I’m not a morning runner. I’m not even a moaning runner, but I do moan about mornings. Especially 4am ones somewhere on the outskirts of Liverpool. Of course, it’s a lot easier to get up for exciting things such as jetting off on a remote holiday. Or running an ultra.
As is the norm with such races I’m standing in the middle of a field with a bunch of compression clad warriors decked from head-to-toe with the latest stretch fabric, multi-bottle, hydro-ultra-tech-lightweight rucksacks crammed with expensive waterproofs that no-one wants to actually use.
This is the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra Marathon, a 50 mile jaunt along the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) starting close to Aintree in Liverpool and finishing in Didsbury in Manchester. For those who have a strange desire to run back to Liverpool there is 100 mile option (on a different date).
Silence falls over the field for a minute in honour of Stephen Carragher before an enthusiastic cowbell signals the start of the race. My strategy is to take it easy at the start, running around a 6 minute kilometre, but knowing I’ll slow down and hopefully finish in 8-9 hours. Others clearly have different plans as I glance concerningly at a stocky fellow powering past me during the first kilometre huffing and puffing like a steam train. I hope he didn’t misread the distance when he entered this one……
The marked route was easy enough to follow although it soon begins to blur into one, moving from long sections of road/tarmac to basic trails. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a smell permeated my nostrils that is so foul my carefully planned nutrition strategy is almost ruined but I know immediately where I am.
I had experienced this smell some 18 years earlier when I worked there for several months and it was almost like I’d never left. My pace quickens as I continue out of the area into the fresh air beyond.
As an extra twist the race organisers have offered up Gold medals to the top 50 finishers, silver for 51-100 and bronze for all finishers after that. Deep-down I want a gold medal but as the pack thins I don’t really have any idea of my position, so I just concentrate on moving forwards.
Ultras are a great social experience and I chat to loads of people along the route, many saying this is their second time at the L2M after the inaugural one last year. Somewhere after halfway I start running with Dave Fort from Burnley (more accurately Padiham), and we soon stick together to start ticking off the miles and discussing how we felt about the race so far. In one of those “small-world” moments, it turns out Dave knows my auntie, but then I imagine most people in Padiham know my auntie, but that’s a different story altogether……
Men being such fine examples of humanity, we soon start discussing how “stomach problems” can become an issue on ultras. Earlier on I’d made a rather horrific trip to the bushes which emotionally I hadn’t yet recovered from. Dave casually announced he just popped in to a luxurious Premier Inn (I’m still dubious about the existence of this) along the way which made my hunt for a secluded spot seem ludicrous. Note to self – mark Premier Inn’s on race maps in future.
With around 25km to go, one of the friendly aid station volunteers let slip that Dave, myself and Paul Carse (who we’d also spent some time running with) were in 42nd, 43rd and 44th position. Now this is serious! We know there is a lot of time to gain some places, but also plenty of time to lose some places. The focus moves on to keeping position, so with military type enthusiasm I scoff another pork pie and we plough on. Our heads regularly spin around like paranoid owls as we keep checking if anyone is on our tail. Occasionally runners crept into our rear view so we push on as hard as we can knowing that our gold medals are at stake.
We have a minor panic towards the end as we took a couple of wrong turnings but emerged victoriously into the final field where, in one last cruel twist, the route continues past the finish, around a large field before crossing the finish line. Job done. I complete it in 41st position in 8 hours 43 minutes.
Can you order me a lager please?
So how would I rate this race? The organisation was top-notch, especially considering the three recces to covering the entire route offered in advance. There was lots of social media buzz, plenty of information sent out and a true enthusiasm towards getting people through an ultra. Reflecting on the route I’ve realised I like to be inspired by running down a valley, remote woodland trails, or climbing a peak to witness natures beauty stretch out below. Whilst you won’t get this at the L2M, what you will get is a solidly organised race, huge support at the aid stations and a great crack at a 50 mile PB! Thanks GBUltras!
Pimp my medal