Ultra Crazy

Go Veggies have gone ultra crazy lately. Jenna G, Steve C and Mick W have all pushed their endurance capabilities to the bonkers end of insane in three truly character-testing gruellers.

The Bullock Smithy

For reasons of officialdom, and accordingly promoted as a long-distance hiking event, the Bullock Smithy is really a fearsomely tough fell race that relentlessly grinds competitors down over 56, yes… 56 miles of the truly horrendous climbs, descents and leg-snapping underfoot conditions of Derbyshire’s celebrated Peak District. Jenna G and Mick W decided to risk their ability to walk in later life and - with a genuine and entirely justifiable fear of the unknown - took to the start line.

It bears a pause to think about the true difficulty of such an arduous event. For many, a marathon on fairly level ground is an event too far. A marathon over the fells of the Peak District is an altogether different prospect - we’re indisputably talking about a serious endurance effort. So, imagine doing such a marathon, then - without even pausing to stretch out - doing another; then - for good measure -sticking another four miles on top of that; oh, and also battling the difficulties of navigation throughout the course of the night. This kind of stuff breaks people.

Even for stick-thin ultra-endurance racers who permanently bear the ‘gaunt and haunted’ look, and who have decades of fell experience, this is serious stuff. To be kind, Mick was pretty under-prepared for this kind of mega-effort with only a couple of years of high-peaks racing experience under his belt. In contrast, Jenna, in spite of being a very natural runner, was - by any measure - impossibly under-prepared. With parkruns, PECOs, Trunces and similar short / hard efforts underpinning her running experience, something like the Bullock Smithy - according to conventional wisdom - should be impossible. Luckily, Jenna doesn’t ‘do’ conventional.

It’s fair to say that both suffered unimaginably during one full day and night of sheer purgatory but against all odds - and some very dark patches - both succeeded. Mick finished in 17 hours and 49minutes Jenna finished literally just behind in 17 hours and 54 minutes. Mick did incredibly well but Jenna’s achievement was simply astonishing: perhaps the GV performance of 2017.

The Chorley 6-Hour Road Race

Meanwhile, Steve C, in a genuine test of mental as well as physical endurance, put sanity on hold and took on the Chorley 6-Hour Road Race. This event is based in Astley Park (in Chorley) and never leaves it. In fact, it hardly even threatens the park’s boundaries at all: because the full six hour race loop measures only 732 metres (under half a mile). Competitors were released from their responsible adult at 10.00am and were expected to run round-and-round-and-round-and round that very same loop, non-stop, until 4.00pm that afternoon.

As if that wasn’t enough, the day itself was wet and windy and the track muddy from works being done to install pipes right in the middle of the course.

Steve reported:

“I suppose that something over 1100 feet of climbing in 48km wouldn't be that surprising on most runs but I had rather expected the park equivalent of a genuine running track. Predictably I had a bad 90 minutes in the middle of it which blew away my chances of the 55km or so I'd been hoping for and I just scraped the 30 miles. Best news was that the prizes were done in alcohol with the winners getting vodka, the placers wine and the rest of us a couple of bottles of ale. A parkrun, but not as we know it.”

Steve has now been made aware it’s possible to skip the totally unnecessary six hour precursor and simply buy a bottle of decent ale from a supermarket for about £1.50

The White Rose Ultra

Is what it says, an ultra in the White Rose county of Yorkshire - just. The course is based in the (very lumpy) Pennines right to the west of the county and, at times, runs perilously close to the boundary with the permanently wet and grey side of the hills. Two GVs turned up to face the relentless hills: a relatively fresh Mick W and an injured Steve C; still sporting numerous muscle tears and a generally broken body from his 6-hour Chorley trackathon.

Steve, in spite of being held together with KT tape and quite literally reduced to a hobble in the very first 100 yards of the 30 mile effort, knuckled down, fought the pain and - incredibly - succeeded in making the distance.

Mick recounts his own personal experience:

“During idle chit chat with a fellow parkrun regular whilst awaiting the start of our local 5k I was informed of an upcoming event that he had already entered, but which I’d never heard of: the White Rose Ultra. Apparently you have the choice of entering a 30, 60 or 100 mile version of the race based around the same 30-mileloop, mostly off road and always hilly. Intrigued by what I’d heard and needing to know more, a quick search online whilst recovering from the parkrun effort revealed that with only a few remaining weeks before the event I was faced with a tough decision. It turned out that from midnight that very night, the few remaining places were more expensive. I wasn’t trained for, and had no intention of running, an ultra and - after all - my curiosity was really only driven by a desire to see what my fellow park runner had entered. But, faced with the screen and panicked at the thought of a remaining place costing more the next day, the Yorkshire tight-arse in me took over and unable to fight four decades of socialisation I hit the payment button. A confirmation e-mailed pinged back almost immediately and then the realisation sank in… what on earth have I just done? The immediate horror was soon put to one side - I’d saved a tenner, that’s what I’d done!

With a much needed requirement to get up to ultra distance fitness from my 5Ks of a weekly parkrun, plus a curiosity to see the course I convinced my bro that a steady recce would help maintain his out of tri-season fitness. Blind-sided with the promise of a free lunch, he was in and a date was duly set. On the day and with only fifteen miles of the recce run (the first half of the course), I was completely spent and couldn't comprehend having to do the same again, especially as the second half of the course profile looks even harder. Not to worry, there was still two and a half weeks to go, one of which was completely taken up by a family holiday away… oh crap.

The start came all too soon and the first half of the course was a familiar retrace of the recce with no surprises. My plan was to stick to the similar ‘steady’ pacing we’d knocked out a couple of weeks before knowing that today was double the distance. Unmanned water stations were alternated with full on feed stations with a vast array of goodies that any ultra runner could wish for - right down to the flat ‘roller cola’. I took nothing; I was, after all, ‘only’ doing the 30 miler and had come fully prepared with ‘Tailwind’ and a Snicker (see pic for motivational confectionary message). I hit the halfway mark a full 20 minutes ahead of the race plan and, although secretly proud of the swift pace, knew that it was likely a drastic mistake regarding the second half. It was.

The northern half of the loop started with an immediate and incredibly steep road climb that for me was unrunnable. I shamefully walked, eating chocolate! The climbing continued but eased enough for me to adopt a run/walk strategy to the top which seemed to go on forever. I wrongly assumed that the finish would be essentially downhill. It wasn't, and any opportunity to include more climbing whilst winding back to the finish had been cruelly incorporated by the course planners. I felt for the 60 and 100 mile competitors who had a further 1, or 2 plus, more laps to do respectively.

I crossed the finish line to a welcome cheer and applause, collected my finisher T-shirt and medal and was pointed to some food, the marshal asking:

“Would you like some free chilli or soup?”
“Yes please, I’m from Yorkshire. Do you have anything vegetarian?”
“It’s all vegetarian”.

Now, that was a result.”

For the 30.08 mile course incorporating a height gain of 4544 ft Mick’s finishing time was 5:21:03 and his overall position was 34/202. A truly impressive performance.

Jenna and Mick still in Bullock Smithy denial

Mick and Steve C mustering for The White Rose Ultra

Mick smashing the White Rose Ultra

Judgementally sneering confectionary