‘You Wait For One Then Five Come Along At Once’
After almost half a year of no races due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic it was great to finally be back at an event. A real life event. Not a virtual race, not a Zoom call, an actual physical event with other people and to top it off there wasn’t just one race on offer, there was 5!
Ultra 5k challenges participants to run a 5k on the hour, every hour, for 5 hours. Results are formulated on combined total time. There is also a 3 x 5k option.
Originally due to take place in early July, unlike most events during lockdown, this one was able to rescheduled rather than cancel altogether and just 6 weeks later we were on the start line at the stunning Box End Park in Bedford.
Although some new safety measures had been put in place such as big orange dots sprayed on the ground for each runner to base themselves to insure social distancing before, in between and after each race, it still felt like a ‘normal’ race environment. A week before the event we also had to fill out a health questionnaire then resign it at registration to confirm nothing had changed. Spectators were allowed and activity encouraged to make as much noice as possible as participants were finishing each race. They too had their own area next to the runner’s base and had to fill in a coronavirus specific question form on arrival. Hand sanitizer was also readily available.
After a briefing which was done over a tannoy so that everyone didn’t have to gather together we were then asked to make our way to the starting area where each individual’s race number was sprayed on the grass to indicate where they should line up. These were done in rows of 3, each one over a meter apart, based on the predicted speed indicated on entry forms. Chip timing was in place so nobody was at a disadvantage and with only 80 runners in the field it didn’t take long at all for everyone to get going.
Race 1 started at 9AM. I was given bib number 3 so I was right at the front and ready to give it my best after several months of consistent training during lockdown.
The whole route was on grass and first mile was the fastest as it was flat and on even ground to begin with. We looped round meaning spectators could take a short walk across a field to cheer us on as we passed the 1KM marker. The course then became more uneven and in the second mile the rolling hills came.
This section was really though with continuous up and downs before turning back on ourselves and going up a long camber which was quite awkward to negotiate but once at the top you knew there was less than a mile to go and it was down hill then a flat straight into the finish.
I’d found myself in third place for the first mile before moving into second and slowly closing the gap on the ran away leader. With about 200m to go I passed him and made a sprint for the line coming home with a 16 second lead to take into race 2.
In the next 40 minutes I made an effort to stay mobile so that I didn’t stiffen up. I stretched and took in plenty of drink because although there had been lots of rain and wind in the days before it had turned out to be quite warm weather. 5 minutes before each race we were warned with a rendition on the trumpet which was a nice quirky touch.
This event attracted all ability levels and some didn’t arrive back until just before the trumpet sounded. Although this must of been very hard going it was a good way to get 25km covered with over 5 hours given to do it in and the opportunity to check in and grab what you needed every 5 miles unlike most traditional distance race routes.
For me race 2 panned out very similar with me being in second place for most of the way then taking the win in the final stages again by 16 seconds. This time during the break I took a short walk over the bridge between the huge lake where open water swimming & some impressive wakeboarding was taking place. I took in a bit of food then before I knew it I was back on the start line for race 3.
I decided to take closer order this time sitting right on the shoulder of the leader and took the lead myself just after the half way point. This meant I was able to take in my surroundings a little more rather than focusing on who was in front of me. I gave some of my fellow runners some encouragement as I passed them in the opposite direction on a part of the course that crossed back on itself and couldn’t help notice how much fun the giant inflatable water park looked which was now in operation and full of joyful kids as I came into the finishing straight alongside it. This time my winning margin was 15 seconds with a new runner coming home in second place which made thing a little more interesting for the podium places.
Although my times were only slightly slowing the gap between races seemed to get so much shorter this time and I’d hardly had time to do anything before the trumpet sounded again.
Going into the penultimate race my overall lead was exactly 1 minute. After the first couple of hundred meters I decided to take the race on and build on that lead. If anyone was going to catch me I wanted to make sure that they’d have to work for it! I finished 21 seconds clear meaning it would take a disaster to loose what was now a 1 minute 45 second overall gap on second place.
As we stood on the start line for the fifth and final time I felt relaxed knowing I just needed to sit in and not let anyone get too big of a lead. This is what I did for the first half a mile then from nowhere Will, who had lead out the first three races, made a break for it. It was a decisive move and he created quite a gap in a short space of time. I remained calm in third position but kept an eye out in the distance.
With the body starting to tire after a long day’s work I had hoped I’d be able to take this last race a bit easier but with three other runners all still in contention for the podium places that wasn’t going to happen.
As we approached the final mile I was still in third place and the top two hadn’t got too far away. I did a bit of quick maths and worked out that to beat me at least one of them would have to put in a five minute mile to finish. I knew that wasn’t going to happen but this actually made me lose motivation to push harder to catch them and before I knew it another runner had passed me, there was 500 meters to go and I was in fourth place. Technically this didn’t really matter as by this point I’d secured the overall victory but then my competitiveness kicked in. I didn’t want to go out with a wimpier. I picked up my pace and gave it one last push. Past one, past two, past three and the win was mine to cap off a great return to racing!
The trumpet sounded for the last time as I crossed to finish line, received my medal and made my way to the food and drinks tent, which was free for all participants, and celebrated with a slice of cake.
It wasn’t long before the first lady finished, impressively wrapping up her fourth successive overall victory at this event making her unbeaten since it started in 2017.
Huge credit must go to the organisers for getting this event on and giving participants the long awaited opportunity to race again. A big thank you to them and the volunteers for making it such an enjoyable, well ran day.