Big Bear Challenge – 1.2.18

Race Report by Lou Wilce

Spoiler: I ran my second marathon yesterday. On a Thursday.

Rewind: by some miracle of diaries aligning and a refusal to let Christmas stodge podge takeover, and despite a full agenda of work, parties and piss ups, Lisa and I kept the Ultramarathon training going over the festive season and, by the time January arrived, were up to over half marathon distance on trails. We were chuffed and had learned a lot about maps, shoes, livestock, pissing in the wind….etc.

I remember when I was training for the London Marathon last year remarking on how a half marathon was now a mere training run. Well, yesterday we ran an entire MARATHON in training for our upcoming Ultras. I still cannot believe we did it.

The Big Bear Challenge at Ryton Pools (near Rugby), hosted by Big Bear Events, featured as many 3.3 mile laps of the park as you could manage in 6 hours — meaning there was potential for us to hit Ultramarathon distance. We aimed for 20, just a training run for us budding Ultrabirds, amirite?

The weather was perfect, my favourite running weather, ice cold and sunny. As usual, the first 5k was HARD but we soon got into a rhythm and agreed a ‘run on the flats and downhill, walk up the hills’ rule (catchy).

3 mile laps didn’t sound appealing when I entered the race. But, in reality, it made the day easier. 3 miles of chatting, taking selfies and talking to sheep, with a food stop each lap. Paul and his team of marshals (including his mum and dad) did an amazing job of looking after everybody — there were just 50 runners which made the event feel inclusive and friendly and, because it was out and back laps, you never felt like you were going to be ‘last’ or slower than anybody else. A great format for an event. The food stops were immense. In fact, I only took two energy gels, and instead kept myself going with a cup of full fat coke and handful of salty crisps at each lap (I never fancy sweet stuff). I could get used to this.

Around the 17 mile mark I did start to flag and look forward to the end. My legs were aching and feet felt like they were on fire. However, at this stage we realised we had two hours left and could totally cram in a marathon. Cue a lap of frantic runners maths…each lap was taking around 40 mins, we needed to do three more laps, and start the last one by 3:59pm…argh it was making my head hurt. AND I had only ran as far as 15 miles in my training…and a marathon at this stage was totally off plan. I do not go off plan!

Thankfully Lisa chats as much shit as any bird I have ever met and gave me a much needed (verbal) kick up the backside. “Pack it in with the maths and crack on.” And we did. In fact, we got a second wind in those last three laps, the pressure was off and we knew a marathon distance was ours.

I was once again reminded of how much of a mental game running is. I had my mind set on 20 miles and had to force myself to refocus on the marathon distance at the last minute, which sent me tail spinning for a while. Although my tired legs plodded on, it was my brain that got me through. I thought myself quicker and stronger, and it worked. That and conversation topics which included Veganism, childbirth, intimate shaving disasters (not related to childbirth) and George Michael (we miss him).

Our Massey pals Nicky & Darren had bagged a half marathon each, my jet lagged friend Kim jogged her way to 23 miles, and Cov Way buddy Andrea her first marathon. We thank the no pressure approach from Big Bear for this — I absolutely love the idea of setting your own distance. We chatted to runners who had literally doubled their previous longest ever run — one guy completed 33 miles despite only ever running 14 previously. Love it. What a great day out! The stunning medal, free beer and flapjack, as well as a handwritten note from Paul, the organiser, were a lovely touch too.

So if you are training for your first event, do not forget the importance of friend. A friend that understands your capabilities better than you, and talks a load of old shit, is all the better.

Oh and I knocked 20 mins of my London time, achieving marathon time of 5:35. After London I felt I had been hit by a bus. The day after Big Bear, I ran a two mile recovery run and felt ace. Trails are definitely  the One for me.

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