Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Ham & Lyme 50K

                                         (At the registration area in Ham Hill Country park)

            There's a lot to say about this race but i'll try and keep it as brief as I can.
First of all, I wasn't sure about entering. I wanted to do a 100K race but then I was having trouble trying to find any accommodation close to the race and then I saw the course profile and the crazy amount of elevation that the route had. Sadly though, the 50K had already sold out and is limited to 100 runners.
I messaged the race director who I had heard of as I had read his book previously in the year and could really relate with his story. You should give it a read, it's called "Everything will work out in the long run" and is by Dave Urwin and can be purchased from this website... Albion running.

    Anyway, Dave said he may be able to squeeze me into the 50K event if I didn't need the coach back to the start at Ham hill. He even helped out with places for me to stay. I felt bad about hassling him but he was always so nice and willing to help. Finding accommodation anywhere was almost impossible though. Even Yeovil was fully booked! In the end I was just looking at google maps and typing in name places to google for pubs and B&B's that may not be on Booking.com. I randomly emailed a few places and left it at that. This race looked like it wasn't going to happen because of its location and the fact that I don't drive and have to rely on public transport.

                                (North Sub-Hamdon, what a lovely little, peaceful hamlet)

      I was surprised to get an email back confirming that I had somewhere to stay for 2 nights in a place called North sub-hamdon. I think it was a mile to walk to the start from here maybe? Anyway, I say yes and then realised that I only wanted to do the 50K. I messaged Dave again and paid for the 50K and then I got an email for the B&B saying that they can't do Friday night and only Saturday night but I could stay at another B&B on the Friday and they had already sorted it out for me. Now, I felt bad as I had to email back and say that I only wanted the Friday night but thank you for sorting that out for me. I then emailed the other B&B to confirm my stay. Eventually all was good! All I had to do now was work out my journey there and back. The race starts in Ham hill country park in Somerset (Somewhere outside of Yeovil) and finished in Lyme Regis in Dorset. Because the race was on a Saturday, public transport would be possible.... just about.

              (I gave myself a brief tour of North sub-hamdon before heading to the pub to carb load)

       I finally managed to work out some travel arrangements and took half a day off work to do so. I would get a return train ticket to Axminster but get off at Yeovil Junction. Walk along a really dangerous main road with no paths for 2 miles and then get on a number 81 bus. The driver seemed to know everyone on the bus, except for me of course. The driver said he would shout out when I was at my destination. I was chatting away to some local skateboarders on the bus for the journey. They seemed quite new to it but could tell how passionate they were about it. We exchanged different skateboarding stories and then it was time to get off.
  I got to my B&B which was a farmhouse with a heated pool and a lovely couple who made me feel very welcome. They were so nice in fact that they offered to cook me breakfast at 7am, even though breakfast didn't officially start until 7.30am and then they offered to drive me up to the start of my race! These people were amazing and i'm hoping to send them a thank you card and stay there again for the race next year too. Yes! I'm doing it again!. What race? I hear you say.

                           (Dave gives us a great speech at the start to send us on our way)

       I pick up my race number along with a little card with my name and a photo on it. I open it, and it reads: "Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up".  Followed by; "Dear Dean Jones, best wishes for the race! Albion running, Ham & Lyme 2015". I'm glad I didn't get this at the end of the race as I probably would have cried. it was the most wonderful thing and I was very touched by it. They were all handwritten as well which made it more personal too.

   I then bump into Mark Glanville who is a fellow running club buddy from Southampton. He was doing it with a friend. I think it was both their first time doing an ultra but knew Mark wouldn't have any problems as he later proved when he finished 6th in the 50K and his buddy finished 4th! Incredible stuff indeed. We chatted, I take a few pics and watched a bird of prey hover over the top of the hill. Dave soon gives his speech at the start and we are off. 9am on the dot. We ran a loop around the park and some cool looking stones which look ancient but I did my research in my B&B as I read a book about the history of Ham hill and its famous quarry and found out that they were finally finished in the year 2000 ;)

             (It's a bad pic of the stones, but felt a bit weird taking photos so early on in the race)

        The route from Ham hill to Lyme regis follows a 28 mile walkway called "The Liberty Trail" or so I thought anyway. There was a loop at the start to make up some extra mileage. We then headed into woodland. We were given written instructions, I had written down my own notes as well and I also had a gpx file on my garmin to follow. I knew the notes would stay in my hydration pack unless I got really lost and isolated from the other runners. After running on some trails we came to a nice downhill road section. I love downhill, so flew past people on the way down. The problem was that I didn't know where to go when I got to the bottom, so waited for the people behind to instruct me. I thought we just followed the yellow arrows but this wasn't to be the case as people were calling me and telling me I was going the wrong way. I was actually feeling a bit frustrated now and my watch wasn't programed how I liked it because of the gpx file. My watch was vibrating every couple of minutes and was recording in those horrible kilometres. Aaaaaargggggggh!!!!

                                       (Field after field with different views to take in)

       My frustration seemed to subside as I got lost with other people but between us we were able to work through it and solve these minor problems. I was using my gpx file which wasn't always on course for some reason and another read the written directions which seemed to work really well. (I think I will be running with them in my hand next year). We also looked out for Black and Yellow tape on trees, gates, stiles etc.. but these weren't always so obvious. In one field there were about 10 of us lost and we worked as a team by running to different areas of the field until someone had found the Black and Yellow tape. On one occasion, I had found the tape and was super pleased with myself as I called the rest of the runners over. I was having such a great adventure and meeting some wonderful people along the way. We joked and shared various running stories as we ran the wrong way through stinging nettles and got chased by cows.

                                                     (One of the earlier aid stations)

       I think we were lucky with the weather as I was really worried about the sun beating down upon me. I had got heat exhaustion on a couple of trail marathons before so was well prepared with suntan lotion, a hat, plenty of water and a flannel for my forehead if I needed it to get my temperature down.
It sure was humid and I was sweating an awful lot but the sun was obscured by clouds for a lot of my race. I was thinking about the aid stations where I could refuel and eat. I liked to use these as my milestones. I had brought my own food as they said the aid stations would be minimal. They lied though ;) There was everything you could ever want. Coke, squash, plenty of water to refill my bottles, cocktail sausages, watermelon, Jaffa cakes, malt loaf, jelly babies etc.. If this was the generation game, I would totally lose as there were so many food items but I can't remember many of them. Anyway, I was very impressed with what they had put on for us and the marshals were great and very helpful.

     ( I can't remember the names of any places but this was on the Liberty trail somewhere near a farm)

         I had written down names of places so I could try and work out where I was running to or from. This didn't really apply here though as there was very little road or road signs. There were few landmarks as well but the course was still incredible. It's quite difficult for me to describe really. I guess you just had to be there and experience it. You'll know what I mean when you do it next year though.
  I met a guy from Newton Abbot who I walked up a big hill with while we exchanged a story or too.
I ran with some guys who were running the 100k. That's to Lyme regis and then all the way back to Ham hill. Mental! I ran with this one guy from Chippenham. We seemed to stay together quite a lot and worked well as a team with directions etc.. He even waited for me at one of the aid stations as I ate pizza. He was doing the 100k, it was his first one and he wanted a sub 12 finish and I wanted a sub 6 finish for the 50K. It was safe to say that we had both underestimated the difficulty of this course and neither of us made our times. I now know this as no-one finished the 100k in under 12 hours! And the winning time on the 50k was 4 hours 46 and 48 secs.

                                               (Another climb, but not the biggest one)

         I was worried about how big the hills were but it didn't seem that bad for the first 15 miles to be honest, but things would soon change and despite this, my legs were already starting to ache. I had hardly eaten anything at the first aid station, which is very unlike me. I promised the guy I was running with at the time that I would fuel up when we got to the aid station at the Church. My calves were starting to cramp a bit too. Losing too much salt probably. He pointed to the crisps which I ate, followed by salted peanuts and pretzels while I refilled my water bottles and drank more coke. Coke is the best thing ever on ultras. As long as it's flat, which is was :)

                                (This awesome guy kept me going right until the end)

        I remember getting to this massive hill. It climbed and it climbed and my calves were saying No Dean, No. It was a gravel track or road and we knew at the top of this hill was another aid station at Lambert's castle. We saw a marshal at the top of the road but no aid station. She points us in a direction through the woods and encourages us to continue and says we are nearly there. It pretty much climbed twice as much and I was using my hands on my knees to propel myself up this mountain. Through a gate and then upon a grassy hill we had arrived. The marshal took my water bottles and offered to refill them. I even got one of them filled with orange squash, but could have had blackcurrant if I wanted to. I was overwhelmed with these acts of kindness.

                                          (An epic climb up towards Lambert's castle)

       After this I think we went onto a road and we had a nice little bit of downhill to enjoy. This didn't last long though as it climbed high again but the views were stunning and as we were promised, we were able to finally see the sea. This was an amazing thing to witness and take in. The next few miles I spoke to another runner who had just fallen down a rabbit hole, he was from Portishead and was telling me how he was going to get 4 cans of cider and sit in the sea at the finish. His vision had now become my dream too. I was already feeling the cold water on my burning feet. How nice it'll be to get these smelly shoes and socks off. I could even cool down those burning hamstrings.

                  (This dude was taking down our numbers, another dude refilled my bottles for me)

        The whole account of this may be a bit jumbled as I am remembering stuff as I type but so far I think it's all in order. Many off us had got lost a fair bit. Once, I followed some people through chest high stinging nettles, only to realise it was the wrong way and had to run back through them again. Another time was when we saw some runners running back towards us by a farm. We hadn't missed the turning by much though. Then, just before the last aid station which was manned by Dave's lovely parents, we ended up in a woodland bit and had to get down this really steep bank whilst holding onto a very rickety fence covered in barbed wire. I told everyone to be very careful as I knew a slip here would be quite painful. I'm blaming this on a farmer telling us to go that way. He must have be laughing all the way home.

                                                (We were soon able to the see the sea)

          Anyway, after spending a lovely time with the race director's parents. We had to cross this very busy road and I was kind of fearing for my life here as the traffic whizzed by but in a short space of time a marshal was able to direct us across the road without any of the cars doing 100mph. This is where someone says... "Well, we shouldn't get lost again now as we're nearly there". It didn't take long though. We ran through someone's garden which was part of the Jubilee trail (I hope) and while I was contemplating punching this punch bag in the garden that was hanging from someone's tree, everyone else had run on. I followed them and thought it best not to mess with other people's property. The hedges became really overgrown now and when I looked at my gpx it looked like we were off course. This became really evident as I was now nearly crawling under the bushes which turned out to be thorny ones and my hands were now bleeding. We continued anyway and turned right and soon enough we got back onto the course once again.

                                         (You could see hundreds of fields from here)

       So, I had been lost quite a few times. This really wasn't that unusual for me. Hence the name of my blog. I was now thinking that I was going to run somewhere between 30 and 35 miles. I really wasn't quite sure but I have done enough trail marathons and ultras to know that you should never take the distance as a given. I like to add on at least 5 miles for getting lost and the difficulty of trying to accurately measure the distance of a trail route.
I had just passed the 6 hour mark, so I wasn't getting my sub 6 today but it really didn't matter. I was nearly finished and I don't think anyone really cared about the route into Lyme regis as runners were just keen to finish. It was lovely to see crowds of people again as we had spent a lot of the day in fields and on isolated tracks. We finished by coming down a set of steps, which I now know was the wrong way but I just followed the others in front of me. I discovered this as I was cheering in other runners on the balcony of a pub with my well deserved pint of cold, refreshing cider.

                                                             (The finish at Lyme regis)

        So, I came into the finish with the guy from Chippenham who had kept me going to the end. The crowds were cheering us in as we ran with the coast on our right hand side. It was an amazing feeling as we came in and I was very relieved not to have entered the 100k like my buddy who had just got me here. I was exhausted here and he had to do it all again yet! Crazy. I thanked him and wished him the best of luck for his return journey.
I also remember watching the lead runner in the 100k coming back as we were still running to Lyme regis. He was barely sweating, he was smiling away and he was high fiving us all. That's ultra running for ya!

                                   (Sat with my feet in the sea drinking Minestrone soup)

     Dave greeted me as I finished and asked how the course was. In my current state, all I could say was "Hard". Probably not the most useful feedback he got that day. I got a magnificent medal, some very refreshing fizzy lemonade and the most amazing soup - Right, when I first read that we would get soup at the end of this race, my first thoughts were... Who the hell wants hot soup in the middle of summer after running 50K? It just didn't seem right. I asked for some soup and said that half a cup would do. (They were big cups). Like any long distance race, I didn't really know what I was doing with myself as I wondered around aimlessly in a daze.
In the end, I ended up sitting with my feet in the sea and drinking my soup. This soup was the best soup that I had ever had and was now gutted that I only got half a cup.

                                                   (Not too much over 31 miles in the end)

          I sat around for a bit and nearly went for a massage but got talked into going to the pub instead by the guy from Portishead who fell down the rabbit hole and David the guy from Barcelona who had lived in Ilfracombe for a long time. We drank cider and cheered the other runners who were finishing or turning around. It was then time for some chips which I ate on the number X31 to Axminster to everyone's annoyance and then a train to Salisbury and back to Southampton. What an adventurous day and a wonderful experience I had had. You just can't beat it.
Later on I found out that I had come 25th too, which was much better than I thought. I'll be back for my sub 6 next year.

                          (I even bought a couple of photos from the official photographers)

                                      (The photographers were friendly and encouraging too)


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