Tuesday 17 January 2012

Country to Capital ultra race review

This is what running is all about! Early morning Country to Capital Ultra Race

Country to capital 45 is a yearly ultra race organised by GoBeyond Ultra. It begins in Wendover, Bucks and ends in Paddington, London. The first half covers 20 miles or so of rolling countryside and villages taken out of tourism brochures. The last 25 miles runs along the Grand Union Canal back into London.

As this was my first official ultra race I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought it was really well organised and a very friendly race.

The only thing that threw me a little was you need basic map skills as you are given a map which highlights the route. There are no sign markers anywhere. Fine - if you are Mrs Speedy Ultra Runner. A little bit scary if you are Mrs Back of Pack Ultra Runner. On the plus it does mean you can go to the loo in peace knowing hordes of runners are not about to come past.

The race is nicely broken down into six checkpoints, one every 7.5 miles or so, where friendly stewards cheer you on and give you water supplies and cake. At the half way point pork pies and sausage rolls await the meat eaters. Alas! us vegetarian runners had to make do with salt and vinegar crisps and jelly babies. (N.B. I have discovered a previously unknown talent - hoovering crisps up on the run - who knew?!)

Welcome respite at checkpoint 3, Country to Capital Ultra
No I don't want a sausage roll but thanks for offer!

The big difference I found with this ultra race compared to sub-marathon distance races was the friendliness and banter between runners and with the stewards. This may have been because I wasn't trying for a time, I just wanted to finish the race, so I was able to take the time to have chats with people. That, plus the fact I was running at a snail's pace - proper MDS shuffle! - you are able to talk, which also helps!

Amusingly, towards the end it felt a bit like being in sports day at an old people's home. For about two minutes you could hear "pff pff pff pff grunt, sniff, pff, pff, groan, cough". Then gradually another runner would come into your line of sight, shuffling slowly past you, small nod and grunt hello, before edging forward over the course of another two minutes by a few metres or so.

This would repeat about 10 minutes later with you then overtaking said runner when they decided the shuffle had to come down a gear into a painful penguin hobble.

Along the way I met a couple of other people who are running the marathon des sables this year. We had the usual banter about kit and training. It was very reassuring to talk to others and find out what they are up to, and where they are at with training. It seems we all seem to be doing around the same things, which makes me feel okay about what training I am currently doing for the marathon des sables.

I also met a lot of other ultra runners who are doing some pretty insane things. One runs these 24 hour transcendence races, another - a triple ironmen (he was 50 but looked about 30). Respect.

How did I feel during the ultra race?
Well, strangely I felt great mentally - which for anyone who has read past posts has been a bit of a trouble spot for me. I think the breakdown of the race into checkpoints really helped. Also, I just refused to think about the race as being 45 miles. I just didn't think about it at all. Having rewards, such as taking a walk, listening to music or eating some food was also key to keeping me sane.

Physically, it was a different matter. I've been a little under the weather of late - only a cold - plus I had stupidly pulled my thigh muscles in a particularly strenuous yoga session (I mean come on!) the day before, so I just felt rather nauseous and tired throughout the whole thing.

One lady at a checkpoint suggested perhaps I had taken on too many sugary foods or electrolytes, which I think was probably true. Hydration is always at the forefront of my mind but I often forget you can over hydrate as well, which is an important lesson to remember.

In all honesty it was bloody hard and actually made me a little worried and daunted about having to do that after three long days, in hot temperatures with all your kit on your back. But I'm going to keep positive. After all the marathon des sables is 90% mental strength!

And after it had finished (and still now) I feel like I'm glowing - I (little old me!) ran 45 miles. Me! Whenever I feel a bit crap it's something to remember to give myself a pat on the back for, no matter how slow I was.

And I so want to do another one so it can't be that bad. Next time I just want to overtake that 70 year old first.


  1. Great post. Our son Dave just did the Thames Trot and loved it, though he did hobble about a bit next day :-) The camaraderie among runners and their loyal band of following wives, husbands, parents and children was great. Respect for taking on the MDS, I think that might be on Dave's future wish list.

  2. Thanks Bill! Was a big learning curve for me! And a milestone into the world of ultra running. Glad to hear your son runs and loves ultras too! Yes MDS is looming all too fast - but main aim is just to enjoy it. Bring on the pain!

  3. Great review. I'm signed up for the 2013 race and am trawling the web to see just how worried I should be about navigation. Although I'm from Aylesbury originally (just down the road from Wendover), I'm not familiar with any of the trails the race follows. Still, compared to the MDS, I'm sure it's a breeze - that's a fantastic achievement - well done.

  4. Congratulations on finishing your first official ultra race! I'm also excited for the upcoming marathon here in Kelowna. Packed my things lightly and I'm ready to go!


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