On a whim I said “why not, I can always walk with those generous cut offs” when my friend Sara asked if Benen på Ryggen and I wanted to tag along to the UK and do the Jurassic Coast 50K by Climb Southwest. The first 29 km of the race I somewhat regretted not having done my homework better at times but when I had warmed up after 32 km or so and the course turned into an easy stroll rather than a tough step climbing competition I was able to run parts and my body adjusted itself to the situation and I enjoyed myself very much. 49 kilometers and 1600 altitude gain is a pretty darned good ultra-debut.
It started really crappy physically. Since a week my stomach had been bloated, probably from something I ate during our last trip to Manteigas, Portugal to run the Estrela Grande Trail. Everything I ate just got stuck and did not get processed as it should but instead produced tons of gases. I bought some prune juice and fig juice and it got better although it was still not as usual the morning of the start.
My old war injuries were checked by my physio two weeks ago, just before the Estrela and I passed all the muscular reaction tests so even if I have pains sometimes it is nothing that I need to worry very much about but. Of course, I need to keep my head screwed on – not always an easy task on race day.
Packing & Travelling
We booked two ridiculously cheap tickets to Stansted with Ryanair so packing was a challenge for me – flying Ryanair you have to pay a fortune to check in luggage so we settled with the two bags that is included, one small handbag you get to take with you into the cabin and one bag is tagged with a yellow tag and you yourself have to put on the wagons that the drive to the airplane. Somehow, despite everything, I managed to get all things I wanted with me, even an extra pair of shoes that I was not sure if I were to run in or not.
The journey started with me joining my husband at his work for a dinner – since the flight was the last of the day, that was the most practical. At Landvetter Airport s usual getting stuck behind the parking gate after dropping luggage (and me) close to the entrance – Swedavia, if you really needed to remove the drop-off zone why not create a solution that works? If someone out there knows how to drop luggage close to the terminal, please let me know because not a single time have we been to Landvetter Airport without the gates malfunctioning and having to telephone someone to get out!
We had checked in online in advanced, which is a requirement when flying Ryanair unless you want to pay extra and since it was late in the evening security had no line at all and all the shops were starting to close. After a bit of a wait the horrible announcement came – the fight is delayed two hours! Normally two hours is feasible but when two hours takes place around midnight it can be a bit thornier and now the plane we were flying was still on the ground at Stansted!
Since we knew we were going to arrive late at Stansted from the beginning we had booked the Hampton by Hilton just a short walk from the terminal. The hotel was a great place with modern standard, clean rooms, splendid service at all hours, a restaurant, even a bar menu 24/7 if you feel peckish at night. Unfortunately, we did not arrive at the hotel until minutes before they started serving breakfast at 4 a.m. Stansted airport was understaffed and we had to wait nearly two hours for my bag (my husband got to bring his on board even though he had not paid for priority). Apparently, Stansted had had bad weather the day before and several flights had been delayed so when we landed, people from at least ten flights were waiting for their luggage.
Anyway, we got my bag at last and checked in at the hotel, pretended it did not happened and thanked our friend that we were supposed to give a ride the morning after for understanding that that ride would be delayed. Little did we know how delayed… but I’m not going to bother you with stories about getting stuck in London traffic – you all know how exciting that is.
Note to self: It’s probably almost always worth the extra small fee for “Priority line” where you get to carry onboard both your bags, however, rumor has it that Ryanair are to change their luggage policy soon again so who knows?
Accommodation & surroundings
24 hours after our journey started in Gothenburg we parked at The Old Telephone Exchange in Mamhead near Exmouth where the finish line was to be. A pretty and somewhat quirky little cottage that you learn to love as soon as you get it warm. The bed of the main bedroom was a sofa bed, too soft and with a crack and a slope in the middle which made it impossible for me to lie in since it was rather small as well. The sleeping arrangement on the loft (a mattress on the floor) would have been perfect for me hadn’t it been the steep stairs – I’m used to steep stairs from at home but these were different and I didn’t want to push it since I found that the futon in the living room was very nice for me to lie in.
After a good night’s sleep and half a day of chilling we drove to Starcross and took the ferry to Exmouth to see our friend Sara, exchange some equipment, eat and do some shopping. The ferry runs only summertime and not at low tide, and despite what Google says it took only 15 minutes.
We all had burgers at the Ocean (top floor) and frankly, they were a terrible disappointment. The first bite of the burger I tasted the bitter burnt taste and flipped it over, only to see it was totally black – a thick crust of charcoal. I was too tired to complain and settled with cutting off the brunt side from the burger and enjoying my great company (who also got burnt burgers). After an exchange of equipment, we did some quick shopping at Boots in Exmouth city and then took the ferry back. The Spar grocery store in Starcross proved to be totally the wrong choice but we had stocked enough to get us breakfast and just wanted to get some eggs and orange juice – the did not have fresh eggs, only boiled, and the orange juice had artificial sweetener, there is no justification for a product like that, yikes!
Race Equipment & preparation
We’re lucky! The weather forecast the last week has been promising for a person like me who like it warm and cozy. UK is like the west coast of Sweden with a lot of rain and unpredictable weather but the last couple of weeks all of Sweden has been having over 25 degrees C and it’s been really nice. I’m really not sure if I would have managed this race under different circumstances, such as heavy raining for hours and hours, but that was not the case and I packed and dressed for a hike/run in 18 degrees C with the possibilities of a bit chilly in the evening if I take more than 12 hours to finish or if it starts raining a little bit. Most people would not have that much on but I’m really not that kind of person – I like being warm and rather too hot than even the slightest chilly on a day like this.
Here’s an excerpt of my packing list with all the stuff I had with me during the race – -items marked with an asterisk are listed as mandatory in the race manual, items marked ^ are not listed in there as mandatory but should have been:
- Buff with visor*
- Bliz, sports sun glasses
- Bra, Nike
- Fusion tank top
- CompresSport long sleeved*
- Goretex jacket (Sara’s)*
- Norröna insulation vest*
- Ultimate Direction vest (8,4 l)*
- 5 l bladder sports drink*
- Whistle (Sara’s) *
- Soft cup (125 ml)
- Mobile phone & spare mobile*
- Wallet with ID ^
- 20£ cash *
- Dauer compression bandage ^
- Rescue blanket*
- Energy, bars, gels, fruits & nuts*
- Wet napkins
- Pain relief pills
- Wound dressings*
- Racebelt (did not use)
- Bib (on left leg) ^
- North Face new 3/4 tights
- Injinji woolen socks
- Inov-8 X-talon 200 stl 38 (the new ones)*
- Sportslick on feet (evening before)
- No sunscreen (buff to cover neck)
To the Registration
The coach to the start in Lyme Regis departed from a parking in Exmouth at 5:45 a.m. We drove there by car and parked at a nearby parking at first. However, since Swedish phones cannot install the parking app it would have been wise to have brought coins for the parking meter. However, after a long registration process on an automatic telephone payment system we discovered that you could only park there long enough so we moved to the parking where the bus was standing which was a long-stay car park. We used the pay-by-phone option again and we haven’t seen any ticket yet so I guess it worked.
The bus departed just a few minutes behind schedule but with the start at 8 o’clock there was really no rush. A 30 minute or so drive later we got to Lyme Regis.
Note to self: Stop using race vest as back support on bus – it doesn’t matter how well closed and secure the bladder is, it will leak. Not much, but it will.
A short walk from where the bus stopped in Lyme Regis, registration took place at the Lyme Regis football club house. Inside was a few toilets but the line was not too slow. The parking held a public toilet as well if you could spare the time for the short walk.
Unfortunately, probably since my husband and I registered late, our names were not on the printed lists but that was sorted out and we got our bibs and T-shirts. During the wait for the bib I ate my oats and worried about my stomach not being fit for fight.
Here we also shared space with the people that had been running for some time already, probably the 100 km runners. Some looked tired, others not.
Lyme Regis – Seaton (0-11.8 km)
At 7:45 a short briefing was held and at nearly 8:02 we were off! Down some steps. I had read about there being a lot of steps, I couldn’t imagine at this point in time how many, and how dreadfully tired I would become of these, sometimes very tricky, steps.
The first 29 km was mentally horrendous very big parts. But wait! If you managed to read this far, don’t give up – I promise you a miraculous turning and a super-strong finish, I just need my stomach to understand that this is serious, we’re doing this no matter what and it’s not OK not processing what I eat. My stomach does not hurt but it feels weird and I am a bit light headed – since I have my husband as co-driver this lovely day I let him know my status.
After working our way down to the water and a stroll along the road beside the beach we start the first climb into the woods after a little less than 1.5 km. We work our way through such a lush vegetation – already at this point I’m not really convinced we’re in the UK, it feels more like a jungle with all the ferns and exotic plants! The shade from the trees makes it a perfect temperature for me and the tricky paths with mud and steps makes me slow though. Not much altitude gain right now but a bit up and down and after 8 or 9 km we get to one of those more demanding climbs there will be so many of this day. Up up up to the top and crossing a golf course and then down again to the first aid station just before the entrance into Seaton – some water and coke and off we go!
Seaton – Branscome (11.8-18.9 km)
Up and down, up and down, we work our way forward on Beer road, over Beer Hill leading to, lo and behold, Beer! From now on the scenery will shift back to more of the typical Jurassic Coast scenery, white breathtaking cliffs, misty heaths and some steep parts that poor me did not really like. But first some heaths and ice-cream!
Before we know it, we spot Branscome and I run down the hill singing “The hills are alive” from Sound of Music. No one but my husband seems remotely entertained by that but I don’t care – I even forget that I actually am supposed to consider whether or not I am to quit or not. It’s almost like that never was an option but 15 km ago it was. I lie down in the grass with a cup of mango sorbet and enjoy the heavy green beaming grass in front of me, the seaside, the people. Maybe, I think, I can make it to Sidmouth where there’s soup and some more stuff to eat.
Branscome – Sidmouth (18.9-29.5 km)
One of the organization, or perhaps participant’s support, shows us through the right gate onto the path gain – there are three ones so that was much apricated. The Southwest Coast Path is marked with an acorn and sometimes yellow arrows but the yellow arrows also marks beautiful detours and viewpoints in a way that we cannot understand so having the route in our gadgets (as recommended) is really handy, no make that absolutely necessary, because we need to check rather often not to take the wrong path.
Up, down, up, down. Steps, steps, up, down. I’m starting to get a bit annoyed with the steps. They soil in between the steps have sunken so there’s nowhere to put your foot going down them so I end up going down like and 90-year-old. There are still some very steep hills left but after Sidmouth it will be much easier and only two. Up, down, up, down.
Close to Sidmouth I realize my stomach has improved. It’s not bloated anymore, in fact it’s nice, flat and soft – imagine that I would be happy for a flubbery tummy :D.
At the aid station we get help filling our bladders by the lovely volunteers. I dunked two cups of water and some other drinks I do not know what they were. I lie down on the sofa and ponder my status while eating some crisps and drinking coffee. At this point I feel like I might as well continue to the next station since we’re nowhere near the cutoffs or the sun setting. So, after a good 40-minute rest, we continue!
Sidmouth – Budleigh Salterton (29.5 – 40.4 km)
On our way out from Sidmouth there is a lot of people, some cheer, some just watch and wonder. It’s fun to suddenly be in the middle of all these people chilling, having ice-cream, eating fish and chips, strolling along the beach on a sunny afternoon.
Not long after the aid station is the second last real climb – I do not know that but I complain a bit so my husband is kind enough to inform me and that really makes my courage take a leap although my legs have no intention of ever leaping again they say. Up and down, up and down, and then we stay down a bit on rolling hills and I’m actually sort of running, not fast but running!
After jogging/walking a while I’m feeling as if I actually will finish. I’m really certain now that I will – the only thing that will stop me, I say to my husband, is if I break an arm in a fall or something but that seem highly unlikely since I’m really cautious and walk the tricky bits (i.e. the frickin’ steps). Closing in on the aid station in Budleigh Salterton you see the town from upon the hill but to get there you need to pass the River Otter and that requires an extra 2 km around Lower Otter Valley to get around the river – it appears to be a splendid area for bird watching and enjoying other wild life.
At the aid station this wonderful caring couple makes us feel like kings and queens and when Queen Anne Mari cannot get up from the grass where she laid down she got help getting up and further on to the beach houses of Budleigh Salterton where our aid station heroes informed us there were toilets. They were not the cleanest of toilets but I always carry wet napkins and sterile napkins so that was not a big issue. Now I really started to feel strong – what a remarkable feeling! The first 20 km my body felt like it would not last for another kilometer but now everything is gone, all aches and pains are somewhere else. On top of this boost our friend Sara called and said she had finished – super-boost!
Budleigh Salterton – Exmouth (40.4 – 49 km)
Ooops, what was that in my pinky toe? My shoes are not quite worn in enough so the left one is a bit too tight in the front. My worn in shoes have a too worn sole so I chose the new ones so I have felt a bit of a pressure on the sides of my left foot. I’m really not sure what it is. After assessing the situation and sensation I rule out all catastrophes (but I assure you the where considered) and decided it was a blister that burst. The sting subsided after five minutes and then I was sure.
So close now. Really psyched and happy I run very slowly as much as I can. Too steep up-hills I cannot really run but it’s so flat now that’s not a problem but I’m tired and have to walk at times because of that. Through the last bit of nature now before we enter Exmouth, still so green, still so much to see. So beautiful.
The Southwest Coast Path signs the last bit are totally messed up regarding distance to Exmouth. On one it says 2 ½ miles and then after that a sign saying “Exmouth 3 miles” appears. We follow our gadgets and ignore the signs. That aside, we actually move forward and we pass another golf club, gorgeous heaths and… a holiday caravan park full of people playing with their kids and an odd runner with a bib. Some more of those lush green pastures that never tire the eye, I could just lie down and this could just be a dream – the overweight woman who was doomed with pains refused to be thrown to garbage, started exercising, lost 44 pounds and 10 years later (after having been told running was dangerous) found this angel of a physio that discovered what was wrong and helped her fix it and 8 years further down the lane she finished an ultra… No than cannot be? It seems so unlikely. Yet, here I am, I’m 2 km from the finish-line of my first marathon and my first ultra.
With only 1,6 left I dipped a bit when I saw how far away the finish was. Far? My goodness, woman! You’ve been out for 11 hours and 48 km and you think 1.6 km is far? Get a grip. Look at all those drunk people and start running! And I did. I picked up the pace as much as I dared and kept it. I was so in my own bubble I barely heard my hubbies cheering – it seemed as if his voice was miles away. I closed my mouth and breathed through my nose. That is how I do it on very long distances when I’m not sure how much energy I have left, I close my mouth and run as fast as possible and still be able to breath enough through my nose only.
I’m closing in faster and faster and suddenly more people appear everywhere, kids on bikes, drunk people, I’m started to worried that I will not be able to avoid a collision but tired enough to let that though go. Some fifty meters from the finish-line someone met up and told me how to turn to the finish upon the grass. At last. I reached out for my darling’s hand and felt our joy blend as we passed the finish-line, applauds, cheering and that long awaited medal.
I AM ULTRA!
Lying in the grass afterwards I felt some cramps and soreness but nothing bad. I inspected my feet and the suspected blister on the pinky was there but looked clean and ok – woolen toe-socks really rocks, I have never gotten blisters before in them and now that it happened the blister was kept in place and did not get worse with any bleeding at all and I think that it might be thanks to the toe compartments of the socks.
I was thinking, maybe, since I was able to pick up the pace so incredibly the last 1.5 km that I could have gone a bit faster. At 4 a.m. in the morning after when I still wasn’t able to sleep from the pain in my muscles I was sure that was not the case. I did go outside my comfort zone, I even passed my ability zone a bit.
I did not get much sleep but that did not matter because in the morning after 4 hours of sleep I felt ok. I realized that I had forgotten to take my Glycine/Magnesium/Zink-evening drink that usually help when my legs won’t shut up but that was too late now and I did get a few hours of sleep, that’s what counts.