Okay, I need to come clean at the start, I haven’t actually run an ultra marathon…at least not on my own. But I have finished one.
Last weekend I ran the final (glory) leg of the JW Ultra. A 30 mile trail run with a 3 x 10ish mile relay along the canal tow path from Stratford-upon-Avon to Bournville station in Birmingham. It is held in memory of John Ward, one of the founders of Bournville Harriers Running Club, and has been well supported by my own running club for the last 7 years.
This year there were 5 teams entered from Almost Athletes, I was very much in team five, in fact we were named “Here For The Cake”, with two of the ladies from the club. The idea for me was to experience the JW Ultra, at least in part, with a view to maybe doing the whole thing solo next year.
So firstly, the good stuff… The organisation was fantastic from what I saw. The communication beforehand was superb, given the complexities of a course that covers 30 miles and has several checkpoints the details provided to runners covered everything. The course notes, whilst pretty simple in the main (if you can see the canal you’re not lost!) where there was a need for navigation the instructions were clear and the course well marked. I only experienced checkpoint 2, which was right on the bank of the canal and quite compact, but the atmosphere was great. There was a pub on the opposite bank where many chose to wait for their relay partner to come in, but I stayed at the checkpoint and cheered through all the solo runners and other teams. The marshals at the checkpoint were great and the atmosphere excellent. I was one of the last to see my team mate (which was always going to be the case, we were there for the cake remember) so I got to see the elite ultra runners breeze through as well as those for whom it was a real challenge. As I would definitely be in the latter category when I brave an ultra it was good to see I wouldn’t be alone! My leg was just shy of 10 miles, went by fast and there was a good reception at the finish from my fellow club members. I was handed water and race mementos for my team, JW Ultra branded bum bags containing key rings and chocolate bars.
But I have to say I didn’t particularly enjoy this event. There were only 96 runners on course at any one time, made up of the solos and relay team members, so once I was off and running I barely saw anyone for 10 miles. I passed 3 or 4 solo runners but we weren’t in the same race category so there was no victory in it. I realised early on that I wasn’t going to catch any other team runner and I wouldn’t be caught either, so as a race it was finished long before the line. There was no support along the route, nothing the organisers can do about that, but essentially the race had become a lonely 10 mile run along an unattractive canal. Having recently run the beautiful 17 mile Sharpness-Gloucester canal this one was a disappointment from a aesthetic point of view. Very enclosed, very quite, litter strewn with graffiti covered bridges the only break in the monotony of the view was the mess at the end of city centre gardens that backed on to the water.
I’m glad I experienced the event, and I salute the club that put it on and organise it so well, but it’s not one I will be doing again and certainly won’t be my first ultra next year.