The Malvern Hills Ultra is an excellent out and back race covering 26 miles in each direction. My role on this was to guide a group of runners to their goal of around 11 hours, although this didn’t exactly go to plan!
The race had a new start this year and the maps given had not yet been updated. This meant that the first mile was to be led out by a speedy friend of mine, so that all runners found their way onto the course without any trouble. Unfortunately my friend was stuck elsewhere and with 2 minutes to go I was asked to fill in for him! Oh dear! I was given a 10m head start and the hooter sounded whilst I was still trying to set my maps on a hand held Garmin. I legged it in the direction I thought best to make sure the faster runners had a decent start! 🙂 After about 300m my Garmin came to life and I knew I could take them the right way now, so I was pretty relieved!
The problem with doing the first mile in 8 mins meant I was out of synch with my race plan and the 11 hour runners I met during the race briefing. I slowed things down a little and eventually settled into a group of runners and began my tour guide.
The initial 10 miles are relatively easy going and we were well ahead of our target pace. Everyone seemed happy, but with the hills over the next 16 miles, runners began to fade and I was hanging back as much as possible to at least get them to the next check point. We were now at mile 18 and almost all the time we built as a cushion had gone, so I left the CP with a new group to help them over the biggest hill to the turn around point at mile 26. This was extremely tough on the legs and my previous weekends run was now reducing my speed. The view over Malvern was amazing though!
Having lost even more time, I knew it would be tight to get to the turn point in the 5:30 required for an even split. In fact we rolled in after 5:35, so now had to enjoy a quick break, then head back over the hills with a good negative split to finish! Not ideal, but still a possibility.
The return leg meant facing the hills again immediately and my calfs and hamstrings were getting very twitchy. Normally I can get up the hills pretty well, but now it felt my legs were like lead! As soon as the terrain flattened everything was fine and I was able to run freely. Still a possible 11 hour run! 🙂
The next hill had me grind to a halt as I watched the runners I was pacing disappear off into the distance. I was now a pace maker with nobody to pace. I now had a dilemma about what to do. Retire at the next CP? Wait for the next group if runners? ( They would only have to leave me at the next hill). Or carry on hoping the legs would get better or at least sweep up any struggling runners. I couldn’t quit, so I opted for the later and eventually came across a runner with 8 miles to go. He was struggling a little and now mostly walking, but I couldn’t just run on by in the hope of finishing closer to my original 11 hours!
Adapting to my new role, I found that this guy works at Alan Higgs centre as a gym instructor! Of all the runners, I find another from Coventry! 🙂 My new motivation was to help him finish, and if possible sneak in under 12 hours.
Now he didn’t have to navigate, he was able to just focus in hydration and put one foot in front of another. The miles were slowly ticking by and the 12 hour pacer caught us with 2 miles to go. This was it, dig deep or miss out on the sub 12! Luckily we had a good down hill section towards the finish and we pulled out all the stops to get there. One last stile and we were now on the finishing straight, with me keeping him up to date on time and distance to go. You know it’s going to be close when you say 1 minute and the finish line is in sight! We finished! All being well it will be 11:59 and however many seconds! A job well done! 🙂
Whilst disappointed with my overall performance, I can’t help but be happy to have helped a local lad to the finish! Now for a week of rest / recovery before the next event! 🙂
Race Report by Dave Fawkner