Wednesday, 8 May 2013

XNRG's The Pony Express report & ramble

“Curiouser and curiouser.” ― Lewis Carroll

Wow, that weekend absolutely flew by! But, I had such an amazing time. I don’t even know where to start... so I guess I’ll start with Friday. Although, not too much to say about Friday. I granny napped a lot, ate a lot and sweated a lot; the second coach was like a sauna/ would make good heat training...

I guess I travelled a lot & surprised myself that it went so smoothly, since, as usual I seemed to have packed everything and the kitchen sink and I have no idea why or what I had in my huge travelling rucksack, but it weighed a tonne! I made my way down south, way down south to Winchester and a train and two coaches later I arrived.

Earlier in the day, on route to Chester in the morning and on the way to the coach stop, it felt like a bit of a mission with my heavy rucksack and already, it was starting to feel like the beginnings of a warm day. So, I headed to one of the only coffee shops open *cough – Starbucks* and ate lots of food, drank some strong coffee and spread the word about ultras to some inquisitive baristas. Funnily enough, the day before in Chester, whilst in upandrunning, I also had a rather lovely, long conversation with the lady who worked in there about ultras and she actually seemed positive that she might do one in the future, yey!

I only entered XNRG’s Pony Express last Tuesday and I was really excited to do it. It’s been far too long since I’ve done a multi-day ultra and I have really missed it. I guess for those that knew me in 2010/11, during ‘mad-marathon-let’s-get-to-one-hundred’ mode, you’ll know that I used to do a lot of doubles and things, of various combinations. My weekends were never dull and I loved the adventure of seeing new places and having a big catch-up with all the usual suspects (although, my weekends haven’t been dull lately, but only because of a certain someone...) And this was mine and George’s first event together :-) and I met the parents, so lots of exciting things. Although, I was incredibly nervous about all of these exciting things, but everything went lovely *sigh of relief*.

Day 1


CP 1 - Yew Tree Heath Car park (7.9 miles)

CP 2 – Setley Cross Roads (16.1 miles)

CP 3 – End of Disused Railway (23.5 miles)

Finish – Moyles Court School (30 miles)

I got up really early and tried to organise myself. But, even though I’m not the most enthusiastic morning person in the world, I was excited for this, so I was okay. I still had lots of coffee though :-) and we had coffee in the car when we got to the start and I had my chocolate covered coffee-bean supplier with me ;-) I’m surprised I wasn’t bouncing off the walls. So, after we arrived, which was very on time and early (such a rarity for me, I have to savour it), I picked up my number and registered. I get so used to people calling me Liz, I sometimes forget my full name is Elizabeth, so it’s always amusing when they write Elizabeth on the front of my race number.

So, we were off and I was running at quite a good pace. However, I did feel pretty warm straight away. I’ve never run in the New Forest before and it’s such a novelty to see horses just roaming around everywhere. Although, I must admit that I was a bit scared of the mention of free-range cows and bulls ha-ha.

Reaching CP1, I was so thirsty and so warm. I downed lots of Ribena and filled up my bottle with Ribena. I normally take little bottles of coke with me on these things, but I didn’t this time. Ribena definitely helped though :-) And there was the usual array of haribo, pretzels and little bits of cut-up sandwiches. I also had some brazil nuts which I found really easy to eat and I had a packet of pickled onion space invaders...

When I woke up on Saturday morning it was pretty drizzly, but by this point in the day it was beginning to get quite warm and a little bit sunny.

On both days we ran on a mixture of cycling paths, a bit of road, forest tracks & more rocky and pebbly terrain. I wasn’t so keen on the wider cycling paths or the disused railway line. I really liked the more higgledy-piggledy paths. However, on Day 1, I did go flying whilst navigating my way through some trees/ uneven ground. I stumbled on the uneven rutted ground and then sort of tripped I think. I knew I was going to fall, but I couldn’t stop myself, so I just kind of sprawled my arms out. It was all good though and I only bruised and scratched my knees a little, but nothing major. And I looked like a proper mucky trail runner *roaaar*. It’s not a proper ultra-run without a bit of dirt, right?! I cleaned up my hands in a nice cold stream a little bit further on.

In the last 10 miles the terrain became a little hillier and stonier, so I just walked those and had fun running down them. I also had a close encounter with some rather big cows in the latter stages. I reached a stream and there were three massive cows stood in the middle of the path. I had a bit of a girly scaredy-cat moment and was happy that there were some blokes just ahead of me. I decided the best way past them was to go to the right of the path and jump off a little bit of raised ground into the stream. My feet got rather wet, but it was really refreshing, if not a little bit sloshy.

I wasn’t wearing my Garmin on this, because I need to send it off to get repaired, so I was just wearing my ordinary sports watch. However, I wasn’t too concerned with time and after having fallen over in the first bit, I was very conscious of not injuring myself for the GUCR which is fast approaching. 

Therefore, because I was guesstimating where I was and how far away the finish was, it was a really nice surprise to see an XNRG sign out of the blue...and even nicer that we ran past a little stream and an ice cream van up the road to the finish (this would later prove a nice recovery ice-cream)! Running into the finish, it was lovely to see super-George, who ran awesome and had finished some time ago. I managed to scrape into the finish, just under the six hour mark, which I was pretty happy with considering I wasn’t really trying, well, considering I was just trying not to get injured! In fact, I think that might be a 30mile PB for me; not fast, but nice.

Afterwards, I had a rather lovely shower, got changed and me and George wandered down to the lovely cold stream and got a 99 ice cream with a flake and I had an ice-bath paddle in the stream with a king Charles spaniel. Speaking of doggies, there was this lovely little black springer spaniel wearing blue goggles that was there all weekend with its runner owners...I think it had some sort of sensitivity to UV light, and she was such a gorgeous little dog...we nicknamed her ‘doggles’ :-)

Day 2


CP 1 – Cadman’s Pool Car Park (10.7 miles)

CP 2 – Woods Corner (16.7 miles)

CP 3 – Wilverley Plain (21.7 miles)

Finish – Brockenhurst (30 miles)

I woke up in a bit of a grumpy, sleepy mood. I know these events are notorious for snoring runner blokes, so I had brought my ear plugs with me, but nothing would drown out the snoring. And there was a particularly loud snorer sleeping near to us. I don’t know what it is about snoring. I think I can sleep pretty well in a lot of different places and it doesn’t have to be a really quiet place either. However, snoring just really grates on me. I think it has something to do with the fact that they’re blissfully asleep and dreaming away, but because of them I am’s sort of mean haha. Okay, I’ll put my soapbox away now...

I was pretty hungry and off to breakfast we went. I have to say, it was a pretty amazing breakfast with lots of bacon, sausages and hash browns. However, I don’t think I left enough time to digest it properly, even though I really needed it, because my stomach was majorly rumbling. As such, I felt pretty uncomfortable and had some bad indigestion for around the first 10 miles of Day 2. This made me feel pretty sluggish and rubbish and I definitely found it hard to get going.

It was very warm on Sunday. It was proper tan line weather and I now have some awesomely silly tan lines to show for this ;-) It also struck me just how amazing the landscape was on Day 2. It was lovely on the Saturday, but on Sunday I felt like I was in Jurassic park or something (minus the dinosaur’s ha-ha). The landscape was so vast, with random horses and cows roaming about and because it was such a toasty day, with sandy, stony paths, it almost felt like I wasn’t in England at all, but it some far away land.

I felt a little isolated on Day 2. I started at 8am, a lot of people had started at 7am and all the super speedy runners (George) who eventually overtook me, all started at 9am. So, I really didn’t see many people. I overtook some of the earlier ones a couple of hours in, then the speedsters overtook and then I was pretty much on my own. At some points, it was nice to see others because even though the route instructions were absolutely spot-on, there were a couple of points on Sunday that I was unsure of. 

There was one point after CP2 where we had to cross this huge plain of grass at a certain angle in order to pick up the red and white tape and other markings, before taking one of the paths up ahead. However, there was absolutely no-one around at this point and I started to doubt that I was going the correct way. I even started speaking to myself, like the crazy mad person I am sometimes... I looked around me and I couldn’t see anyone down any of the other paths, so I kept moving forwards on the track I was on. It was actually quite funny thinking about it. By this point it was really, really hot and I could feel the back on my legs starting to burn, along with my shoulders and neck. Fortunately, I was on the right track and as I looked on the floor to my right, I saw a fluorescent green arrow and mouthed ‘yes!’ to myself! And onwards I went.

In the last 10 miles, it didn’t feel so isolated because there were so many families out and about. It was such a lovely day and there were people cycling about everywhere. This was both a good and a bad thing. It certainly kept me on my toes, but I was constantly dodging bikes and little children. Also, I was feeling a bit paranoid over how I looked, since the day before I had run past a toddler who asked her mum, rather loudly: ‘Mummy, was that a man?’ I can see the funny side :-), but I was also thinking ‘Omg, I must look like shit!’ So, every time I ran past a little child on Sunday, I kept anticipating ‘man comments’. And I’m pretty sure I looked more man-ish on Sunday, since it was so hot, I was a bit frazzled, sleepy and dehydrated.

In the last two miles, I came across another runner who funnily enough had ‘saved’ me form a big crowd on horses at the beginning of the day. This was nice, because like the confusing bit after the last CP, we had to run at a certain angle through a big plain of grass and it took me a while to pick up route markings. It wasn’t long until we picked up the final markers and just one road crossing later; we were running towards that finish line! Yey!

It was so lovely to finish, but now I wish I was out there again. I’ve definitely gotten the bug back. I love this. And George ran so amazingly well, but I’m not surprised he did – he’s a brilliant runner. Overall, he finished 4th and 3rd male and I’m really proud of him.

Afterwards, it was so nice to get back and have a lovely shower and de-man-ify! And then we went out and had a lovely meal, with lots of recovery Guinness of course!

Overall, I had an awesome weekend, with lovely crazy runner people. Another brilliant event from XNRG. So, now I’ve done all of their multi-stage ultras, well, apart from their new Cotswold’s Way ultra, but we’ll see, next year...

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