Over the course of one’s running career – and I use the term ‘career’ here in its loosest possible sense – there are landmark distances to be ticked off: a parkrun, a 10K, a marathon. For most people, that used to be enough. But increasingly this list now includes another, longer item: the ultramarathon. From the mountains of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc to the track of the 24-hour World Championships, a growing number of runners are testing their minds and bodies over ‘ultra’ distances.
On 11 January 2019, Runner’s World will be joining them: three of the editorial team are taking part in the Country to Capital 45. Andy Dixon, Joe Mackie and Rick Pearson will be running the race, which starts in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, and finishes, some 45 miles later, in Paddington, London.
As a collective, their ultramarathon experience varies from ‘middling’ to ‘none’. However, encouraged by rumours such as “an ultramarathon is just an eating contest with some running thrown in”, they are ready to venture into the (relatively) unknown.
In fairness, if you were to pick a debut ultramarathon, you could do far worse than the Country to Capital 45. For starters, it’s pretty flat (the second half follows the Grand Union Canal). It’s also very well priced – £55 – and is, by all accounts, impeccably organised and extremely friendly. Plus, it’s a UTMB qualifying event ( just in case you get a taste for this ultrarunning malarkey.) Granted, it takes place in the depths of the British winter so there’s a chance of some fairly, er, challenging weather. But that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?
As the first half is off-road and the second on a towpath, there’s also the chance of achieving that rarity of rarities in an ultramarathon: the negative split. The reality, of course, is likely to be different: three grown men shuffling along a frozen towpath in a cacophony of swearing and stifled sobbing. But, as serial ultrarunner Dean Karnazes once remarked, “There is a magic in misery – just ask any runner.”
At the sharp end of the race, runners will be looking to finish comfortably within six hours. Last year’s winner, Poole AC’s Barry Miller, covered the 45 miles in a scorching 5hrs 30mins 39secs. Yet there’s also a fairly generous 11-hour cut-off time. So as long as we average just over four miles an hour, we’ll avoid the ignominy of being escorted off the course by the ‘sweeper’.
To better are chances of placing highly, there has been talk in the office of employing some underhand tactics. Namely, running the first 20 miles hard and then trotting along the towpath three abreast, preventing other, fitter runners from overtaking. But we wouldn’t do that. No, this will be an honest attempt at the ultra, in all its painful, humbling glory. The Country to Capital is calling…
For more information on the Country to Capital 45, or to attempt to beat Runner’s World, there's still time to sign up.