Friday, 3 February 2017

Event Review : Sunset to Sunrise Ultra

I've got a lot of pending event reviews that I fully intend to publish in the next few weeks but I thought I'd start with this one as not only is it one of the more recent but it is also my engagement story, which I'd like to share with you in one of my more self-indulgent moments.

My partner, Dean, and I are both pretty active people and endurance athletes in our own right. He's an Ironman and I'm an ultra runner. And so, as we both have fairly pliable arms I'm signed up to a half ironman distance triathlon and he decided he wanted to run an ultra together. After looking around we settled on the Sunset to Sunrise challenge as one that fitted well into our schedule, allowed us some control over our distance and had the extra feature of being overnight, giving us the extra challenges of sleep-deprivation, cold and darkness.

The event was organised by How Hard Can It Be events... really the clue should have been in the name, and had options of 9 mile, 18 mile, half marathon, full marathon and ultra marathon distances on a 4.5 mile out and back course along a disused railway track near Telford. We roped my ever-supportive parents into driving us up there, on the promise of a B&B and a cheese and wine evening the next day. The B&B was just a 15 minute drive from the event start which meant that we could be left to our own devices in the dead of night but should we need picking up before sunrise, we wouldn't be waiting too long. We installed mum and dad at the B&B, and nipped over to the start to pick up our race numbers. It was a little... sparse... a couple of gazebos with a couple of tea urns, a porta loo (just the one) and some space to stash bags under cover. We felt mildly nervous but headed off to prepare, check kit and grab a bite to eat before the start at sunset which was at 4:20pm.
At the start
It was a small field of runners milling around at the start. We stashed our rather large kit bag, full of clothing and food and joined the "masses". Dean was a bit later joining us as he'd wandered off somewhere to chat to my dad... I suspected something was afoot. All distances started at the same time with strict instructions about checking in at each end of the course and having head torches with us at all times. Mum and dad waved us off then took themselves to a pub just a few hundred yards away. Good spirits all round and a gorgeous sunset to distract us in the first few miles.
The course was nigh on flat but with some puddles, pot holes and rather stoney areas. We had fields on one side and a river on the other but aside from that there were few distinguishing features. We reached the checkpoint, got ticked off the list, helped ourselves to some cake and did an about turn. Before long we were back at the start. First out-and-back done. A smidge over 9 miles completed. No worries. My parents were demonstrating their finest cheerleading, the only spectators present, and after being reassured that we were fine, went back to the pub for some dinner. We got updates during our second outing that there was a fire... lovely... we donned extra layers...
Dad taunting us with fireside relaxing
We'd hoped to cover 54 miles overnight, making it my longest ultra marathon to date, but we tried not to think about the big picture. The field had already thinned out a lot as we started the next out-and-back, many of the shorter distance runners already finished or at the other end of the course, so it was nice to have each other for company; we had agreed to run side by side for the whole event. No reflect on the company but it was during the second 9 miles that we started to identify, and name, some "landmarks" on the course. There was the concrete patch near HQ, areas of cold air coming off the river were the hedges were missing, a hi-viz "7" on a post that I called Len and a broken branch that I named Michelle for reasons too oblique to mention here. The old railway platform, a hub cap on a fence and various sizeable pot holes also gave us things to tick off as we ran ("Have we passed Len yet? Did we miss him?").
Fuelling up after 18.5 miles
That second 9 miles passed fairly uneventfully and as 8:30pm approached we found ourselves back at HQ for a second time, my parents returned from the sanctuary of the pub with applause and hugs. More layers were applied, pasties, snickers bars and jaffa cakes consumed. We were about to set off on what should have been our half-way lap, had things gone to plan. But of course they didn't. Mum and dad retired to the pub for dinner and off we went, chatting and happy for a couple of miles. Then, around mile 20, things started to twinge and ache. First Dean's knee, then my hip flexors. We slowed down a bit, mustered up smiles for the few runners we saw and each other and were grateful as the landmarks passed us by and we finally arrived at the checkpoint.

Upon being asked if we would be back we politely suggested that we probably wouldn't be and started our walk and limp back. Moving more slowly meant that we were colder. Every layer we had was now being worn and we were grateful that it was dry and still, even though we had cold, damp, fog to contend with. I started to worry that we were keeping my parents waiting. We'd agreed that they would wait to see us in one last time before heading back to the B&B for some rest and it was now getting close to midnight. Eventually we saw the lights of HQ, my folks still waving madly. We exchanged hugs, explained how we were faring and made the decision to call it a night. Although energy levels were fine, it would have been folly to limp out again so after 28.5 miles and 6h55 we collected our medals and some 9bars (sponsor of the event) and allowed ourselves to be ferried back to the B&B.
A bit broken but still smiling.
I had visions of sleeping on the floor but thankfully there was a lumpy sofa bed. We slept in compression tights, socks and jumpers that night; showers could wait until daylight. A cooked breakfast was demolished the next morning and a glass of bubbly enjoyed in the back of the car on the drive home. Those of you who were waiting for the proposal... don't worry, you haven't missed it. You may have expected it on the finish line of the event. That's when I hoped it would happen. In fact I think he may have asked if then was a good time but on the tiredness, pain and confusion we misunderstood each other. To be frank if he'd gone down on one knee then we may not have got him up again. My mum even whispered to me as we arrived home "so when's he going to ask you then?"
So we got home, feeling mildly fuzzy around the edges from fizz, had tea and some of the amazing banana bread cake that my mum had made, then set about getting cleaned up and unpacked. Dad was having a snooze, mum was getting changed and we were lounging in our room. And that's when it happened, amid the chit chat about the race, what we were going to do with the rest of the day, he got down on one knee in a very understated way and proposed. And I, of course, accepted, with a huge grin on my face. And that's how it happened folks! The ultra was, I think, a bit of a test for both of us; if we can get through that without falling out, seeing each other at our best and worst, then it bodes well for the future. We've many more races lined up for the year ahead and are even considering a honeymoon that includes a marathon. We've joked about my "something blue" being compression socks.
Double race bling
But that's enough about us. This is, after all, meant to be an event review. So. Was the event good? Yes, it was well organised although small and the crew were friendly. There were plenty of snacks and despite there only being one loo there were no queues. Having a ground sheet on which to put our bags would have been nice, rather than just the muddy ground, but we new it was a no-frills sort of thing. At £40 it may seem pricey but the crew are out there for over 15 hours so I'm not going to quibble about it. Would I do it again? Probably not, I've been there, done that and it wasn't interesting enough to draw me back although I would consider the daylight version.

Do you or would you race with your partner? Are there any honeymoon destination events (November/December time) that you'd recommend?

1 comment:

  1. It's taken me a while to see this story but a belated eek! And congratulations nonetheless. A fab story and I'm very happy for you :)