« Never wipe your ass with a squirrel - Jason Robillard | Main | The immaculate birth of ultra running »
Sunday
Jan122014

10 reasons why the Country to Capital race is the ideal first ultra marathon

This year was my fifth running of this race. I assume I'll be getting an MBE when I hit ten.

Instead of taking you through a tale of more beautiful mud splashing and gorgeous canal I thought I would just say to anyone thinking of doing an ultra for the first time why this one is the best.

I managed to convince a few of my friends to do this one as their first ultra. At the end I got comments that ranged from "Thanks for getting me to do this" through to "Are you James? I want to kick you in the shins for making my son do this". 

But my shins are OK and I stand by my comment, I think the Country to Capital is a great intro to Ultra Running and here is why.

1. You can train for it off the back of marathon training

This event is in January, so if you have your heart set on a marathon PB in autumn time you can still train for it as normal and then just up the mileage. That's what I did for my first ultra, I trained for a marathon PB, got it, had a rest for a few weeks then threw in some long runs, marathons "as training" and some back to back stuff. You don't even need to think about the ultra until you have run the marathon, that will give you a solid base of training, speed and endurance and all that's required from then is to slow down a bit.

2.  The distance is like baby bear's bed

 If you have ever done a "big" marathon like London or Paris you have probably already covered 50k on foot in a day, with all the queueing at the start and faffing around at the end to get your bag. Therefore running a flat 30 miler/50k as your first ultra is rather like bouncing around in Mummy Bear's bed. I think if you are going to do something different it has to be sufficiently different and 45 miles is the perfect "step up" distance for a first ultra.

You have probably heard of the marathon story of some Greek guy who ran to tell someone or other that the war was won and then he died. Well you should know that this is a myth but it is something to think about when you pass the marathon point of this race. The marathon point in the Country to Capital arrives at a place called "Uxbridge" where you will be quite grateful if your heart packed in and you could run roll in to the canal and later appear on the London news. It is however a great incentive to keep going, you are in ultra territory now.

3. The course slows you down in the first half, which is a good thing

The first half of the course is on trail, it can be a bit muddy and there are a few hills in there too. With over 300 runners it can get a bit busy and you may be going slower than you feel like running but this is a good thing as so many first time runners set out like a bat out of hell and end up death marching the last miles. Keeping your virginal enthusiasm in check will stop you from peaking too soon and leaving yourself a bit of a sticky mess. The second half of the race is on a canal, it is flat and you can chose to bang out some 6 minute miles if you please. Basically it is great so that whatever you have left you can give it on the canal.

And towards the end you can race against canal boats. They travel at 5mph/12mm so you know if you are overtaking them you are still well within the cut-offs.

4. Gentle intro to navigation

Most ultra marathons require some navigation (apart from the silly ones around tracks and loops). The nature of the most events is that they are low key and are not marked with marshalls and signs everywhere and so some degree of knowing where you are is required. The country to capital race is a great intro to this. You get supplied with maps and it is not too difficult to follow but is is great practice for other events. You can also laugh at all the really fast people who go off in the wrong direction and overtake you about 5 times. Also it pays to go and check out the first section of the course in training, this would make a great training run and familiarise yourself with the course.

5. Cool Medal and T shirt

You may have decided that the reason you want to run ultras is to discover your limits or self discovery or to harmonise the meta-physical feelings of your inner transcendal demons who perpetuate your intangible suffering through the medium of synaptic splices. Well we all know the real reason is that you want to boff that girl from accounting, right?

Chicks dig medals and swear by wicking t-shirts and the country to capital race gives great examples of both, perfect for the post race bragging. 

I am not sure whether this works the same way around for girls. Actually I think guys get intimidated by girls who can out-perform them athletically so probably best when you say what your time was to add a few hours onto it so that they can believe that they could do better if they tried.

6.  The funniest start to an ultra ever

There is a 200 metre section of downhill road and then you are off into the trails. There is a gate that is fairly narrow so if you want to get ahead you have to SPRINT the first 200 metres. This is hilarious to watch and to be part of. This year I was 4th to the gate, beaten by Tim Adams, Michael Carraz and Ed Catmur (who wasn't even sprinting, that was his 45 mile pace and he broke the course record (4:56). 

So top tip for running your first ultra - get some decent starting blocks.

This excellent photo courtesy of Mark Kleanthous at Ironmate

7. The experienced runners tend to go slower

Ultra running is great for uniting the super awesome to the regular awesome. Or rather, usually you might get to meet some really fast people near the start of a race and then see them shoot off into the distance. Because this is the first event of the year and most ultra runners have been indulging after their "off season" you will find that most experienced runners are not going nearly as fast as they would normally and therefore it is a great opportunity for you to compete with them and their overweight undertrained bodies.

So while running you can chat away with more experienced runners who are carrying a few too many pies.

If this is your first ultra you might be taking it seriously and this is a great opportunity to avoid sprouts at Christmas. When your mother inevitably invites you to consume her balls of green slurry you can legitimately say "no thanks, I am training for an ultra marathon and fear that eating any of these delicious neutron cabbages might cause me to blow my bowels up over a poor man's boat house".

 

8. New Year Smugness

You may be surrounded by people who are intolerably banging on about the things they are going to do this year that is going to make them a better person. Most of them are already failing in the "be less annoying" bit. You could have made a new year's resolution to run an ultra marathon and then second week in Jan you have done it. BOOOOOOOOM! - I believe is the correct term.

So you can spend the next 50 weeks saying "I've already achieved the better person thing, how are your donations to the gym going"?

Also, being out in the sun all day you will get a sun tan, in JANUARY. You can patronise your workmates further when they ask "ohhhh have you been away for the weekend" and you can say "No, I've just been outdoors a lot, your skin is looking a bit paler than Friday, was it another Game of Thrones Box Set marathon?"


9. Make New Friends

 It is a very sociable race, with a little map reading and a nice long canal you will have lots of opportunities to chat away and listen to other ultra runners bang on and on about all the epic races they have done (they love doing that) and to advise you on what your next race should be.

Yes that's right, you are barely through your first ultra marathon and some dick will be banging an about so and so 50, and whatsit 100 and then possibly the "Spartathlon". You will get lots of ideas as to what you might want to do next, as well as possibly having to bury a body. It's a day of firsts.

You will also learn some of the key aspects of ultra running ettiquette. There are many rules to follow but some you should learn early are;

 

  • Crap out of sight. No one wants to see it but we all want to hear about it, be sure to follow the dump by running along with a post poo strut and tell everyone else how much of a load off (or out) that is.
  • Check the wind direction before just stopping at the side for a piss.
  • Kissing gates are for kissing (so my wife says). Refusing such passion at one of these gates is a DQ offence.
  • Never litter ever. Of course you already knew this.
  • Some people will turn up with some ridiculously big shoes. These are called ultra clowns and it makes them feel better if you point at them and laugh.
  • Pick your lubing/arse wiping hand and pick your jelly baby grabbing hand. These should be different hands.
  • If you see someone going the wrong way then estimate the cost of the kit they are running with. If it is less than £300 then shout them back in the correct direction. If it's more then screw them.
  • THANK ALL THE VOLUNTEERS. No exceptions.

 

10. The pub

The race finishes within 20 metres of a very nice pub in Paddington. It is essential after hours of exertion that you rehydrate yourself with something other than water and beer/stout is perfect. You should see the people who have already finished and if you are waiting for a friend to finish and you have an expected ETA you can always kill time with a pint. 

This is actually one of the nicest finishes in races I have done, rather than being in the middle of nowhere where everyone scuttles off to catch trains back home you are actually in the centre of London and next to a lovely pub that sells great beer and burgers. 

Or if you are going by the ultra running nutrition textbook then there is a Subway just around the corner.

 

11. You will start to become a master of time

What? 11 out of 10? No this is not the ultra version of Spinal Tap but a valuable lesson that sometimes these races are longer or shorter than expected. With extra miles of getting lost or artisic licence on the route marking you will not often get the exact distance you intended to run.

It's funny watching people's brains explode upon discovering this.

And so you will start to learn some time mastery skills that will make the race seem longer or shorter than it really is. I will save the advice for making the race seem shorter for later. Before that it is worth learning some tips to make a race seem longer, just so you feel like you are getting your money's worth.

One such way of doing this is to sing a song to yourself (and others if they are around) in the same tune as "the wheels on the bus go round and round". Remember that from your childhood? Didn't it make the journey seem longer?

Here are some verses I thought up. Please think of some more and let me know.

The lube on my nuts goes "Squelch Squelch Squelch"

"Squelch Squelch Squelch"

"Squelch Squelch Squelch"

The lube on my nuts goes "Squelch Squelch Squelch"

Allllll day long

 

The nipples on my shirt go "Scrape Scrape Scrape"

"Scrape Scrape Scrape"

"Scrape Scrape Scrape"

The nipples on my shirt go "Scrape Scrape Scrape"

Allllll day long

 

The chump with the Garmin goes "Beep Beep Beep"

"Beep Beep Beep"

"Beep Beep Beep"

The chump with the Garmin goes "Beep Beep Beep"

Alllll day long

 

The awesome volunteers ask "Pie or Cake?"

"Pie or Cake?"

"Pie or Cake?"

The awesome volunteers ask "Pie or Cake?"

Alllll day long

 

Those looking at my Hoka's go "HA HA HA"

"HA HA HA"

"HA HA HA"

Those looking at my Hoka's go "HA HA HA"

Alllll day long

 

Gladys walking her dog goes "WTF?"

"WTF?"

"WTF?"

Gladys walking her dog goes "WTF?"

Alllllll day long

 

My wife at the finish texts "Hurry Up!!"

"Hurry Up!!"

"Hurry Up!!"

My wife at the finish texts "Hurry Up!!"

Allllll day long

 

Those reading my blog go "Yawn Yawn Yawn"

"Yawn Yawn Yawn"

"Yawn Yawn Yawn"

Those reading my blog go "Yawn Yawn Yawn"

Allll day long

 

 

 

 

 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (5)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    10 reasons why the Country to Capital race is the ideal first ultra marathon - Running Blog - Running and Stuff
  • Response
    Response: Matthew Sample
    10 reasons why the Country to Capital race is the ideal first ultra marathon - Running Blog - Running and Stuff
  • Response
    Response: Matthew Sample
    10 reasons why the Country to Capital race is the ideal first ultra marathon - Running Blog - Running and Stuff
  • Response
    Response: tinder on computer
  • Response
    10 reasons why the Country to Capital race is the ideal first ultra marathon - Running Blog - Running and Stuff

Reader Comments (6)

This post is absolutely priceless. I remember running a long way - well it felt like a long way - along this very canal in the same race as you many moons ago. Then you went and ran across America. This year's race must have felt like a speed session! Great advice, James and I would recommend everyone considering running an ultra to read it.

January 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

I just ran this race as my first ultra and I pissed myself reading this! You have summed up my day to an absolute tee.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Another great blog there and great to catch up James. I reserve an area in the Bridge House for next year! Oh and what about me I was second to the gate :)
Gritts.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan

You are one truly funny guy James. This was hilarious. :-0

January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark Lewin

Stumbled across your blog while searching for something else … LOVE it!! Brilliant post! Ill be following and looking forward to your next!

January 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

This year was my 2nd time - and I loved it, again. But I'm pretty sure that "13 1/2 miles to Paddington" sign is wrong - it certainly feels more like 20 ;)

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkraut

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>