Tuesday 9 October 2012

Vanguard Way Ultra, October 2012

The Vanguard Way Ultra is a two day race/challenge covering over 66 miles from the wonder of Croydon to the beauty of the south coast. Going into this event I wasn't maybe as prepared as I could have been having failed to do any of the back to back runs I had planned- but with lots of trail running over the light summer evenings I was pretty sure I'd get round.
The start was from the Sandilands cricket club: I hadn't been there since the Croydon Ultra in 2011 and was hoping I might have a better day than I did then. As I arrived the 10 o'clock starters were about to set off and I had a quick chat with them. Everyone seemed like a good laugh and that was true of everyone across the weekend. 
Soon enough it was 11 and time for the weekend "elite" start (I think it was only called elite as naming the earlier runners as "slow pokes" wasn't really in the spirit of things.)  We set off at a conservative pace through Lloyd park and quickly came to a halt as we learnt our first lesson about the Vanguard Way; the waymarks are often hidden so keep your eyes peeled and a close eye on the race card.  At the front there were about 4 of us running together; generally chatting but with that unspoken agreement that it was a race.
Unfortunately it became quickly apparent that a map was needed and we added on miles to the route here there and everywhere: spending much time scratching our heads and being saved more than once by one of the guy’s phone which had the route and GPS. By about the quarter way it was clear this was going to be a team effort and three of us stayed together for most of the race.
Putting the navigation to one side, there was some great trail running to be had with some long sections of single track and muddy woodland running. The recent weather also lead to some paths and roads turning into knee deep puddles/rivers/lakes.  The course was also pretty lumpy with some stiff climbs thrown in.
As we approached the final few miles I could no longer keep pace with the other two but ran in with a guy from the 10 o'clock start (who was running his first ultra on behalf of men's running) that we'd caught earlier, eventually crossing the line in around 7 hours having covered 40 miles. 
On arrival we learnt that the navigation issues we faced were not unique and as it got dark there many still out on the course. In the end just under half the starters got to the finish line on day 1. Some of those who were collected from the course weren't best pleased but in general I think most accepted that this kind of thing happens sometimes in trail ultras. The organisers were also really good at a) accepting that a map was needed and b) sorting that out plus extra route marking for the next day. I think once everyone was warm and dry and tucking into lasagne that any hard feelings had past.
On waking for day 2 I felt surprisingly rested and not too stiff. With maps in hand we set off following the route markings and a group of 5 of us got to checkpoint one, running through the early morning mist, without incident. As we approached checkpoint one, we met a runner that turned out to be Stuart Mills who lived locally. Stuart, who has won a few ultras over recent years including Lakeland 100 and the classic quarter, then kindly ran with us to checkpoint 2 meaning there were no wrong turns. It also meant the pace was a bit quicker than expected but it was still early days so not too much damage done. By checkpoint point 3 we were 4 and after cruising through the charming village of Alfriston we were back to the 3 from day one. We climbed the steps to descend to the sea; and like day one over the final few miles I dropped back as whilst still running I couldn't keep up the pace. The seafront at Seaford felt like it was never going to end, but eventually it did and with that brought Newhaven football club and the finish.
So then; day one 07:06:00 3rd place, day two 06:24:33 3rd place overall 13:30:33 3rd place.  Whilst maybe not the most competitive event in the world it was still nice to be third (my first non-parkrun podium!)- I even got a trophy and a free buff.  

So then in short, the Vanguard Way Ultra- good route, nice people, lots of mud.

Recovery wise my right ankle and foot ache to walk on, which I hope will pass with time and not turn into an injury; either way I think I'll take the week off.

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