Completing My First Ever Ultramarathon On Only 2 Weeks Training – The Titanic Quarter 50K Experience.
What follows is a recount of my first ever ultramarathon experience as I remember it. If you’re looking for the inspiration to become an ultra runner, then this isn’t the post you want to be reading.
We were taken by buses from the Titanic Quarter in Belfast to the start line at Ballywalter.
Ballywalter is roughly 31 miles from Belfast in Northern Ireland.
We were then thrown off the bus in the seaside village with task of running back to Belfast. Simple enough, eh?
Easy first 10k.
To be honest nothing of interest happened in the first 6.2 miles.
I was nervous at the start. Someone said the race was ready to begin. The race began. My legs moved up and down.
For 6.2 miles.
Then a nice man asked me if I wanted some malt loaf. I said “yes please”. He handed me some of the malt loaf. The malt loaf tasted good.
Then there was no more malt loaf left.
Everything started to go wrong after I took a wrong turn at mile 8.
The further I got up the road, the more desperate I felt inside. I had some legitimate questions that needed answering, namely..
- why we were running on a section of road where the cars were moving so fast
- why so many of them were beeping furiously at me. “Maybe they’re just really fucking friendly here?” I thought.
- why I hadn’t seen another runner in at least 3 miles.
Being a stubborn bastard I kept running against traffic, jumping onto the verge whenever a car refused to give me any room.
I felt like Rambo again for the first time since Stranraer, where I ran with defiance against traffic to catch my ferry with my backpack on.
When you’re faced with the assumption that you’re a fucking lunatic, the last thing you want to be doing is back down.
I started giving the cars that tried to run me off the road, the bird.
Lost and hopeless.
I got to the end of the road and quickly realised that I’d ran miles off course.
I took my backpack off, sat down on the pavement by the roadside and rued ever starting the run.
This was the closest I came to quitting the race altogether.
Why the fuck did I enter an ultramarathon with only 11 days of notice? Who was I trying to impress? What could I possibly hope to gain from all of this?
I went on Twitter and posted a bitchy Tweet about how fucking lost I was.
It was at this point that I tried to use the map facility on my phone to find a way back on route, but my sweat rendered the touchscreen unusable.
Fucking hopeless. Then anger.
I was so full of hate and contempt for the World that I put my backpack on again and started back on some directionless angry jogging.
With every forward step I swore and clenched my fists.
I began chanting this little rhyme to no one in particular.
You. Better. Not. Get. In. My. Fucking. Way. Otherwise. I’ll. Fuck. This. Bottle. Of. Lucozade. Sport. At. Your. Fucking. Head.
It took 5.5 miles of additional running to get to the 20km checkpoint. By then I’d already ran 29km.
I was relieved that I’d found my way back on track again.
My anger dissipated.
Finding my way through the trails.
I negotiated the trails with all of the elegance of a drugged mountain goat.
In my 2 and a half years of running, I’ve never once went out on a trail. I’ve never had to hop over rocks or slide down banks.
When I had to do this in the race, I buckled.
I ended up sitting down on banks and sliding down on my ass. I wasn’t gonna risk breaking my fucking ankles in the name of sport.
Fortunately when I was at my lowest ebb I met another runner called Amy who I ran with for at least 5 miles.
She was a beacon of positivity. She was doing the 101K race and had ran over 40 miles by the time I met her. She led the way for quite some time and if anyone was to ask, she looked like she was running the 50k and that it was me doing the 101.
She was amazing and helped pull me through a difficult point in the race.
Hitting the wall.
I lost hope again in Bangor. I’d ran 23 miles by this time and I still had another half marathon to complete before I was finished in Belfast.
It just seemed completely impossible.
I’ve been in situations before in marathons where I’ve hit the wall at 23 miles, but been able to push through knowing that I only had a short distance to go before it was all over.
But 13 miles? No chance.
I was done.
I needed a solution and one fast.
Gung-ho gel action. My great un-doing.
I got desperate and started drinking my gels, largely out of thirst. I consumed 6 of them in 30 minutes.
You’re only meant to take 3 an hour.
I remember suckling on them like a bee with nectar.
“Yummy, yummy in my belly! This replenishing nectar will see me through! I will be refreshed! I will be strong! I will be an ultramarathoner!”
And I will not have a traumatic encounter with the shits.
It was at Crawfordsburn Country Park, 3 miles down the road that I had the most intense stomach cramps in my life.
I knew immediately I had to locate a bathroom otherwise I’d be running the last 10 miles with brown legs.
Now I’ve never shat outside before in my life. I’ve lived in a town since I was born. I’m not comfortable in the great outdoors at the best of times.
But relieving myself outdoors was my only option. I made sure I was well away from the path and into the shrubs.
Even though I was about 10 metres away from the path, I’m pretty sure any passers-by could hear me going.
It sounded like a duck was screeching into a loudspeaker through my gut.
I just wish I’d taken more care with my impromptu choice of bathroom tissue. I didn’t have time to look.
The only positive to come from this was that I was now wide-awake again and desperate to start running again to numb the real pain.
The final 10k
I stopped at the final water station and some kind old lady gave me her bottle of water.
It was starting to get dark now.
I had real fears that I wasn’t gonna finish in time.
I honestly can’t remember anything else about miles 30-33, other than the Belfast skyline wasn’t get closer fast enough.
My backside was still reeling from the nettles. It felt like someone had mistook my hole for an ashtray.
The final 5k
The last 3miles all merged into an ever darkening freeze frame. I lost all notion of who I was or what I was doing pounding through an industrial estate at 9pm.
At this point I wasn’t exactly enjoying the run, but it was strangely tolerable.
Until the stomach cramps hit again.
They were much, much worse than before. What made the experience even more harrowing was knowing that I was bang in the middle of an industrial estate and that there wouldn’t be toilets for another 2 miles at least.
I did not have time to consider searching for a toilet, so I sprinted as far into some nearby trees as I could.
By now I was too tired to feel any shame. I kept imagining a burly Harbour Policeman pulling up to me as I was squatting there with tears in my eyes asking “so what do we have here old boy?”.
You know how Heaven’s meant to be full of your dead relatives looking down on you with a loving smile on their face?
I hope God cut off transmission for those 10 minutes in the Harbour.
Go to a commercial God. Show them a reel of my best bits. Show them the finish. Show them something inspirational. Not the desperate little Irish space-monkey hiding in the trees with tears in his eyes. This is the best evolution could do, God. 14 billion years since the Big Bang and they’re still shitting shamefully in trees with their head in their hands.
Through the last mile I was at peace with myself.
The night sighed through cars. My thoughts echoed off empty buildings. Lights in derelict Harbour buildings flashed as if to acknowledge each fleeting notion.
I didn’t know who I was anymore and I didn’t care. I was bobbling along and that’s all that mattered.
Then with little under 0.25 mile to go I was met by one of the 26.2 extreme team who ran with me to the finish. It was great to finally see another human being again after spending what seemed an eternity of running in the darkness.
Suddenly I was me again.
I met Amy at the end of the race again. She’d been waiting for me to finish along with her family and the rest of the 26.2 Extreme team.
I felt ashamed for being so angry during the race.
They looked cold.
It started to rain.
I had my picture taken with Amy and her family.
I finished 36.3 miles in 8 hours 23 minutes.
I was only meant to run 31 miles.
The race was rape-like, but in a good way.
Despite all of the trauma on the way, I pulled through it. For a while there was a real possibility that I wasn’t gonna finish it after that one wrong turn.
But I’m glad I put my backpack on again. I’m glad that I started the angry jogging again.
And most importantly of all.