I don’t particularly like training for mega ultras alone, so I tend to enter a million races thoughout the year and use them as training runs - Bovington was no exception. I fucking LOVE White Star Running, the race organisers. They just get it right every single time. Brilliant races in rural locations with amazing support teams and atmosphere plus they are really affordable and the medals are ridiculous. I’ve run a lot of White Star Events and this was my sixth this year - meaning I finally got my WSR Black belt. I missed out on Bovington last year, so was super excited about it, even more excited as it was one of my fellow Do-Badders first marathon, and I was hell bent on getting her round in one piece.
It was a beautiful day for it too. Temperatures of around 2-5 degrees and a clear sky - perfect running conditions, as long as you were wearing the right kit. I opted for a base compression layer of 2XU tights and long sleeve top, a nike dry fit hoodie and of course my BBR vest. As the race was around a functioning army training ground, where they basically drive tanks for fun, there was only one footwear option for me and that was my Inov8 mudclaws - I’d worn them for the Snowdon Trail Marathon earlier in the year, and the grip meant I could run through peat bogs like a fell pony, with no risk of slipping. There was also water involved - a lot of it - 5 “river” crossings on the out and back. The water was never deeper than mid calf, but the crossing were at the start and finish so I decided to trial my Sealskinz waterproof mid socks over the top of Hilly twin skins - best ultra socks ever. SO SOFT. Sealskins mids are NOT waterproof if you’re running through 5 rivers. I can imagine they cope well with puddles, but this was something else.
The race started at 8.30, with race director Andy Palmer going us the briefing standing on top of a tank. As you do. I added some special decorations to it.
We had a pretty strong squad from BBR running this one, Pete, Si, David and Susi .(far right of this pic) As I said, it was Susi’s first marathon - what a marathon to choose.
I had decided before the race that I wanted to run with Susi for as long as possible. I knew that she was nervous, and this race isn’t one to be attempted without training and a massive sense of humour. As with all WSR events, it’s a marathon-ish. Which basically means it is probably nearer the 28 mile mark than the 26.2 mile mark. More miles for your money, right? In the end, I think it was a bit over 27 miles but I wouldn’t know because my fucking Garmin battery decided to die at 21. My phone died at mile 4 which is what I don’t have loads of en route photos. It helps to switch the power ON when you’re charging it. I’m such a professional.
The route takes you through the army training ground at Bovington, which is quite frankly awesome. It’s hilly trail, very, very wet, very, very muddy and littered with old Tanks to climb on (told you I was a pro). It’s also stunningly beautiful. Just don’t pick anything up off the floor or go off piste to have a piste - there are unexploded shells and all sorts of surprises in those woods, which made the whole thing way more interesting.
The first 10 miles were brilliant and Susi was running strong. Even though I am happiest at ultra pace, I find it very hard to run very slow, and running slow we were. But this was a personal exercise for me in patience and being supportive. The amount of times I have started with someone and then got bored and run off…..that was NOT going to happen today. I didn’t care how long it took, I wanted Susi to finish in one piece, happy and with amazing memories. I also wanted her to sign up for another event, and a bad experience would have thwarted that. Lastly, I am training for Mongolia, so time on my feet is important. I think a lot of people thing training is about distance, but as far as I am concerned its about spending time on your feet. If you can run/walk a decent slog for 7 hours, you can get ultra ready. I also had Portsmouth Coastal Skipathon Marathon the next day, and so didn’t want to do anything that would scupper that. Well I did, because Portsmouth is terrible, but that’s for another blog.
After the first 10 miles and 5 rivers, things started to slow down and it got VERY muddy, We were running through the areas the Tanks drive and in some places it was mid calf deep mud. An attempt at aggressive cornering through what I thought was a puddle, ended up with me being almost knee deep in mud and stuck. Classic AB move. And there were hills. Lots of hills. Some steep, some bastard long slow sandy ones. But hills are for eating and walking, and when you snack as much as I do, they’re quite welcome.
The scenery was beautiful - heath land littered with old tanks in the bushes, huge trees and muddy trails. I felt extremely lucky to be allowed to run across land that is owned by the MOD - it’s a place that the public just cannot access and that is awesome. The Lovestation (that’s the WSR aid station) was stocked brilliantly and as always the volunteers were there for a kiss and a hug and to give us a gin/vodka/mulled cider - all very welcome on the way back. Plus, at my request they had gherkins. Gherkins are the food of ultra running kings. By the amount left on the way back, I was obviously the only person that thought that. THANKS ANDY! (Don’t chop them up so small next time)
Note mud up to knees post running through a puddle that wasn’t a puddle.
Mile 18-27 was hard. I felt really good, and the temptation to trot off and smash out the last few miles was REALLY strong. But no, I wasn’t doing this one for me, I wanted to support Susi. There was a lot more walking going on at this point, so I suggested a run for 5 mins, walk for one rule - that plan was quickly fucked by the hills. So I just tried to apply a little pressure every now and again to get Susi trotting along at a slow pace without her punching me in the face. She was glorious. She didn’t whinge or whine or complain, and I know I can be pretty fucking annoying when I am barking at people to run.
The last few miles crept by slowly and we trotted in in 6.35 - a very long time for anyone to be on their feet in those conditions. Susi had done it, her first marathon - she had technically done her first Ultra TBF. She got her PB and I had got my personal worst for marathon time. #nailedit
This race was all sorts of awesome - I completely loved every single second of it. Everything from the organisation to the support from all the marshals and volunteers, the environment, that tanks, all of it was amazing. The route was well marked and marshalled, the Lovestation was brilliantly festive and the atmosphere was just the best. The medal’s not too bad either.
If there is only one race you do next year, make it a White Star Running race. I can’t WAIT for Larmer in Mrach. And Susi - this ones for you - congratulations!