Sunday, 18 June 2017

Guernsey Ultra - 36 miles of fun!!

Some races seem like a really good idea when you sign up for them.  In September 2016 a few hardy runners signed up for the GU36 race, it seemed we had a lifetime to prepare!!  Denise Ellis, Mark Aston and I were brave enough to step into the breach.

I had run 40 miles in the past and that hurt, without the cliff steps it hurt, but I knew I could run the distance.  It was to be my 5th ultramarathon in as many months and I knew it would be the hardest to date.

Suddenly it was May!! Days were ticking by very fast and there was only time to taper.  I had run 34 miles recently on the Vale of Glamorgan ultra and had kept up a good level of mileage and speed work up since then.  I could do this!!  I'm sure I could do this!  I'll wing it.

A week or so before I got a message from Tina Vivian, a serious legend in the running club although I know she hates the word, asking that if she can arrange things could she join us to Guernsey to cheer Denise on.  "Of course" I replied and was sworn to secrecy.  Within 24 hours Tina had arranged the ferry, an extra bed in Denise's room and entry to the race - that had been full for months!!

The morning of Friday 19th May I set off to pick up Tina, then on to collect Denise, with Tina hidden in the back seat.  After nearly giving Denise a heart attack we set off for the ferry port in Poole.  Once on the ferry Tina finally spilt the beans that she would be running with Denise during the race.

We arrived in St Peter Port at lunch time on Friday, dropped our bags at the hotel and set off around the island on a little sightseeing and race recce.  The roads are narrow and there are plenty of millionaires driving very big sports cars, buses seem to drive most of their route half on the pavement.

The first thing we noticed as we left the port was the rolling hills.  We drove a few miles and headed towards the cliff parking.  The view was stunning, the cliff steps a little less impressive.   After a few more stops we were fully aware of what was waiting for us on Sunday.

Hills and steps!!!

After a few more stops we headed back to unpack and then out for tea.  The island is impressive but the prices are not for the faint hearted!  Saturday was spent being tourists and doing a recce of the flatter stages of the route.  In the evening we met with Mandy & Mark Aston for the last supper.  Mandy, like Tina, had managed to get a last-minute entry into the race and would be joining Denise, Tina and Mark.

Last Supper

Sunday morning arrived.  The sky was clear and even at 5am the sun was starting to warm the air.  I checked in with Tina and Denise and we made our way down the 6 flights of stairs and headed to the start, about half a mile from the accommodation.

Early Start 
We booked in at the start around 6am and were handed our numbers, a few minutes later Mandy and Mark arrived.  We had a little time to chat before the race brief (keep the sea to your left), we lined up ready and then we were off at 7am on the dot!  A quick hug for good luck with Denise and we headed down the quayside towards the first climb, shaking out the runners on the half mile section.

The few first miles set the tone for the coming 8 miles, steep steps, tree cover and breathtaking views.  Every twist and turn presented new bays and hidden beaches.  It was already warm and heating up quickly.  By 8 miles I was sweated out, I needed to keep drinking to prevent dehydration and overheating as the tree cover cleared and the next 8 miles of cliff steps was under the climbing sun.  The water-only checkpoint at Petit Bot was ideally placed and I soon topped up and started the next climb.

The steps we're too steep and uneven to either run up (or down) at any pace at all so most runners walked the steps and ran to the next flight.  There seemed to be long sections of the climb and decent without looking around, just concentrating on the path ahead.  Finally, the lighthouse came into view meaning we were nearing the end of the cliffs!  Eventually, the path picked its way down, turned into a well-trod track and then onto the road, leading us off the last hill and down to checkpoint 2 at 16 miles near Portelet. 

I changed shoes, buff and vest before topping up my Tailwind and eating a few more tasty morsels.  I had run the cliffs with Beth, from Portsmouth, but she had left the CP while I was changing.  I checked everything over and set off along the long sweeping coastal path with no runners in front or behind.  After a few miles, I could see another runner and passed her as we entered a small housing estate.  For the next 4 or 5 miles I played catch up with other runners until, eventually, I caught up with Beth at around 18 miles and we then ran on together.  Beth's husband was crewing for her and met us with cold Coke between Checkpoint 2 & 3.

View from Checkpoint 2 along the sweeping coastline

I kept up my recent fuelling regime -Tailwind, Torq gels and a new addition, energy balls made by a friends daughter that hit the spot with taste and texture!

We passed long, empty sweeping beaches, acres of abandoned greenhouses and houses/mansions I can only dream about.  At around 25 miles we arrived at Checkpoint 3 and quickly refuelled bottles before heading back out again around Ladies Bay before reaching the smell of Mont Cuet landfill site!!!  On a hot May day the last thing we needed was the smell of rotting landfill, our pace quickened.  Around this point we also passed another runner who looked like an extra in the Living Dead films, somehow he was still moving but neither Beth nor I could work out how.

Entering Checkpoint 3 with Beth

We reached the furthest point North-East (Fort Doyle) before passing Beaucette Marina and heading inland around the Sea Farm and then back on the coastal path until we arrived in St. Sampson.  On the way out of the industrial area we found a small roadside cafe where we downed a bottle of cold water and soaked our heads from a water bowl, not sure what we looked like standing there splashing water over our heads.  We moved on and then was on the final stage, 3 miles of coastal path into Saint Peter Port.

At 34 miles I felt sick, very sick. I need to slow, reduce my heart rate and bring my body temperature down.  I told Beth to go on and watched her slowly disappear around the corner at Queen Elizabeth II Marina, she was on a mission.  After a few minutes of walking I picked up the pace again and before I knew it was passing the finish line.  Beth was waiting there with her husband, she had managed to make 10 minutes between our finish times in the last few miles.

I sat and was handed a cup of Prosecco.  After 3 cups of Prosecco, I no longer ached.  The living dead guy arrived, Beth and I looked at each other "no way!" "how the hell?" were muttered, but we went over to congratulate him.

with Beth at the finish
Also waiting at the end were Mark, who had pulled out at the end of the hill section (Checkpoint 2), and Mandy who pulled out at 26 miles (Checkpoint 3).  They decided to wait for Denise and Tina to finish so I made my way back to the hotel, on slightly wobbly legs, climbed the 6 flights of stairs again, showered, changed and headed back towards the finish.  I met Tina & Denise about half way to the finish, both gleaming and both tired.  We met again for a meal in the evening, however, many of the bars and restaurants were closed due to it being a Sunday in low season.

Monday arrived and our ferry was not due to leave until 5 pm so Tina, Denise and me set off for a recovery sightseeing walk around St Peter Port, stopping for rehydration, before catching the ferry and heading home.

Hydration Monday

Farewell Guernsey, It's been emotional.

A race of two halves!!

Would I do it again?  Hell yea!!  Needs saving up for though.

Below is a couple of excellent videos giving a little more justice to the scenery of the course.

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