I got to Marylebone station an hour before my train, but was soon joined by fellow runners, with half a dozen of us taking the train up to Wendover. It was great to chat with these more experienced folk and hear many amusing (and sometimes frankly worrying/disturbing) tales from other ultra events. The rain lashed against the windows for most of the journey, but fortunately had passed over by the time we arrived at the start.
We had a quick briefing from the organiser, then set off shortly after 9am. The course was cross country to begin with, including hills, fields and a variety of types of mud (thick and sticky being the worst). There were rocky, rootsy trails and foot drenching puddles/streams. Oh, and many, many gates and stiles. It felt great! Up to the first two checkpoints I was feeling a little under pressure to stay with the group of 8 or so runners that I was in the midst of, mainly because some of the navigation was quite tough and it took several of us suggesting opposite directions before choosing the correct route. If I'd had to read the maps alone, I'd probably still be out on the course now! But I ran comfortably at the same pace as them so was able to enjoy the views.
After the second checkpoint (at 18 miles), the group spread out a little and soon I paired off with Richie, an Australian guy, ahead of the others. We ran together for the remainder of the course. It was a relief to reach the Grand Union Canal as the rest of the race followed the towpath, meaning that navigation was no longer an issue. Also, the terrain was far easier, it being a flat track. There was a short diversion where the towpath was closed, so we had to run through the busy streets of Southall (not an area I plan to make a repeat visit to). Otherwise the miles just flowed by along the canal.
Jim cycled out to meet me at the checkpoint at 34 miles. I was feeling good - possibly better than him, since he'd just ridden along the bumpy towpath on his road bicycle. We had thought that as I was going to finish in the dark, it would be safer with him riding alongside me, but it turned out that there was a policy of pairing up runners near the end so that no one would run that section alone anyway. So after a quick chat, he made his way back home and Richie and I continued to jog along. We took a few short walking breaks, but I was surprised by how few and how short - we actually jogged the vast majority of the course. It was great to reach the final checkpoint knowing that we had just 10K to go - about an hour of jogging at the pace we were moseying at by this stage.
Before the event I had no real idea how long it would take. I figured I'd be disappointed if it was over 10 hours, but under 9 hours might be unrealistically fast. So I was really chuffed to finish before 6pm in 8 hours, 46 minutes and 33 seconds.
This morning I was admittedly a little stiff and achy at first, so I went out for a gentle 4 mile jog (9:11 min per mile pace) and feel much better for it. Plus I did that alternating hot/cold shower thing on my legs which felt like it might be doing some good.
And if this first experience is anything to go by, I really like ultra running! Good thing too as I already had the 'Tring 2 Town' 40 mile ultra booked for 1st February...