Herts Hobble – My First Ultra-Marathon

Two weeks ago I ran the Herts Hobble, my first off-road ultra-marathon. The actual distance was 26.5miles so only just sneaked over the marathon distance but it all counts.

Rather than give a mile by mile account, I will focus on what I did, what I learned, and what I can change this Sunday in the Fairlands Valley Challenge 50k.

1. Pacing

I think I got this nearly bang on actually, thanks to a lot of advice from Nick, John and Kate I was well prepared to run a lot slower than a normal long run. The conditions were not conducive to fast running anyway. The constant mud and various inclines meant it was really hard going. I ran on the flat and downs and walked the ups. I kept a steady pace when I ran too, to conserve energy.

2. Be Prepared

Being an inexperienced ultra-runner, rather than call on experience – I tried to prepare for all the things that would distress me the most. In order these were

  • Getting Lost
  • Falling foul of the weather
  • Running out of energy
  • Dehydration

Many of you will argue no doubt that dehydration is the most important factor, but these were what would distress ME most. I knew I could carry water, I didn’t know if I could run MORE than 26.5miles so getting lost was a big deal.

To this end I made sure I printed out the instructions, I also copied the section of OS map and marked all the grid references that were given so I would know where I was. OK, I then folded the instructions in half to make 3x A5 sheets and laminated them. This meant I was rain proof and didn’t have to keep folding and adjusting the instructions. This proved a good plan when I fell in a foot of water and the instructions got covered – I will repeat it.

The weather was so changeable I had a thermal top, which proved unnecessary and had to tie round my waist, and a raincoat in my backpack. There was rain, but only 10mins so I didn’t use it but it was a comfort knowing it was there.

I had Caffeine gels, and had starved myself of caffeine for 2 weeks to make sure I got the effect, which I did. I also carried 2 or 3 cake bars high in calories. Nick had advised me not to dally in the checkpoints too long so I took them incase there were queues.

I took the Camelbak but only put 1 litre of water in it. Whatever else I did, I promised myself to drink at every station, and keep 1 litre topped up.

I did feel dehydrated towards the end and with hindsight I took no salt, I think I will carry a salty snack for this weekend to stave off cramp and dehydration – possibly mini cheddars or similar.

3. Keep Moving Forward

The first checkpoint proved Nick’s advice to be sound. I got in, got food and water and a quick loo break and was straight outside to get going. The guy I had been running with was studying the map and said he was going to be a few minutes. I didn’t want to cool down, or waste time so we parted ways. I tried to minimise time at the stations and found it helped me mentally.

Whenever I stopped running, rather than berate myself, like in past events I stayed positive and just kept walking at a good pace until ready to run again. This meant I kept a largely steady average of 12min miles or so – which was the overall target. Even when struggling towards the end it was amazing how much ground was covered by simply not stopping!

4. Make friends not competitors!

The whole atmosphere of this event was a breath of fresh air. It never felt like a “race” more of an “event”. The pace we were going at meant conversation was possible and almost essential. Chatting to other participants and drawing on their experience proved invaluable. I first caught up with Noel, who was running his 100th Marathon – and had got lost a little bit. He then selflessly ran with me for the last 18 miles, stopping when I did. This helped so much and helped me realise that much of the joy of these events is actually enjoying the surroundings as opposed to zoning in on the Garmin and the result!

Due to the terrain I was flagging around 13miles, when we were joined by a group of 6 others, all of them members of the 100 club! We tagged along and I largely kept my head down, but joined in the conversation where possible and we all ran/walked together for the next 5 miles when they pushed on a little harder.

It was only 10k to the end by then and Noel and I simply plodded on to the finish, I didn’t really notice the mileage so much and was pleasantly surprised when we neared the finish.

5. Recovery

When it was all done I was shattered, but remembered my recovery plan. I ate anything I could find and sat on the floor with legs straight out to stretch hamstrings while I drank some sugary drinks.

I also had a Protein shake with some Glutamine (for recovery) to help repair muscle damage before the drive home.

Once home it was 12 mins in a cold bath after stretching a bit more (lighlty) then into compression tights for the rest of the day. I slept in them as well.

Following day I felt remarkably good and the day after, because of this I think I will repeat that process on Sunday.

6. Mental Toughness

I was well aware at the end of the race that another 5 miles on top was going to be a big ask, but did feel like I could do it, if no time pressure was added. I think the thing to remember is just to keep going, forget the mileage and take the extra 10seconds or so at each junction to ensure I’m on the right path. A few small delays is a small price to pay to avoid the mental torture of realising I’ve just run 15mins in the wrong direction.

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