Thakeni Marston-Browns Ultra X 125 Race Report
Ultra X England 125 – A multistage Ultra event over 2 days…my first ever Ultra with >4,000m of elevation (bearing in mind East Anglia is flat as a pancake!).
I had been due to compete at Almere long distance this September as an age grouper and it was going to be my first ever Ironman which I was super excited for and I had been training since March. Of course, due to COVID this was cancelled, as was my consequent entry Mallorca 70.3 So really needed something to train for, some kind of purpose, especially as my husband Dave hasn’t been around since starting army training back in May and not being allowed home due to COVID. Ultra X England presented itself as a cool event that was actually going ahead in spite of COVID and I just decided why the heck not!
Friday before the race I rocked up at the event campsite and got set up, I’d already bagged all my race food up and labelled it in the days before (Ultra X require you to label your race number in case you litter which risks a DQ – part of their sustainability policy). I’d even placed it all in my bag in order of which I would need to eat it and set little calendar reminders to flash up on my watch and tell me what items I needed to eat every 20 minutes– my friend Kim came up with the idea of the alerts and what a help it was!
Saturday – day 1 of the race and 75km. I was set off just before 7am carrying my nutrition for the day - a whole multitude of items because I’m a dietitian so of course I had to go full hog in this area. For anyone that’s interested/might find it helpful, this was some of my planning:
4 x jelly babies, 1 x gel
1 x cereal bar + 2 x clif blocks
1/2 P&J sandwich + pencils x3 + gel
Salted peanuts & raisins + gel + soreen
Waffle + crisps
1/2 Vegemite sandwich + 4 x jelly babies + millionaires
Gel + flapjacks + cliff bloks
Munch bar + jelly babies + flapjacks
P & J sandwich + Cliff bloks
Caffeine gel + millionaires + crisps
Clif bar + clif bloks
Vegemite Sandwich + clif bloks + waffle
Mini flap jack + cliff bloks + pencils
4 x Jelly babies, 1 x gel
1 x cereal bar + 2 x clif blocks
1/2 P&J sandwich + pencils + gel
Salted peanuts & raisins + waffle
Clif bar + clif bloks + crisps
Vegemite sandwich + jelly babies x 4 + gel
Salted nuts + munch bar + clif bloks
Pencils + flapjacks + crisps…leftovers
Of course I didn’t 100% stick to this as you do need to listen to your body – what you feel like, what you can tolerate at the time and also I had to adjust the timing according to when it was easiest to eat on course, for example when I wasn’t running ideally or if I was walking and the incline or decline wasn't too great. I also picked foods I know I like and mixed it up as much as possible with sweet and salty. I found the vegemite sandwiches really good for this. My aim was to get around 50g CHO per hour or as close to as possible. I also took electrolyte solutions and some salt tablets. I could have used energy drinks of some kind but I don’t tolerate these well and prefer water so I stuck to using my food for energy and drink for hydration only.
Back to the race…I started off about 4th or 5th from last in terms of timings as we were set off with a minute or so between us for social distancing and according to the estimated finishing times we gave (I said 21 hours overall). The first checkpoint was only about 6km from the start but we had a big hill to tackle straight away (at least it looked big to me at the time because I didn’t yet know what laid ahead!) actually when I think about it now, that section was mostly downhill! The second checkpoint was 15km away from there and this actually was up a massive hill/mountain – Jacob’s Ladder to be precise. I was fortunate enough to spend this 2-3-hour section running with a newfound friend Katherine whom I met literally on that section. We chatted and it definitely helped to pass time, especially as a lot of walking was involved for a good hour or so and the wind was INSANE! Luckily, we were treated with views at the time but still the wind was buffeting so much that it was hard to stay on course (and not lose your hat).
We were both very relieved to reach CP2 and that’s where we parted with me being ready slightly earlier, I set off ahead and actually spent the rest of the day running by myself besides a few brief periods of chatting to people as I passed/they passed.
Of course, I found it hard and there were points where I had niggles – for example a hot spot on my toe around CP4 but after getting patched up by one of the medical crew I had no more issues with it at all (amazing!). The views around Derwent water were incredible and anywhere with water to run alongside just makes me so happy. There were also some very technical bits – a really varied course!
I stopped and took a lot of photos and videos and messaged people along the way – BTC support was awesome! Slowly but surely the checkpoints ticked by and I went past the cut off with plenty of time spare and was then faced with a GIGANTIC climb which honestly felt like it went on forever – probably one of the more challenging bits of my day.
Eventually I got to the top and had some descending to reach CP6. At this point they said I had 17km to do and this is actually where I really felt like I started ‘racing’. After a while I lady competitor who’d made a wrong turn and realised that I had more energy than she did as I was able to run up a hill despite previously having been walking up most of the inclines. I got a bit competitive and thought…hang on, I might actually be able to take myself up a place here. I kept running and was into a nice rhythm but the next thing I knew…the flags were gone!? (the course was marked with little red flags every 40m) I had been religiously looking out for these the whole way, particularly after several people earlier in the day had told me that they went wrong and lost time (including the woman I’d just passed). Immediately I started to worry because I hadn’t downloaded the GPX files onto my watch (I just figured it would confuse me more), but luckily another runner came running back my way as he was confused too. We were then also caught up by the woman I’d just passed – typical! After a bit of wandering round together we found our way back to some flags and in a little town and after a few more wrong turns we were back on course. I ran with the chap for a while (sadly can’t remember his name) and chatted which again was lovely but then I decided I wanted to hurry up and finish, so I ran up the next hill whilst he walked.
I carried on mostly running until the final CP and got a little extra buzz of energy from the crew there as they buoyed me on and encouraged me. Unfortunately it was a bit more of a trek still as the final section was mostly uphill (mountain) and so it took quite a while to do the next 8 or so km but I was in good spirits despite reaching my limits with taking food on board (just 2 jelly babies in that hour).
I FINALLY ran over a hilltop and could see a road crossing ahead which I believed was pretty much near the end, and I could see the campsite in the distance. I kept running along the sloping driveway that led in (its probably about 400m long but feels about 40000000). Some of the crew cheered me on along the way and also, I think it was just before this that the awesome photographer got this great shot.
Day 1 complete in a little under 12 hours – bang on my target and amazingly I found out I was 5th female!! I couldn’t believe it as I didn’t think I had passed many people. I went straight to my tent to get my electrolyte drink and some snacks then to the massage tent and got my legs looked at as I’d had a lot of inner ankle pain (normal for me on long runs) and also some knee pain (not normal). The osteopath was amazing, and she sorted me right out, telling me to come back in the morning for some taping to my knee if I wanted. I then ate more (a dehydrated meal of macaroni cheese) cleaned up my feet and got as warm as I could. I chatted to a few other runners about the day but generally kept myself to myself as I was super focused on getting a good night’s sleep. I felt a bit fluey as a result of the strain of the day and so I had a vitamin C tablet to make myself feel better (I like the taste anyway) and kept well hydrated. I took earplugs and a woolly hat (the two best things I took to help me sleep well).
Day 2: I woke up feeling reasonably fresh having had a better night’s sleep than I had expected, no longer fluey either and actually hungry for breakfast unlike the previous day when the nerves had made that difficult. I headed off to get my knee strapped up straight away before the crew got too busy, had breakfast and headed to have my blistered toe re-taped as well. I was set off as a middle of the pack starter this time based on my result the day before, I think it was around 7:45ish and I started alongside another lady that I knew was top 3 from day 1. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her and I was very wary of over egging it too early so just kept her in my sights for a bit. The first couple of km to CP1 were all downhill – amazing! Very unexpected (I didn’t really look at the route beforehand as I wanted to be surprised) so the first stint was over very quickly, then the climbing began! CP2 to 3 took rather a long time but I did chat to a few people and in particular one gent, Jakub who I had some lovely conversations with going up a big climb. Annoyingly I found myself on my own for a while at a very inconvenient point where there ended up being no flags for a good couple hundred meters (later transpired an angry farmer had removed them). I called my aunt and uncle to help track me and find the course and also was caught back up by another runner I’d passed and we found our way back on course (I really didn’t want to get lost as I knew I had a shot of finishing top 5 still). We made it top CP3 and after another water refill I set off again, this time with the reassurance from my aunt and uncle that they would check on my progress every 10 minutes and call me if I went off track – brilliant! (Ironically, I had no further issues with lack of flags).
I didn’t take many photos on day 2 simply because the course was pretty technical in places, either very steep, boggy, slippy etc and I didn’t want to risk an injury, especially close to the end. Again, the checkpoints went by and as I entered the second half, I did struggle a bit with some blister pain (my other foot this time) of course I kept stubbing it on things to make matters worse, but generally otherwise I felt ok. I was definitely not 100% with it the whole time though as at one point I was passed by a runner actually running up a big hill - he surprised me as I didn’t think there was anyone very near either in-front or behind and I couldn’t imagine how he was actually running up that seriously steep incline at this point in the race, needless to say it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise he was a day 2 only 50km runner – the lead one to be precise. The 2nd place runner and also 3rd/4th/5th /6th and 7th (including 1st lady) of the 50km also passed but I don’t think there were any others.
After being cheered along by quite a few hikers I eventually made it to CP4 – one more left!!! It began with a flat section for a couple hundred metres and then swiftly turned into a long, long, long, long hill. It was at this point that I hit a bit of a low – I’d been pretty cheerful for most of the race so far, I think mostly because as difficult as it was, there wasn’t a huge time pressure, the sun was out for most of it, the views were awesome, I had lots of messages of support and I wanted to be there! However, my issue at this point was a very sore left hip which hurt more on the uphill’s and on every footstep. I took some paracetamol and kept eating to keep my energy levels up and slogged it up to the top (the first top). Two lads then caught me up – Guy & Ben, I’d seen them before on the course and we chatted for a bit about the hills that seemed to never truly summit, and we kept thinking we were doing the ‘last incline’. I didn’t think I’d be able to stick with them and for a few minutes I was certain I’d have to get my leg looked at in CP5. BUT somehow good conversation and energized moral made it kind of go away and I was really just enjoying having company. We kept going together until CP5 and I was determined to stay with them until the end as it was definitely boosting my pace. We re-filled and swiftly moved on for the final leg, we ran when we could but mostly marched and eventually, WE COULD SEE THE CAMPSITE! Oh boy what a beautiful sight. The 3 of us ran it in together and it was great to have company for the post finish pizza, a really great way to end it all, especially as I went to the event alone and without knowing anyone – so a really big thanks to them.
I would 100% recommend this event to others, even if you don’t think you can do it – you almost certainly can. I did train quite hard but nowhere near as much as I should have but I really think it’s about the mentality you take on. I’m not mega experienced at all, just determined (and organised). I didn’t really allow thoughts of not finishing to even enter my head and just focused on getting from one checkpoint to another, eating, drinking, chatting, watching my footing and the views and just told myself to ‘keep going’!
Total time: 19:57:30
Placing: 4th Female, 24th overall