to run the rest of the route more or less together. I was overly impressed with the navigation from Justin and Ian courtesy of their Sunnto watches, whilst I fought with silly bits of almost unreadable paper. They knew well before where to turn off, though the paper instructions were a small matter of amusement when we were unable to find a ‘spoil heap’ or decide which one was the ‘lonely tree in the middle of the field’ or the ‘tricky stile’. Through more waist high, shoulder high and head high crops we ploughed. At one point we were so engrossed in the middle of a crop field all I could see were crops of crops of crops and nothing else, not knowing where I was heading I was just heading straight ahead.
I was having another fantastic runners high as the four of us chatted and ran on. At times one of us would take the lead and the rest would follow, we would regroup naturally and pick up another conversation. I found out Ian had only started running a year or so ago yet he was a 7am starter, so must have made pace on the first couple of legs. I was still feeling really strong 44 miles in, the furthest I had ever run in one go. My legs were not giving up, my mind was strong, what was happening to me? I was confused to why I wasn’t hurting. But I knew the last few miles could be the breaking point so I reluctantly took on bits of food including some malt loaf I had found squished in the corner of my pocket. Oh yum!.
90% of ultrarunning is 100% mental – Unknown
CP 5 wasn’t far away now as the four of us approached with friendly greetings from the marshals. I took some jelly babies and a bit of flapjack, refilled one of my bottles with their isotonic drink, which I did not expect at checkpoints at all. Each CP was very well stocked up and most appropriately manned. Just over 5 miles to go as the four of us pounded down the road and into more fields. Yet another runners high, 45 miles in and I was still feeling good. The running banter kept us all going and I could not have wished for better company.
Run your happy pace – Unknown
The remaining miles were mostly downhill apart from a slight slope up a couple of fields where the four of us decided to walk. We soon hit the golf course which had been mentioned by my leg 1 and 2 buddies I had sadly left behind at CP3. Running on luxury royal green carpet under 48 miles of feet felt like velvet as I ran what felt like effortlessly through the golf course, chasing Eddie down in a friendly fun manner.
My Hokas no longer with the ‘bling factor more of the ‘pong factor’ had held up brilliantly. I love Hokas (my new car sticker). Eddie knew the route from here and confidently ran down the hills. I was on such a high and felt so good, surely something was about to go, oh yes indeed and it was about to be my bladder. Could I hold on for another mile or so? Really…weeeeeeeeee… Eddie politely let me go in front (not knowing I wanted the toilet) but directing me from the back. This is the great thing about ultra running. It’s not about beating the person next to you its about beating yourself or your mind and helping others along the way. Ian and Justin were not far behind as my mind was smiling, my head was in the perfect place and my feet were doing the talking, I mean the running.
Quirky little signs near the finish ‘Not far to go’ ‘Kettles on’ ‘One final push’ as Eddie pointed to me the finish – the chimney of the pub that I had started some 9 or so hours ago. Blissfully aware that I had now run over 50 miles I continued through more fields and dodged a donkey who had been tied up to block silly people who like to run 50 miles around Derby, not the final straw… oh now just another 400 metres or so to go as I pushed on.
As I entered a small pathway narrowing to then open up into a larger tarmaced area to my surprise there was an inflatable finish arch which I did not expect. My expectations were that there would be a man with a clipboard and maybe a 9 bar and a cup of water. Instead as I passed over the finish line to a big clap from the Nomad Team. I got told I was ‘first lady’ and overall 3rd. I wasn’t convinced as I knew there were others who had started at 7am who if they came in within the next hour would have been much faster than myself, and that included Eddie and Ian. I was just happy to finish my first ever 50 and to collect 1st Lady at the same time was just an added bonus. Ian took third place with the two guys in 1st and 2nd being the pro ‘Spine’ runners.
I owe huge thanks to the guys at the start of the event who I latched onto and kept a great pace, and to Eddie, Ian and Justin who provided fantastic company for the last 10 miles or so of the event. Ample amounts of home made cake, 9 bars, water, coke, tea and coffee awaited along with a voucher for soup at the pub. You would never get this at the London Marathon would you (Mr Virgin Money Boy). What a brilliant Ultra. The marshals were fantastic, the organisation slick.
Although we got lost a couple of times that makes it part of the fun and adventure. I certainty wouldn’t have expected the route to be marked on an event like this given you can pay up to £200 for an ultra that is fully marked and this was £25. The arrows and ascis tape en route were just an added bonus for me. CP food and drink and support was just spot on. Not to mention the goodie bag containing techy tee, mug, moisturiser, shopping bag (girls only I think?), more 9 bars, supplements and a buff.
Long Eaton RC could teach some other event organisers a thing or two (dare I whisper ‘Sheffield Half Marathon’ anyone?). My only regret is not meeting Becky at Duffield as we were planning on running together. Lesson learned; take mobile phone but leave it switched off with full battery power next time around. (Do you like that ‘next time round’?) And that my lovely people is why I love Ultra running. It’s just a day out, making new friends, challenging yourself and your mind, eating and enjoying. Mad? Maybe? Nomad.
Distance: 50.87 miles
Position: 6th 1st Lady out of 26