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:

Day 1:

  1. 4 x jelly babies, 1 x gel

  2. 1 x cereal bar + 2 x clif blocks

  3. 1/2 P&J sandwich + pencils x3 + gel

  4. Salted peanuts & raisins + gel + soreen

  5. Waffle + crisps

  6. 1/2 Vegemite sandwich + 4 x jelly babies + millionaires

  7. Gel + flapjacks + cliff bloks

  8. Munch bar + jelly babies + flapjacks

  9. P & J sandwich + Cliff bloks

  10. Caffeine gel + millionaires + crisps

  11. Clif bar + clif bloks

  12. Vegemite Sandwich + clif bloks + waffle

  13. Mini flap jack + cliff bloks + pencils

  14. Whatevers left!

Day 2:

  1. 4 x Jelly babies, 1 x gel

  2. 1 x cereal bar + 2 x clif blocks

  3. 1/2 P&J sandwich + pencils + gel

  4. Salted peanuts & raisins + waffle

  5. Clif bar + clif bloks + crisps

  6. Vegemite sandwich + jelly babies x 4 + gel

  7. Salted nuts + munch bar + clif bloks

  8. 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.