Running the Guernsey Ultra (21st May 2017)

I have never been to Guernsey, so my wife and I decided to go on holiday with me running in the race, what a great excuse!

Guernsey for those who don’t know is the second largest of the Channel Islands (the largest being Jersey) situated just off the Normandy coast of France.  It’s basically 36 miles all around its coastal paths, so this Ultra is once around the island more or less 36 miles.

Getting to Guernsey from here up north, isn’t that easy.  I wanted to go self catering too, that’s an added complication.  Flights are not direct from Newcastle Airport.  So if it’s flying you are after we did Newcastle/Bristol/Guernsey. Other variations were available but all timings of flights were quite poor either going or coming back. (I try not to do boats, which is odd as I live/lived next to the sea for all my life).

This is the second running of the Ultra.  Last year there were 20 runners, this year there were 65 entries.  Overall it seemed to offer a reasonable price, lovely scenery, very little navigation needed, trail rather than fell and stunning views. It certainly didn’t disappoint on most of those.

The race was oversubscribed, but I managed to get onto the waiting list and fairly quickly I got a place in the race.  Training wise, as I normally do a reasonable mileage each week including a long run of over 20 miles, (I have ran the marathon distance or over 70 times now) I thought a bit of tweaking and that will do.  I did a couple of marathon races as training runs, allowing me to train well the following week plus I did a 30 mile training run as well as my usual 20 plus milers.

I have raced the Highland fling which is 53 miles a few times, so I was reasonably confident that training could be a bit different (lots of 30 miles plus runs for the fling) for this one.

I have to admit I was unsure of the degree of difficulty for the Guernsey Ultra. I presumed it wasn’t as hilly as the Highland Fling, probably more trailly underfoot than say the Kielder Marathon but faster than the Fling and slower than Kielder, that turned out about right.

The race instructions kept mentioning trail shoes at the start and about half way you can change to road shoes, as there is a drop bag system for you about half way.  I kept this in mind as I trained and thought about what shoes to wear on the day.  If I could, it was one pair doing all the run for me.

I have a lot of shoes, basically enough to cover any terrain in my running.  After reading reports I was looking between Inov 8 275 Road Claw, Inov 8 275 Trail Talons and my older Inov 8 290 trail shoes.  I have bunions, so need a wider toe box.  I love my Altras but being a roadie they are paradigms, so although they were going on holiday with me they were not going to be grippy enough for the first part of the race.

I actually couldn’t decide which one, so took them all!.  As we were on the coast and on the Island two days before the race I walked a mile or so on to the cliff path which the race would run and did some testing up and down steps.  As it had rained a bit, it was quite slippy/muddy in places, so the road claw wasn’t looking ideal.  I went for my worn in old 290 s in the end.  They were ideal.  Great on the trails, dry or wet and fine on the roads.  Speaking of Altras, I ran about half the run with Richard Hill one of our customers wearing his Altras Olympus 2.0; we both said that after the hilly traily bits that the road Altra Paradigms would have been great too.

At the start of the race (7 am) it was very hot, which is a shame as Id hoped to get in most of the run before the intense heat just in the afternoon.  Neither Richard nor I were carrying huge amounts of water. I simply had my Nathan single bottle belt with 500 ml water, a packet of Shot Bloks and a tiny flap jack.  It wasn’t going to be like the Highland Fling where I had sandwiches at each drop bag point!

Water stations were at 8 miles, 16 miles and 24 miles.  Certainly enough early on, although with the small amount I took, I could have done with one more after say 30 miles.  But you passed lots of Kiosks later on so you could have bought some more.  Or of course carried more!  Food which was great was at the 16 and 24 miles.  There was a big selection of fruit, nuts, cake and fruit loaf too.  So more than enough choice for anyone.  Water, flat cola, juice were at these points too. 

The race instructions for directions were available, but basically its keep the sea on your left and keep going, this together with the trail section being marked by taped markers on grass and the roads were chalk marked, overall it should be ok.

Unfortunately there were a few markers removed (which we found out later and in the race directors report), also there was a hilarious but time consuming part when I was in a debate with the local model aeroplane flying club about the confusion caused when putting a physical barrier and signage saying road closed over the course.  None of this helped.  I also managed to lead a good few of the chaps down the wrong cliff path at one stage, but we retraced our route and got back onto the course.

The first 15 miles had over 3000 foot of ascent (I’m told) and I never want to see any steps again.  There were loads!!! After that we had over 20 miles of flat enough trail/road.  So the first part was spent going up steps, running to the next steps and going up some more!  All of it is stunning, the views were great. As I was on holiday we could come back to them later in the week, which we did.   Richard and I ran the first half together part of which with another runner.  From 19 miles or so I was more or less on my own, by then you were onto flat trail on coastal paths and roads.  The navigation problems did start to compound on one section when I found myself stuck in a boat yard, retracing my steps didn’t really help, so I simply kept onto a path, sea on my left and ran.  It wasn’t that long before I found markings on the road again, so I probably zip zagged that way. 

I found my wife not too far from the end, my guess was that I had a bit further to go, which turned out wrong (no mile markers en route or indeed nothing to give distance on road signs either).  The first lady finisher swept past and I did think, that’s a bit quick we still have a bit to go.  No she went past, then round the corner and a bit further and we were at another corner and finished.  All done all around the Island in 6:43.  I was 9th, first lady in front 8th.  All in all a good day.

It’s a lovely course (apart from steps), no pressure so just walk them, well organised.  If you like your medals/tees both are great.  An ideal first (or sixty first!) ultra.

Kit list

Shoes Ian: Inov 8 Roclite 290 trail shoes (275 trail talons shoes would be good too)

Shoes Richard: Altra Olympus

Socks: Inov 8 Race Elite

Calf Guards: Hilly Vivid Compression Guards

Cap: Inov 8 Race Elite Peak Cap (s)

Shorts: By Brooks

Tee: By Ronhill

Watch/GPS: Tom Tom Runner

Bottle/Belt: Nathan single bottle belt

Food: Shot Blocks by Cliff

Photos by kind permission of Dave Sauvarin (start/finish, marina, cliff paths, Iain and Richard)

 

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