The first Ultra - Waterway 30 race report

The awesome foursome, a name we had been given, had a very early start on Saturday. By 6am we were in the car and on our way to South Wheatley. The car was filled with excitement, and tiredness, and the journey passed rather quickly. After parking the car in the nearby farm we walked over to the village hall to register. Sunlight was beginning to fill the village, and it looked to be a pleasant morning. 

After a race brief we were out on the start line, no nerves just a sense of adventure and the awesome foursome split into two daring duos. The faster two went ahead and me and my friend stayed in the middle. Steady pace given the length of the run ahead, I was aiming for between 10 and 11 minute miles average per mile and set out as such.

The track weaved up and through farmers fields. Very sticky mud under foot, the kind which zaps all energy from you but we persevered and made it to a dirt track. A nice downhill followed by another winding up hill before dropping to the canal path. 5km done and another 8km on the canal path before the first check point. 

I guess the clue was in the title of the race really, Waterway 30, I hadn't really thought about how much water that actually is. Those next 8km seemed to pass rather quickly and comfortably, pace was spot on where I had wanted it to be. Comfortable enough to eat and talk, a nice steady pace. The terrain very slippy in parts, and others very narrow. It became tricky to pass other runners as the path was just too narrow and I was ready for that first checkpoint.

Every checkpoint was incredibly well stocked. I grabbed a few jelly beans, the only thing not vegan friendly, a peanut butter sandwich and a ginger biscuit before heading up the hill ready to get back onto the canal again. The next check point at 24km.

It wasn't long after we left this first checkpoint that I could see the pain spread over my friends face. Whilst he won't admit it I could just tell, the whole body changed and rather a lot of grumpiness occurred. Not one to leave anyone behind we ran and walked the next few miles to the next checkpoint. The canal paths had begun to get monotonous. All the bridges looked exactly the same and I thought I was in some Scooby Doo plot, where the scenery is just repeated. Either that or I was running round in circles. I tried to keep upbeat talking to other runners we passed, kept smiling and realised half way was at check point 2.

Check point 2 was just as well stocked and to be honest it was needed as it was lunch time. A longer stop this time, more food eaten and a toilet break. 4.5km to go to the next checkpoint, not too bad, and a change in scenery as we were now following the river Trent.

Not sure what happened here but all hell broke loose with the weather. Waterproofs on. Wind so strong it felt like you were about to take off any minute. Near impossible to run in and grumpy got more and more grumpy. I made a video call to a friend because I just needed a random chat, and we continued run/walk. I was quite surprised my friend hadn't stopped at checkpoint 2 in all honesty and had got in my head they would stop at checkpoint 3. The scenery wasn't much better either. River Trent on the left, field on the right, mud and grass under foot. The most exciting thing to happen was watching a runner in the distance running the wrong way. Then you realise the runner running the wrong way is your friend you video called not long ago and suddenly things seem a lot better.

The hellish weather and grumpy's very 'happy' mood seemed to get better with someone to chat to for a mile. Was simply lovely to see a friendly face and have some encouragement. The checkpoint soon came and once again I seemed to eat rather a lot.

Another long break and I was surprised that grumpy got up to continue. A few other runners dropped out at this point, 31km [over 19miles] is usually the breaking point for most in marathons so it did not surprise me to see a few retiring from the race. I was still in good spirits, I had no aches or pains and felt good to go. Check point 4 was 10km away and I estimated around 1hr 20 mins to get there.

Following again the River Trent, muddy paths under foot and some fairly long grass too. All energy zapping and the exposed fields seemed to make the wind feel a lot worse. The weather showed no signs of improving, a bit like grumpy and his mood. Onward we went, run/walking. I was looking forward to checkpoint 4 and another sandwich, plus I knew then it was only 10km to home. 

I started chatting to various other runners and had a comment about how fast I can walk. I was still feeling really good. Happy and in all honesty itching to run but having to hold back. Keeping my friend in sight. I arrived at the next checkpoint to be greeted by one of the awesome foursome, who had finished in an amazing time and my friend from the video call. A lovely boost of support. 

Just the final 10km to go now. A welcome change in scenery as we ran on roads through a village, before back onto fields. Oh and then someone decided to put a hill at 45km, my word that was a hill.

The hill was followed by an unpassable boggy path. The kind of knee deep mud that you loose shoes in. After passing this the road turned back to tracks and field. I really wanted to run, but had to resist the urge given my friend was still walking behind. I tried repeatedly to get to run and at one point had to run back as he fell too far behind. I could see the light starting to dip, everything had a soft pinkish glow and whilst beautiful I didn't want to be stuck in a field in the dark. My watch then died. I had now lost route guidance, had no idea on the time or how far left to go.

It seemed to go from just enough light to see to pitch black in the blink of an eye. I grabbed my head torch and shone it behind me. Grumpy was behind me so I continued. Not sure what happened next but the next time I turned round I couldn't see him, a shout returned no response, a headlight flash returned no response and a 5 minute [I got my phone out] search returned no response. I thought I would be less than a mile to the finish so started to jog. Absolutely no idea where I was going as could no longer see markers, or arrows on the floor. I guessed. I saw car headlights at the end of a lane and just ran towards those. I had reached the finish. I started talking to one of the marshals trying to explain I couldn't find my friend and he said they would send someone up the lane. I waited with them for a while, they then remembered they hadn't clicked the timers in their hands and the marshal in the car asked for my number. No sign of grumpy.

I received a message from the other two in our group and tried to message back but had no signal. Instead I jogged to them as they were waiting in the hall to explain I couldn't find him and to see what to do as a group. It was less than a minute away from the finish line. I also knew that the marshal were aware.

Whilst putting together a plan and a general what happened questions grumpy returned. The four were back together and we could go home.

There was warm soup and hot drinks in the village hall, I made the most of this whilst warming back up before we headed back in the car. The journey home was more reflective, thankful we had all finished in one piece.

I've had a few people say 'what a high you must feel' or 'you must be buzzing' but in truth I don't feel any of those. I feel like it was just another training run, in fact not even that. I feel like it was just a day out. I don't really feel like I have achieved anything or done anything out the ordinary. I feel fine physically, no aches or pains, no blisters and no injuries. I don't feel like I pushed myself at all, mentally or physically. I can't describe it how I feel, I really can't. I thought it would feel great to complete my first ultra but I don't feel like I have.

I'd do another ultra in a heart beat and I would certainly do another HOBO Pace event. They had well stocked checkpoints, easy to follow route and excellent marshals. I don't think I would do the Waterway 30 again. Over 32 miles of water is more than enough for me in a lifetime. Too much of the same scenery and far too flat for me, I need a few little hills to vary it up a bit, and that is something I never thought I would say.

On a plus side I do feel much more prepared for the marathons I have later in the year, and I am also even more determined for the 50 mile later in the year. In fact I can't wait to complete it. 

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