Greensands Ridge Relay GSRR – Mini ultra on knackered legs

This is an event I’ve wanted to run for many years. It’s a small deal, held locally, running from Leighton Buzzard to a village outside of Bedford. No medal, no goody bag, no expo to collect your number, no cotton t-shirt that doesn’t fit anyone.

I much prefer small friendly events put on by runners, for runners, as oppose to corporate greed machines (if a race has the word “great” in it, it’s typically referring to the price and the profit margin). GSRR is geared up to be a relay with six legs of varying lengths and has a great club atmosphere. Lakeside Runners normally enter some teams and any from the Late Group are legendary for getting so hideously lost we miss cut-offs and get disqualified. It appears to be a combination of lack of recce runs and sheer inability to follow a simple map. Rumour has it some of the team members are still living in the woods of Millbrook, having gone feral and surviving mostly off road kill. They’re now too far gone to capture and attempt to rehabilitate in society. The Early Group actually mange to finish most years as they’re not idiots.

Speaking of idiots there is an option to run the whole 34 miles solo as long as you have a team from your club entered into the relay as support. It’s not an accepted marathon for the 100 Marathon Club since the rule excludes anyone not part of a club and 100MC are all about inclusivity. This is one of the reasons I’ve never run it before as spending a full day running a race that didn’t get me closer to the 100 wasn’t a good use of a permission slip from the wife. Also until recently I never wanted to run over 26.2 miles as it’s stupid.  I’ve now been led astray on ultras and run events where 34 miles is the home straight, and I’ve passed the magic 100 so neither was an obstacle anymore.

Preparation – The route follows the Greensands Ridge. In theory it’s well signposted and easy to follow. The organisers do a great job of providing a single page map of each stage with helpful comments on. Given the already mentioned issues I was keen to get some recce runs in though and in a very condensed post-GUCR 145 couple of weeks I managed to run legs 1-2 and 4-6, having already run leg 3 a couple of times just as a decent trail run in training previously. Even the recce runs take some planning as you’re either stuck with an out and back which can end up 18 miles, or needing to faff about with cars at either end. Fortunately the usual MK suspects were also entered to run so we had as many as 8 idiots meeting at 6am each Sunday to practice the route. The runs were great although I was finding even keeping a 10 minute mile pace a lot harder work than I expected but put it down to still recovering from the GUCR so hoped to bounce back on the day in race mode.

Route – I’m not great with navigation so after each recce run produced some notes to accompany the maps. These are all available HERE for anyone that wishes to use them. Feel free to comment if you find errors or think they could be improved “Hey Mark, I got lost on that stupid fork in the path just after the farm, you never even mentioned that and I ended up lost for 4 days, missed the opening stages of the World Cup and never got to see England come home early. Oh and I also missed the birth of my child which apparently is also an issue. According to the wife.”.

Plan – Jen had a reasonable plan of 9min miles based on her previous course record. I’ve run 38 trail miles at around that pace before so it seemed possible. I’d had a few relatively low mileage weeks since GUCR so was hoping my state of recovery would match her state of brokenness from running 60 miles the weekend before at the Redway Festival of Running. Hah! An interesting quirk of the solo race is there isn’t likely to be a finish line set up before 4pm, and a target to finish of 5pm so you need to estimate a suitable start time to hit this window. We’d gone for 12 noon.

Leg Cut Off Distance Pace (min/miles) Leg Time Time of Day Ahead of cut off
1 12:00 5.6 00:09 00:50 12:50 00:39
2 13:30 3.9 00:09 00:35 13:25 00:34
3 14:00 9.1 00:09 01:21 14:47 00:27
4 15:15 5.7 00:09 00:51 15:38 00:21
5 16:00 5.4 00:09 00:48 16:27 00:17
6 16:45 4.7 00:09 00:42 17:09

Actual – Given the 9min pace was a little close to the course cut off I was glad we got to the start ahead of our 12 noon intended time and got underway at 11:36, giving an extra 24 minutes which I might well be needing. First two miles were too quick at 8min pace, we stormed through the first two stages and after an uncomfortable few miles my legs seemed to wake up and I felt good. I was in my groove and flowing nicely. I had this. Then I didn’t. In one of those ‘oh yeah I remember that….’ moments I recalled that previously post ultras I can normally blag up to around 13 miles without issue before my legs realise what’s going on and start to question what I’m playing at. Some parents let their kids act up a bit to teach them responsibility, but go beyond a certain boundary and you head straight to the naughty step for a time out which is exactly what my legs were telling me. Walking up the ploughed field on leg 3 I pulled my emergency Lucozade out my vest and downed the whole thing whilst Jen jogged on ahead. Still thirsty and with no sudden release of energy, I felt decidedly flat and watched Jen jog into the distance, a familiar sight from the SDW50. And the SDW100. And the London Marathon. And the Milton Keynes marathon. And the Tour of MK. And most Wednesday club runs. There’s a pattern here. I sort of expected to get dropped somewhere on leg 3 but not quite this soon. It was hot. I was thirsty. I was knackered and had a long way left to go and couldn’t really be arsed but my car was at the end so I sort of had to keep going.

What’s nice about the GSRR is the relay element means there’s scores of people at the checkpoint, far more than you’d expect for a small event so coming into the dodgy (and better known for dogging) car park at Milbrook I was greeted by club mates and lovely Julian thrust a cold water at me. I had food on me but struggled to eat it and was reminiscing of the aid stations at Centurion events and the bountiful supply of food and snacks. I could have murdered some pineapple or watermelon, instead made do with a squishy Mars bar from my pocket and a death march up the hill to the church.

It was about then I wished I’d packed an iPod or something as being alone with thoughts was not helping. The route was easy to navigate due to the recce runs so I didn’t even have that to take my mind off quite how rubbish this was all going. Miles ticked by at an increasingly slow rate and I started to worry about the cut offs. They were going to be close at 9min pace, how much buffer did the earlier start allow for death marching? I was bothered but also too apathetic to pull my phone out and check the times. Would being timed out be worse than dropping at the next checkpoint? I’d run 350 miles last month, stayed on my feet for 38 hours, I had nothing to prove by completing this ‘short’ ultra. I could probably blag a lift off someone at the next checkpoint. Fortunately the route started to run through the forest and I always feel better surrounded by trees. Woodn’t you? I ran on to the checkpoint to get another water off Julian (did I mention how lovely he is?), top up bottles with High 5 tablets and run on. In need of sugar I unleashed some Skittles. I couldn’t taste the rainbow, just a fly that I’d inhaled earlier and still seemed to leave a lingering aftertaste in my mouth. Onto the short section running down the dual carriageway headlong into cars (hit me I dare you, I’ll be through your windscreen like a wild moose in Canada) before crossing into woods and around the fields.

Coming into Clophill I was looking out for the pub. Still not sure how close to the cut off I was but taking the number of relay runners at the checkpoint as a sign I wasn’t yet at the back of the pack so could spare time for a drink. Even if I got timed out at least I could enjoy a pint in the sun. Luck was on my side and some amazing supporters offered me their beer which didn’t even touch the sides as it slid down. So cold, so refreshing. So best get going.

Coming towards the end of Leg 5 a combination of beer, caffeine tablets and wanting to get the bloody thing finished seemed to work and I began to pass some other solo runners. Up ahead I recognised the usual MK suspects coaxing a humourless Mark along who despite looking in good form was not having the race he wanted and uttered obscenities to all around. I’m a huge fan of excessive swearing and although taking comfort from the misery of others is pretty poor form, a certain amount of schadenfreude helped lift my spirits and we jogged in to checkpoint 5 as a happy group. All apart from Mark anyway. The others stopped at the checkpoint to perform last rights on Mark. He wasn’t looking that bad but I think SJ was minded to end him anyway, partly out of pity, partly frustration. I resolved to push on. Towards the later miles of the race the solo and relay teams had bunched and for the first time in hours I had a long stream of runners ahead to follow which looked appealing. It was a couple of days later someone mentioned our motley crew of runners were only a few minutes inside the cut-off to start the final leg so I’m thankful of starting those 24 minutes earlier than planned as I clearly needed it.

Frustratingly although I only had just over a parkrun to go I couldn’t seem to access that final reserve of (relative) speed that I’d used at the GUCR145 so made do with shuffling along, saying hello to the horses and cows for good luck and to keep my mind occupied. Not since I ran the Bournemouth marathon straight after the half marathon have I felt so empty and dead legged. For someone that runs a lot I’m bloody awful at it sometimes. Through a gate and across a horse farm ready for the final ‘sprint’ around the church which turned out not to be needed as the race finished alongside the church and not in the pub car park as I expected. Upside – less far to run. Downside – further to walk to bar.

All finished in 5h50m, 40 minutes behind target but crucially wasn’t timed out or dropped, and got a free beer. Tried to force down a burger and easily swallowed a shandy. Jen had ‘struggled’ as well and ‘only’ smashed me by 25 minutes to bag 1st place with me in 2nd.  SJ and Ellie scored joint 1st female having buried Mark somewhere in the woods. Most importantly I’d beaten club mate Lennie as he’d never of let me forget it if he’d won, especially as he’d forgotten one of his calf guards so probably ran in circles a lot. To be fair I never would have stopped ribbing him had I caught him on route despite his earlier start time.

Next year I’m going to train for shorter distances, not run 350 miles the month before, and try to sort some food on route better. Also convince Jen to run some other event instead.

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