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Saturday, 15 April 2017

50mile L2MUltra run from Liverpool to Manchester ~ 9 hours 59 mins 58 Seconds!! (& £741 raised for Macmillan Cancer Research)

L2MUltra Route
The need to continue to try and push my boundaries and see what I can achieve lead me to take on the challenge of an Ultra Marathon.

An ultra is loosely defined as anything over the standard 26.2 miles but this run caught my eye as being a great candidate for a first ultra run with it's relatively flat topography. Once again I was joined by my mate & adventure challenge partner in crime, Dave McDonald, who true to previous form, decided to join me on this having never done any real distance running... Not that you'd ever know! (Dave and I have previously done the #3PeaksByBike and also canoed, cycled and hiked coast to coast across the Great Glen in Scotland).

Dave McD and myself at a pre dawn start line
Ultra runs generally take place over undulating trails and hills, with runners usually choosing a slower than normal running pace, walking up hills or very technical sections, running on the flat sections and doing a mixture of both on the descents.

A friend who ran this race last year told me that the trouble with the L2MUltra route was that you can in fact run it all as it's pan flat! So we needed a strategy! After much research, and trials on our own training runs, we adopted a 25 minute run / 5 minute walk strategy which seemed to leave something in the legs as our long runs got in to the upper 20 mile regions. We also invested in specialist running back packs with hydration and nutrition pockets and space for the runs 'essential items' of waterproof jacket, head torch, map and space blanket, as well as room for gels, etc.

We did a bike reccie of the route a few weeks before hand which was great to know what to expect but was quite hard cycling in itself! Our training runs took us respectively to around 30 miles (never thought I'd see the day where I went on a 30 mile training run!?), with lots of 20+ mile runs and 10 mile runs becoming bizarrely easy!?

Despite that, we knew that once past 30 miles we'd be in unchartered territory with 20 miles to go and would have to undoubtedly dig deep to finish this. These sort of things are often 80% training and 20% bloody mindedness on the day just not to give up!

The Mersey with Runcorn Bridge in the background
The run was organised by GBUltras with the route following the Trans Pennine Trail from Aintree in Liverpool to Didsbury in Manchester following a mix of disused railway line trails and paths along the Mersey, Manchester Ship Canal and some other canals and small towns.

We both stayed over in Liverpool the night before the race (Dave with his family and me in a local hotel) and were up at 4:15am for a 5:30am race briefing and a 6am start. The chilly air was soon lost and we were removing layers before we got to the first 6 mile checkpoint.

We tried not to think about the race being 50 miles, instead breaking it into two 25/5 run/walk repeats roughly between each pit stop (with a pit stop every 6 to 7 miles). The pit stops were well stocked and the atmosphere at the stops and with the runners on route friendly and very supportive!

The first 10 miles was done before we knew it, and maintaining a 5mph pace 20 miles was also soon done and saw us on the banks of the Mersey

As we passed under the M6 Thelwall viaduct we tipped the 30 mile mark... The next checkpoint at around 32 miles was were the going got really tough! Psychologically knowing there was another 18 miles to go (even when trying not to think about it) was a big hurdle to get over but we pushed on quietly and without much chat on our 25/5 pacing strategy.

We kept leap frogging the same groups of runners and I think generally everyone was in much the same frame of mind at this point of being tired but battling on.

The mood picked up as we got near Sale Water park and tipped the 40 mile mark! After that we were in single figure remaining miles and once again on the picturesque banks of the Mersey and around Chorlton Water Park.

Sprint finish!
Finally we got to a trail within site of the finishing line with our watches showing around 9 hours 53 minutes!? Unbelievably we were in with a very unexpected chance of coming in under 10 hours!?

As we got into the car park we were told we had to do a 'lap of honour' around the Rugby pitches!?! Thoughts of a sub 10 hour finish ebbed away but as we rounded the final bend with little more than 100m or so to the finish our watches clicked from 9:58 to 9:59! What could we do but muster a sprint finish!! Crossed the line with a whole 2 seconds to spare and a feeling of massive elation!

Finish line bling!
From setting off on my first 10km just under 10 years ago, I never dreamt it possible I'd be able to run an Ultra Marathon of 50 miles!? It just shows what can be achieved with a bit of training and a lot of determination!

I'm now proud to add Ultra Runner to my list of achievements... But not sure where this will take me next!? :-)