Last year was my first "ultramarathon season", although realistically what that means is that I ran a few ultras in the latter half of the year, along with a bunch of shorter races as well. This year, I have decided to concentrate on longer ultras, and have signed up to some real corkers! I'm really excited to get the ball rolling again in a couple of weeks, and see how my first real season progresses!
So here are the main races that I will be focusing on this year:
Pilgrim's Challenge: 66 miles (04.02.12 - 05.02.12)
This will be my first race of the year, and will be my first attempt at a multi-day event. The race is organised by Extreme Energy, who run a number of multi-day ultra events including the Round The Island race on the Isle of Wight (which I am also quite tempted by as it is just a stone's throw across the water from my parents' house). Now in it's third year, the route follows a 33 mile section of the North Downs Way from Farnham to Merstham on the Saturday, then back again on the Sunday.
Thames Path Ultra: 100 miles (03.03.12 - 04.03.12)
Only my second ever 100 mile race and I am really looking forward to having another crack at the distance. The Thames Path is a 100 mile event running from Richmond to Oxford along the river, and is organised by James Elson at Centurion Running. It all looks set to be a great race, and a fantastic opportunity for a PB. With plenty of support, a (comparatively) simple route to follow, and a total elevation gain of only about 2,000 ft, I should be all set to find out exactly how quickly I can cover 100 miles on my legs. My hope is to race this one properly, and not waste any time at the aid stations like I did for the SDW100 last year. With a great field of runners signed up I doubt I'll finish anywhere near the top, but I should be able to smash my last time of 22 hours by a couple of hours. Easier said than done, but we will see what happen!
Viking Way Ultra: 147 miles (07.04.12 - 08.04.12)
Okay, so now we're getting ridiculous. 147 miles. In two days. Well, 40 hours to be exact. This is a new ultra that has been devised by Mark Cockbain, a stalwart ultrarunner who has completed most of the extreme distance events you might care to mention. The race follows the Viking Way, a long distance path starting at the Humber Bridge and finishing in the small village of Oakham in the East Midlands. 34 runners have been selected to take part in this inaugural event, and how the hell I ended up amongst such fantastic runners is anybody's guess! The furthest that I have run so far is about 120 miles, so this is over a marathon further. The cutoffs are tight, no pacers or crew are allowed, and it's a completely self-sufficient race, so it won't be a stroll in the park! Also, Mark seems determined to make it more "fun" in every way he can, already banning GPS devices. I worry that he is genuinely considering our hilarious suggestions that we should all dress up in full viking regalia for the event...
Bob Graham Round Attempt: 74 miles (31.05.12 - 01.06.12)
So we've done long by this point. Now we go high. If you have never heard of the Bob Graham Round (BGR), it is a route originally set by Keswick guest house owner owner Bob Graham in 1932, who decided to run to the summit of 42 peaks in the Lake District in 24 hours to celebrate his 42nd birthday. As you do. It's quite simple really. You leave Moot Hall in Keswick, run around the course either clockwise or anti-clockwise, make sure you hit all of the peaks (you need witnesses for this), and then make it back to Moot Hall again within 24 hours. Taking in a grand total of 72 miles of scenery, with a total ascent of 27,000 feet, this should be a hell of a test of my mountain legs. I am actually running this one thanks to Chris Baynham-Hughes, whom I met at the Brecon Beacons Ultra in November and invited me along to gate-crash his own attempt on the BGR. This is one of the toughest endurance events in the UK, and I'm looking forward to (hopefully) being able to count myself amongst those member
South Downs Way Ultra: 100 miles (30.07.12 - 01.08.12)
A second attempt at this race, which has been taken over for this year by James at Centurion Running. I am looking forward to seeing if I have improved since my last attempt, although my hopes of finding the navigation easier where thrown by James reversing the direction for this year. Damn! So this time, we will be starting off from Winchester and finishing up in Eastbourne, with a Western States style stadium finish to end. Hopefully this will mean that the wind on the Eastbourne end is behind us for the end of the race, but knowing my luck it will be head winds all the way again!
Lakeland 100: 100 miles (28.07.12 - 29.07.12)
A return to the Lake District to take part in one of the UK's most well known ultra events. The scenery should again be pretty spectacular here, and it will be amazing to be amongst the other amazing runners taking part in this event. With over 20,000 feet of vertical ascent, it'll be another quad destroying yomp, but it will be fantastic training for...
Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc: 100 miles (31.08.12 - 02.09.12)
I was able to just about scrape together the required points last year, and put my name into the hat for UTMB - probably the biggest ultra event in the world. On Friday, I got the email through that I had been selected in the draw, and was offered a place. Exciting stuff! So in August, I will be trekking to Charmonix to join the other thousands of runners in taking on the mountains of Mont Blanc. With over 31,000 feet of ascent, and sitting at a minimum of 10,000 feet above sea level, this one is going to hurt! I'm sure that living almost bang on sea level, and training in the flattest part of the country will help...
And there we have the year as it stands so far. There will be other smaller races I'm sure, but I'm focusing more on the long runs. Not only because I prefer them, but because running a smaller number of races that are much longer allows me time to spend with my beautiful wife. So yes, onwards and upwards indeed! I should really find some hills...