Impressive Toilets and the Search for the World’s Ugliest Woman
A wise man once told me the world’s ugliest women can be found in Wigan. As I wasn’t qualified to affirm or refute this statement it was with understandable trepidation I travelled to compete in The Orrell OMG 12hr Ultra on December 29th.
The event was a relatively late inclusion in the race calendar and was an unusual date to hold a 12hr race. However it suited me perfectly and gave many people an ideal excuse to escape their families for an entire day during the Christmas period. Although the event was at the arse end of 2013 I approached it the first event of 2014 and was motivated primarily by the prospect of racing the Spartathlon in September. I’d already reached the qualifying standard so my acceptance was dependent on entering fast enough once registration went live.
The Robin Hood: nice toilets.
The race format was very simple: the route was a 1.19 mile anti-clockwise circuit around the roads of Orrell and the idea was to cover as many laps as possible in 12 hours, starting at 9am. The only time I’d previously completed a 12 hour race was at the 2012 Hell on the Humber night race which had consisted of numerous out-and-backs across the Humber Bridge. I ran 72 miles in that event so was determined to go further but didn’t really know what shape I was in. After a lacklustre performance at the Sri Chinmoy 24hr track race in September I’d done lower mileage but had completed most sessions on flat routes at a faster pace. Fartlek and progression runs had been my staple training program for the previous two months so I felt relatively fresh and relaxed.
After a quick course briefing at the Robin Hood pub HQ (which mainly involved the need to keep turning left) all runners were ready for the off, some keen and others clearly not so keen. The event was designed to help Team True Spirit raise funds for injured servicemen and there was a distinct military feel to the event – some of the injured servicemen were competing and it makes you appreciate having two fully functioning legs that some mad, bearded fucker hasn’t blown off.
Topography for each lap (Photo Orrell OMG).
We set off and immediately there was a predictable variety of pacing strategies being used. As there was also a relay event running in tandem it was impossible to know who was doing what so I spent the first few laps relaxing and enjoying the simple fact I was racing. The route was deceptively undulating. The first half was predominantly downhill and there was then a subtle climb around the back of the course until it descended back to the finish. Once we returned to the Robin Hood we entered the car park via the timing mats, passed the aid station and then continued back onto the course for another lap. The route appeared fairly boring on paper but compared to a 24hr track race it was like running naked through a fairground on acid.
I had no pacing strategy, wasn’t using heart rate and didn’t have any idea how many laps I had done. I find that during ultras the best thing is to switch off all distraction and become as relaxed and focused as possible. Because I can feel superhuman one minute and close to tears the next it’s usually more productive (and easier) if I run as I feel at the time.
During the first couple of hours I began lapping a few people and was also passed a few times myself. The aid station was filled with everything I needed but as I felt good I ate and drank almost nothing during this time. I’d done all my long training runs without breakfast, didn’t take any nutrition or fluids and consequently I wasn’t remotely hungry or thirsty at any point during the race.
The forecast had been for a bright, dry day with light winds. I previously had visions of us trudging away though ice and slush in howling winds so I think everyone was relieved when the sun made an appearance. The conditions were perfect and the only part of the course which felt remotely cold was near the finish as we climbed into a slight headwind. The cold weather was playing havoc with my bladder and I found myself visiting the Robin Hood toilets every few laps during the first few hours. The pub was temptingly warm and cosy and I can highly recommend the toilets: very clean, warm and well presented.
Onwards and upwards (Photo Orrell OMG).
It makes sense to mentally separate events into several sections and the Orrell OMG was no exception. I had a very simple plan which evolved slightly during the first couple of hours:
- For the first 1-6 hrs I was going to snack and drink as appropriate, switch my mind off, stay relaxed and tick off the laps as consistently as possible
- During hours 6-10 I was to maintain the consistency and begin using caffeine
- For the final 10-12 hrs the plan was to maintain all off the above, switch the brain on, concentrate and be prepared to suffer
To break up the monotony I also planned a couple of morale boosters during the last few hours:
- At 10.5 hrs I was going to order a pint of real ale from the Robin Hood
- At 11 hrs I had a pair of lightweight shoes to change into
The morale boosters might appear trivial or pointless but it’s surprising how looking forward to an apparently simple occasion can make several hours pass much faster.
As we entered the middle third of the race I began to be more aware of how I felt which is always an ominous development. I expect to have good and bad patches in any race and it’s not uncommon to spend several hours struggling, only to feel stronger than ever in the last quarter of a race. It’s usually more psychological than physical - you’ve covered a long way and you’re not even half way into the race - but I was hoping I would have covered more miles before having to deal with it. There was a brief distraction from the discomfort as runners from the shorter events joined us. There was a 10k, half marathon and marathon starting at various times and I was quite envious as the 10k runners completed their event in the apparent blink of an eye, to then disappear into the warm pub for a Sunday lunch.
As the morning progressed people began emerging from their houses but seemed thankfully indifferent to what we were doing. New runners joined the course as relay team members swapped places, some jogging while others flew past. Many runners seemed to know each other and the event was becoming a very sociable day. I was happily doing my own thing, sticking to my plan and had absolutely no idea how well I was doing.
Map of the course: arrow indicates the Robin Hood (Photo Orrell OMG).
The undulating nature of the course was proving to be very advantageous as it constantly provided a subtle change in muscle recruitment. I find running long distances on the flat harder to maintain than if I’m constantly climbing and descending and the frequent change in gradient was something I really appreciated throughout the event.
At halfway I began using Coke and opened a can of Relentless. I was now in the routine of running three laps and then having a drink, picking a handful of food and then continuing to run as I ate. I’d brought my own supplies so – combined with the nutrition at the aid station - had the choice of gels, cake, chocolate, crisps and fruit salad.
The middle third of the race continued without any drama until I began to feel a hotspot under the ball of my right foot which, considering I’d covered my feet in Vasaline before the event, was a very unwelcome surprise. I usually find hotspots develop into blisters very quickly and the subsequent miles become exponentially harder as a result. To delay the inevitable I stopped for the first time in the race, re-applied the Vasaline and changed socks.
The course became busier as the day progressed. People I’d seen leaving the house in the morning were returning home and we seemed to be trapped in our own time zone as real life passed us by. The only person who seemed remotely interested in us was a dishevelled old man who seemed blissfully confused and happy to talk to anyone at all.
As we entered the final third of the race I began to feel stronger and less aware of the fatigue I was feeling, possibly due to the caffeine and definitely because I knew the majority of the race had been cracked. Another bonus was that for some inexplicable reason the hotspot had settled down so previous thoughts of walking had disappeared and I was now completely focussed on running as hard as I could for the remaining four hours. I still didn’t know my position but was aware that I was gaining places as the miles passed - many people were by now walking and those who were passing me were clearly relay runners.
As darkness arrived we donned our high-viz vests and continued our journey under the streetlights. The temperature had dropped slightly so I added another layer and the routine of running three laps and then fuelling continued without incident. My pace was consistent, I felt great and seemed to be gaining more energy the further I ran. Visits to the toilet were becoming progressively more enjoyable as they provided a brief sanctuary from the cold. The problem was that it was full of people looking very warm and comfortable, all tucking into hot food with a pint of beer.
My first morale booster was scheduled for 10.5hrs into the race and the laps flew by as beer o’clock approached. The aid station volunteers had been very helpful all day so I gave them a fiver, completed another lap and returned to a pint and a half of real ale waiting for me. Whatever anyone ever recommends you to hydrate with is all lies. Nothing refreshes you physically or mentally as effectively as a good beer. Everything immediately felt easier and I stopped for a few gulps every couple of laps for the remainder of the race.
As the race approached the last hour there seemed to be increasingly fewer people on the course. Many people had pulled out but most appeared to have stayed to watch friends still running and the finish area was increasingly lively compared to the rest of the course. My foot was still sore but I’d still somehow managed to avoid blisters developing. The plan was to still swap shoes for the final hour so I stopped for the second time to change into a pair of Saucony Kinvara. They were noticeably lighter but within a minute of running the hotspot suddenly filled with fluid and burst. Hurty feet always guarantee a certain amount of unrelenting misery but as I had less than an hour to run the endorphins, caffeine and alcohol were successfully managing to numb the pain.
It was around this time I first realised where I was in the race. “You’re in second, he’s only just in front”. I didn’t know who it was at first but eventually realised it was Chris Collins, a runner who’d blasted the early miles and I’d previously assumed was a relay runner. He must have slowed considerably later in the race, only to recover to run strongly again in the final hours. I ran the last few laps as quickly as possible to reel Chris in but never saw him at all in the distance. My legs felt surprisingly strong and for the first time during an ultra I felt it was my leg speed and running efficiency which was holding me back rather than fatigue.
As I approached 9pm I completed a lap with a few minutes to spare which meant I could continue around once more, the pace being irrelevant for the final lap. I relaxed and enjoyed my final run around the streets of Orrell, and passed the bewildered old man for the very last time.
Race details here: http://theorrellomg.co.uk/
Team True Spirit details here: http://www.truespirit.org.uk/
I’d felt very strong in the final hours of the race and was pleased with the way my body had reacted during and after the event. I eventually covered 80 miles which a PB and was particularly satisfying, especially when the time of year was taken into consideration. I’d taken on fewer calories than expected so the sessions during the previous months designed to improve fat burning efficiency had clearly been effective.
More importantly I ever saw any particularly ugly women during my 12 hours in Wigan, and the ones involved in the race all seemed very nice. Runcorn, on the other hand, is a very different story…
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Changing to a lighter shoe was a good idea and the Saucony Mirage is a great lightweight shoe that still offers medial support. The 4mm heel drop allows for a smooth, rolling foot strike and for shorter events it would be ideal.
Because it has a relatively firm, responsive midsole it was very unforgiving on hotspots after eleven hours of running so in hindsight I would have used a Brooks Pure Cadence which is softer underfoot.
Salomon Exo Motion baselayer.
As the weather was cold(ish) but dry I used a very basic layering system. I wanted all skin covered and all materials had to be warm against the skin. I didn’t need anything too warm or waterproof. The Salomon long-sleeved Exo Motion top is a fantastic baselayer which is unbelievably stretchy and well fitting. Because it has a woollen feel it doesn’t feel cold against the skin like many other items with a higher Lycra content and was perfect for a December event.
Salomon Fast Wing Vest.
I wore a Salomon Fast Wing gillet as a windproof layer on my torso and it was just thick enough to prevent me feeling any wind chill during the race. If it was any windier I might have used something with a Windstopper front panel.
To avoid having cold, Lycra fabric on my legs I chose my Salomon Momentum II tights. They’re relatively thin and light but have a brushed internal surface which felt warm from the outset. They would be slightly too warm for a spring/autumn event but were perfect for running in December.
All Salomon and Saucony products were supplied by Royles: royles.biz