The London Royal Parks Foundation 50km Ultra Event

The London Royal Parks Ultra took place on Sunday 12th October, 2014. The Trek and Run team took part, here’s our report.

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Dave was supported during the race by;

Gore Running Wear – Gore making brilliant running kit, well worth checking out - http://www.goreapparel.co.uk/

Columbia Sportswear – Columbia made the training shoes I wore - http://www.columbiasportswear.co.uk/

Push Nutrition – Clean running energy gels - http://www.pushnutrition.eu/

Garmin Action Cameras – Dave used the Garmin Virb Elite camera to film the event - https://buy.garmin.com/en-GB/GB/outdoor/action-cameras/virb-elite/prod119594.html

First of all, here’s a short film to give you an idea of the route, and the event day in general.

Part 1 by Dave Wise

There’s only one negative point to mention about this Ultra event (and that’s pretty good going really, considering all the things that can go wrong with such an event!) so I’ll say it now, then we can get onto the good points. The negative is, the food provided at the end of the event was bad. Firstly, there were no vegetarian options, which is unforgivable. There were lots of veggie and vegan runners taking part in the event and to find that the choice of meal at the end was either chicken in your burger or a regular beef burger, well, as I say, not acceptable. It’s so easy nowadays to serve veggie burgers, or even have a pot of pasta available, that to not do this is pretty ignorant. There was some salad to have on the side of your plate and that was fresh but the coleslaw to go with it was just slop. Even though Tony and I were starving we couldn’t finish what was on our plates, it was that disgusting. So please, organisers, understand that Ultra runners are very often health conscious, a lot of us are veggie, and that it’s not that hard to cater for us, you’ve just got to quiz the food contractor before you hire them and make sure they understand the difference between meat eater, veggie and vegan and that they care a little about the quality of the food they’re serving, because the catering company you had in this year certainly didn’t.

Ok, negative stuff over. The pre race stuff went well, for me (Tony had a mix up with his race pack). We had the option of picking our number and t-shirt up in person or having is posted. I like this. I really detest the common practice of making runners turn up in person a day before the race to collect race numbers. What if I live 200 miles away and just plan to turn up on race day! So London Parks got this spot on. I’m happy to pay a little extra (£2.50 in this case) to save me time and travel costs and have my race pack posted to me. You also had the option of picking your pack up on race day so if you weren’t eager to get your pack (I was!) then you could also do this.

The pack contained my race number, a brilliant t-shirt, info about race day and a colour map of the event route.

On the day we parked right outside Hyde Park, just along from the Royal Albert Hall. It was free on Sundays and because we got there at about 6am we had no worries with finding a space. The event village was a 10 minute walk away, and we quickly found the Ultra tent, where we could relax, stretch out, eat a few snacks (provided) and drop our bags off.

The event was to start at Hyde Park and finish at Bushy Park, and since there was due to be showers available to us at the end we’d been encouraged to bring a towel and fresh clothes so we could get freshened up before we travelled home. So, with all that stuffed into my bag, I dropped it off at the easiest bag drop ever, no hassle at all, no rubbish with tags or complicated system, I just handed it over, the lady looked at my number and then wrote that on a sticker, which was fixed to my bag. The next time I touched it was as I entered the finishers tent at Bushy Park, when a lad manning the baggage section saw me before I saw him and had my bag ready for me by the time I reached the table. Great service.

Ben Fogle gave us a welcome speech as we lined up and then we were off. There were over 500 of us, just enough to ensure we were never alone on the course but not so many that it felt crowded at all. Here’s a couple of images of the start line.

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The roads were closed as far as Waterloo, so that meant, past Buckingham Palace, Green Park, St James Park, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and the Embankment. After that we were sharing our space with the public.

If you’re wondering what sort of trainers to wear the surface  mix was about 50/50 between hard and trail, so I chose a trail shoe and was happy with that choice as my road trainers would have been great on the hard but would have allowed me to feel every stone and bump on the trail.

We never had to cross a road whilst in Central London and there were marshals and signs everywhere so I never had to think about navigation.

Water stops were every 5km. Later on, from 10km onwards, the feed stations always had extra things as well such as sports drinks, jelly beans, gels and crisps. I know some runners demand a more extensive feeding station experience but I don’t, I don’t eat much as I run and I like to take my own gels anyway so what was provided was plenty for me.

There wasn’t much support on the route but that was to be expected. What people were there were very vocal though, and I also got plenty of cheers from other runners, out for a short jog on a fine Sunday morning, and walkers. It’s always nice to get a cheer, and on some city road marathon routes it’s vital as they can be quite grim looking so there’s nothing else to lift your spirits, but this route was so beautiful I was never down at all, depsite the long sections when there was little support. We kept to the banks of the River Thames mostly, and once out of London the river banks are a leafy, rural place where the paths are flat, wide and shaded with views to the right of the water. It’s absolutely brilliant trail running and due to the flatness of the course (there are a couple of very minor hills and steps to take on, but nothing major) I’d say that if you were looking for a PB over 50km trail, this might well be a place to achieve it.

The best bit of the run for me, and it’s hard to single one place out as there were many stunning sections, was Bushy Park, where the deer roam in their hundreds. I’ve never been that close to deer (you’ve seen how close in the film, only a couple of metres away) and it was a brilliant experience. They must be very used to humans to be so unconcerned by us. I’ve never been to Bushy Park before but I will be going again soon and I’d advise you, if you haven’t already been there, to consider it. Take a picnic and the family, it’ll be a beautiful day out.

Lots of runners didn’t finish and I suggest that many of them suffered because they started off too fast. Likewise, we were passed towards the end by many people who, if you looked at them, you’d say they seemed far too large to be running an ultra. Appearances are rarely deceptive in shorter races – it’s generally the fit looking ones who do well in 10kms and half marathons – but in Ultras it’s not like that. There are so many factors coming into play and a major one is pacing yourself right. Lots didn’t, I’m sure we didn’t either to be honest; I was about 30 seconds per mile too fast for the first half of the race and that really told towards the end. Well, lesson learned I hope…

At the finish line there was a large marquee tent where runners and supporters could chill out, eat, drink and recover. Behind that were 8 portable showers with plenty of hot water. Because the field was strung out and finishing over a period of hours, we had no wait to have our showers. The goody bag was pretty good…

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…and the medal was made of wood, in the shape of an oak leaf, very unusual and one to be admired.

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Later, we lined up outside and caught a shuttle bus back to Teddington Trail station, from where we got the train and tube back to Hyde Park and our car.

All in all this is a very well organised Ultra event and one that I thoroughly recommend. Running it showed me areas of London I’d never seen before; even if you don’t do the event, you must visit Bushy Park! I don’t often consider doing an event twice, but with the London Parks Foundation Ultra I would do, perhaps in a year or two’s time.

Part 2 by Tony Scudder

A good twenty-mile run with Dave some three weeks ago was the last Ultra training run for me. I’d done some other long runs (26, 16) in the weeks beforehand, and I’d felt good after them, tired legs but nothing unexpected. I run five miles a day, five days a week, and I’ve been doing this for the last few years. I’ve been running on and off for thirty. I’ve always fancied a marathon but never seemed to knuckle down to one, preferring the 10k distance. I was glad when Dave offered a place in the Royal Parks Ultra – why do twenty-six miles when you can do thirty-one?

We drove early to Hyde Park, and it was the fastest trip into London possible. We left Maidstone at 5am and were parked by Hyde Park before 6am. Free parking all day, Saturday and Sunday, alongside the park – useful to know!

After chatting in the car til the event opened at 7.30am (where I serendipitously recounted about reading that going too fast in an Ultra can double your time in the second half), we entered the athlete’s village. The Ultra tent was a nice place to hang out with 498 other crazy souls, adjusting our backpacks, chomping last minute bananas, and walking out to the start line at 8.15am. There seemed a lack of eagerness to me, with no-one really that keen to go to the front. Big nerves for many first-timers.

Personally, I was good-to-go. The preceeding months training had gone well, I’d had five whole days off from running and felt more rested than I had done in years. As we pushed off at 8.30am on the dot, my pace felt great (around about 7.30 a mile), I was quite far up the field, probably between 10th and 15th, and I was more than happy.

The early 4-5 miles of the course was around the tourist parts of the Thames, and there were early pockets of wellwishers clapping us on. I went through 10k in about 45 minutes, which is 4 minutes off my 10k PB. The breathing felt easy, and I was enjoying the course.

As we moved down the Thames, the marshalling remained impressive, with someone in a red Royal Parks T-shirt always visible to steer us the right way (which was usually right next to the river). Before I knew it, I’d gone through 20k in about 1 hour and 26, still feeling great, at the same pace and totally comfortable. The only downside to my run was the lonliness. They named a movie after it for a reason. One or two runners had passed me in the past ninety minutes, and I’d had no chance to run alongside anyone. But it was a nice view.

25k came at one hour and 52 minutes. It was at this point, halfway, that I felt most happy. I now figured I could afford to take my foot off the pedal if I needed to as if I ran the second half of the race twenty minutes slower, I’d still finish in four hours, my hoped-for time.

30k was where it went horribly wrong. My legs began to twinge and pulse in completely different places. I was ‘owing’ and ‘arghing’ every minute as some new pain shot through a leg. I’d eaten gels and had a good breakfast, and also drank water. I felt full of energy, so what was going on? I now know that my lactate threshold had been reached, and my legs were basically shutting down. If I’d done some tempo running in the previous months, this may not have happened, but I can’t be sure for the moment.

5k later, and my running was at an end. I’d spent the last three miles slowing right down, with people starting to pass me, and the pain in my legs had got so bad and so heavy that I could no longer run. Awful cramp throughout one leg at one point rendered me immobile! It was crushing. I’d gone from a perfect run to a decimated run. I walked on, glad that I could walk at least.

Dave caught me up around 37k I think, and he very kindly walked with me, encouraging me for the next couple of hours. We walked at 15 minutes a mile, and even though I went through the marathon distance at 4.07, I couldn’t help but think I should’ve been going through there at about 3.20. I was in a pretty low place, head down, getting passed by runners constantly who’d got their training correct. It was most certainly my ugliest couple of hours as a runner I’ve ever had.

I tried to get Dave to carry on running, because I know how hard it is to walk and I couldn’t see why we should both walk, but Dave stuck with me, proving himself to be a top running buddy. Thanks again Dave.

I did manage to run, albeit barely more than the slowest run you can imagine, for the final 100 metres, and once I crossed that line, a weight was lifted. It was over! The torment was over. No more sodding walking. An announcer had called out our names as we finished, which felt encouraging, and every single one of the Royal Parks people throughout the day were smiley, helpful, and supportive. The Royal Parks have got a fantastic running spirit going here, and I’d like to run another one next year.

Out of 500 Ultra runners, only 332 finished the course, with me and Dave coming 202nd and 201st. I hope those brave souls behind us didn’t take much longer – I ran for five and a half hours, and that’s a long time to soldier on.

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There was free food in the tent, which was a bit uninspiring, but the free showers were hot, private, and I gave the lady in the shower next to me no end of amusement as I hiccuped and yelped in pain while trying to do basic things like take my socks off.

A free shuttle bus took those who wanted it to Hampton Court train station where Dave and I eventually got back to the car. It may have been less than an hour to drive there, but heavy London traffic meant we spent more than two getting home.

All in all, I had a great day out at my first Ultra run, and my first race above 10k. I was very disappointed that it all went wrong, and when you think that I spent the first half of the race alone, and the second half being constantly passed while walking, I hope you imagine my frustration. But everyone involved with the day were the epitome of what’s so great about running. We all stuck together, we all wished each other the very best, and we all knew that we were part of one of the most honest and uplifting things that we can all do, regardless of social or economic background.

If you’d like to learn more about the event, please visit the website at https://royalparksultra.com/

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