Never under estimate a race, no matter how many times you may have run the distance! I went into the Ultimate Trails 110km (UT110) thinking I knew I could do the distance without too much difficulty after having completed both of the Ultra Trail World Tour series races; Transgrancanaria (125km with 8,500m ascent) and Transvulcania (73.3km with 8,000m ascent) earlier this year. Whilst I didn’t under estimate the race as such I honestly thought there was nothing to worry about distance wise and that it would just be a matter of how fast I could get through it. Half way through though I had a humility check as I started to doubt whether I could actually go the distance. It was time to dig deep, real deep…
The UT110 is billed as a tough and challenging course taking in the Lake District views of surprisingly 5 lakes and hiking 6 mountain passes with a chunky 4,200m ascent/descent, starting and finishing in Ambleside. If you’re into UTMB points it’s worth 3 to finish – The clue is no doubt in the UTMB points, they don’t hand them out easily and the race definitely lives up to the expectation.
Registration opened Friday 2pm and I was keen to get this out of the way quickly so I could spend the afternoon relaxing. The kit check was thorough but quick and smooth and I was through in about 15mins. With the race starting just after midnight (so essentially late Friday night) and a compulsory race briefing at 8pm it was difficult to relax completely and get any real sleep. Good news is the organisers listened to feedback and this will be changed for next year so you can sleep all afternoon. As it was I enjoyed a late lunch and got a few hours ‘rest’, attended the briefing, before heading back to bed for an hour and half before race start.
It was an unusual start in the fact that no-one wanted to be toeing the line first, so everyone was hanging back being rather shy which is very unusual in a race like this as normally everyone is vying for the front line so hence I have ended up in most starting photos as I was right up there. A quick catch up with a few runners I knew also doing the race, Euan McGrath and Gemma Game, along with meeting a few new faces, quick wishes of luck and we were off into the darkness of Ambleside village streets running past the pubs with the local drinkers shouting out to us before we ascended into our first climb on the trails. My Black Diamond torch really let me down from the start and I just couldn’t see a thing and as most of the paths were single track and once a runner tucked in behind you it was even worse as then my shadow became a complete black spot for me. I took 2 tumbles before the first checkpoint and busted my knee open, nothing serious, but the lack of light meant I was seriously slow for the first 4 hours until first light. I was also struggling with stomach issues, I felt nauseous for the first 6 hours of the race but I continued on to CP3 at Bampton and tried to eat some warm food but this was already 35km into the race so not ideal.
Things started to look up a bit before Bampton however as the sun was coming up after descending Nan Bield Pass around Haweswater which was absolutely breathtaking and of course I could start to see where I was running so at this point I started to round up some runners again which boosted my confidence. I pushed through knowing that I would be seeing Dion in a couple of hours who was going to be at CP5 at Catstycam Outdoors in Glenridding. I was feeling pretty good when I got to Dion, I think knowing that he would be there spurred me on. He was there waiting, along with one of the event marshals I knew Alexa, both offering me all sorts of food & drink, along with a couple of pork pies. I managed to wash down a pork pie with some coke and with my energy back up headed back off after a few minutes.
The climbs were unrelenting and after here I caught up with Cass and Rhys, a couple from down south I had been playing cat and mouse with for the last 7 hours and we hooked up through a couple more checkpoints using our witty banter to keep each other motivated. There was a bit of death march going on into CP7 but we pushed on with the thought of pizza at this CP to welcome us…..alas we were very disappointed as they had run out! We were in the top 70 runners of the 110km group and the 55km race group hadn’t even started yet! If you’ve ever been in this situation you will appreciate how spirit crushing this was (again the organisers have taken this feedback on board as we weren’t the only ones to miss out to ensure they are better prepared for next year, I might just have to go back for the pizza) and I made do with Dion’s supply of Mars milk, crisps and bacon strips. I lost my new friends at the CP as I headed off before they were ready and didn’t see them again but they did finish!
I still wasn’t taking on enough food which was very apparent as I struggled up the final climb of Stake pass heading towards Stickleback Tavern, the last CP but I was relieved to see some real food with hot chips and fresh sandwiches. I wolfed down half of a chicken, bacon and mayo sandwich, 2 big glasses of coke, half a mars milk with a load of skittles; topped up my pockets with more skittles for the final 12km stretch, put in my headphones for some music and changed into some fresh socks and shoes as I was getting a bit of trench foot from all the bogs and got told by Dion to get a move on if I wanted to get in to the finish in time for dinner!
The food hit me and I ran the rest of the way to the finish, it was much flatter and even some lovely downhill stretches too and I was passing loads of runners that had previously passed me. I think I did the last stretch in just over an hour surprising Dion by coming in just before 6pm with a total time of 17h 48mins! And definitely in time for dinner! My initial goal had been 19hrs, revised to a very optimistic target of 15hrs so to come in under 18hrs was pretty good going. My final results had me in 75th place overall out of 194 finishers (about 194 DNF’s) and 10th female out of 42 female finishers. With another 110km planned with very similar ascents in October, The North Face Cappadocia, it was a good bench mark and of course a good reality check and wake up call to get the training back underway after quite a number of weeks of taking it too easy and letting my eating and drinking habits slide back into bad habits.
All in all a fantastic route, absolutely stunning scenery with brutal climbs to really test your strength in a safe environment with a well organised and supported event. It goes to show you don’t need to go far from your front door, for those of us in the UK, for a brutal course that will test the most hardened athlete.
You definitely need Pure Grit & determination to finish this one off!
2 x Ultimate Direction soft flasks (420ml each)
Lululemon pace setter skort (commando)
Brooks Pure Grit shoes – For the first 98km, worked well through the trail, bogs and scree, not so good on wet rock
New Balance Leadville shoes – changed into these for the last 12km as my Brooks were saturated!