Guernsey Ultra Marathon - 36 Miles
May 21st 2017
In 2016 I fell in love, with Guernsey that is. I was visiting my friend Steph. Lots of running during a long weekend stay along the west coast and Guernsey had me completely in its hand.
When I came across the Guernsey Ultra on Twitter I jumped at the chance to add it to my to do list but unfortunately it was full so I added my name to the 2017 waiting list. Peter, who had taken over organising the event, kept everyone up to date with how the list was progressing and a couple of months later I had a place. I was really excited and then a little apprehensive because it was at this point that I realised exactly what I had undertaken. Having run along the west coast, which is flat, I hadn’t anticipated just how hilly the east and south coast were. Checking the elevation profile made me feel a little bit sick. Over 3000 feet of elevation. This would be the most I would ever have encountered on a run and adding to the fact there were 36 miles to cover.
4 weeks before Guernsey Ultra I had run the London Marathon and got a PB. Things were going well until I was struck with a pelvis/adductor injury 2 weeks before the race. On a long run, I had such severe pain I had to just stop running. I visited the physio which didn’t help, so I rested from running for over a week and started some small runs the week before the race. These were painful but I limited them to 2 x 3 milers and 1 x 6 miler. I had no idea if I could manage anything over 10 miles let alone an ultra and let alone an ultra with the equivalent elevation of Snowdon! I decided that whatever was going to happen a DNF was better than a DNS. It's better to try. I would hate to have any regrets. Oh maybe I might've done okay at that ultra.....
I landed in Guernsey on the Friday and one of the first things I did was go out for a run. This was one of my 3 milers. Just a nice slow tester run. It was already hot and just as beautiful as I had remembered and a sign of things to come on Sunday. I had spotted a few little orange ribbons tied to the trees and knew these were going to be part of the markings for the course.
Sunday morning came around quickly. It was an early start as registration opened at 6am at the Liberation Monument at St Peters Port. It was a bright sunny morning and everyone was in good spirits. I collected my number and dropped off my bag which would be passed back to me at checkpoint 2. I used the free toilets several times before the race briefing at 6.45am. Peter explained that we needed to follow the different coloured arrows throughout the course and that if we kept the sea to our left we couldn’t really get lost. At 7am it was time to get running and off we went.
The first mile took us past St Peter’s Port and the castle and as we reached the aquarium we reached the first set of steps of the race. It was immediately apparent that I would have to walk them as there was a queue but I was grateful for this as it was very steep. It was at this point that I decided that I would walk every hill and I am now thankful for this mental decision. As soon as I reached the top it was back to running and the views out to sea were spectacular. It wasn’t long before I hit the trails and I was running over boulder/rocks and mud. The trails were winding up and down through the woods and I had to be careful with my footing. Everyone was still quite bunched up at this point and I was trying to overtake a few people as there were a few walking in sections I wanted to run in. I managed to find a couple of guys who were running at a similar speed to me and we naturally teamed up. It was nice to have some company. By the time we got to Jerbourg, just 3 miles in, we had lost one our companions and were running comfortably but the climb up the steps took the wind out of my sails. Gareth and I continued together and I tried to chat to take away from the pain of the never-ending steps which were like something from the movie Labyrinth. The views on the cliffs were stunning, every beach was glorious. I kept saying to Gareth oh I want to swim in that sea. I wonder how you get to that beach. There was one point on the course where someone had moved all the markings but luckily someone had drawn a big X and an arrow to send us the right way, otherwise we would’ve ended up at a beach and a long way in the wrong direction. I am sure Gareth was just running away from my endless chatting but it seemed to do the trick until at least check point 1 at Petit Bon, where we stopped and filled our water bottles. We gulped when we saw the next set of steps.
The day was getting hotter and the steps were getting steeper. Steph, who had walked around Guernsey told me the steps were a bit worse on the second section initially and she wasn’t wrong. After being battered the first 8 miles my legs were already tired I was surprised my legs were still running (and walking) up the hills/steps. We were caught up by Chris Bentman (RedSquirrel) a couple of miles past the checkpoint who was filming on his go pro and I started chatting to Chris briefly. I was running out front now and before I knew it Gareth had disappeared. Chris overtook me too and I was on a solo mission. Time to pull out the big guns. Aftershokz on low volume for motivation until the checkpoint in 6 miles.
I continued with my run/walk strategy. I could see someone in the distance and someone vaguely behind me. I ran through the clay pigeon shooting range with red flags up, I sped up here. I stopped to take a few photos of coast line when I could and I tried my best not to fall, although I did slip a couple of times. The steps are precarious. Some are really deep and others low. I managed to turn my ankle on more than one occasion.
The butterflies were extraordinary. I am no expert but there were tens of varieties of every colour. At one point, I had 5-6 flying around my head. It was beautiful. Well it was better than the midges and flies.The course was quite overgrown in places too and I am glad I made the decision to wear long socks otherwise nettle rash may have added to my injury list.
Peter had said that when the radio mast appears the cliffs will dissipate and you will nearly be there so I was ready to be eagle eyed. I was incredibly relieved when I could see it. I was walking quite a lot coming into Pleinmont as my legs were now starting to really ache as I had given the cliff section my all and for the first time since the beginning I had several people over take me. They were all so lovely asking if I was ok. I was just looking forward to changing my shoes at checkpoint two. A refresh of water and change of shoes and socks was just what the mind needed after 16 gruelling miles.
After grabbing my bag, I sat down and was offered some water. There were goodies laid out (sweets and crisps) but I had food in my bag. There was a ice cream café to buy ice creams too should the need arise (I saw a couple of runners with ice creams). So, I repacked, changed my shoes, had a loo break and headed off. Just as I did my friends pulled into the car park and waved me off. I started my run with a lovely lady called Beth and we chatted for a few minutes before I realised I hadn’t eaten for a while so I walked and ate and Beth ran on. I enjoyed the lovely beach views whilst I ate. The West coast is predominately flat and filled with white sandy beaches and turquoise green blue seas. It’s picture postcard beautiful. Every beach I ran past I wanted to be on. I was envious of every person in the sea, every person paddle boarding or kayaking or sunbathing. Here I was trudging away. But inside I was still smiling thinking about how I would feel to have conquered this challenge. Half way, 20 miles, 22 miles. Breaking it down bit by bit. Stopping for loo breaks and I stopped to buy a water bottle at one of the may cafes when mine ran out (it was really hot).
My friends were meeting me at the next checkpoint, mile 25. I knew that if I could get there, then there was only 11 miles to go. I could make 11 miles with a walk/run strategy. I just kept going to mile 25. This checkpoint was amazing. Filled with all sorts of goodies. Giant sausage rolls, water melon, coke, nuts, juice, you could even have lollies or ice cream from the café. A real ultra-runners paradise. I have never had coke before. If you’ve ever seen my blog eat real to run you will have seen I can’t do sugar whilst running. Well I hadn’t been able to eat a thing since mile 16 and my body was craving sugar. I downed the coke, had 2 bites of a sausage roll and then ate some of an ice lolly too. If you’re going to go crazy then do it in style I say. I am not sure if it was because it was too hot but I just felt nauseous but the coke really helped.
As I stopped I also felt a pain in one of my toes. The marshals at the checkpoints offered me a seat and to look at it. When I took my shoe off I could see it was already blistering. I applied a plaster out of the first aid kit I was carrying (recommended kit).
Then it was hugs and I was off, carrying an ice lolly as I went. My friends said they would meet me at a beach further along to cheer some more.
I noticed just after mile 27 that my Garmin Vivoactive was about die so quickly saved what had been recorded and tried to start an activity in Strava. I couldn’t find a way of seeing what it was recording so had no idea what sort of pace I was doing so just carried on as before and used the GU36 map online to locate where I was on the course to see how far along I was. My friends met me with more coke at Bordeaux and some salt crisps. From here it was 4.5 miles to go.
When I reached St Sampons, it was a welcome sight. I had been here the day before and knew it was ‘almost home’. Just a parkrun to go now, I kept telling myself. But this seemed to be the longest parkrun in history. I started using objects as my run to focus. I am just going to run to that sign and then walk, I am just going to run to those lights then walk. It got me through those last few miles.
When I could see the dock and the Liberation monument I couldn’t believe it was going to be over. I was so happy to have completed a tough but wonderful race. Every marshal and runner was so friendly. The scenery was spectacular. It wasn’t easy. Even some really accomplished ultra-runners I spoke to said the same so it wasn’t just me. It is very well organised, well sign posted. The t-shirt and medal are lovely and the GU36 family are a special bunch. It comes highly recommended by me.