St Peter’s Way Ultra Race Report by Richard Pryor

I signed up for this as a training run for the Brighton 2016 marathon! A wedding invitation down under smack bang in the middle of the higher mileage training runs meant I either had to do the runs in scorching temperatures, when I should have been lying on a beach, or I needed a plan B. Knowing how much I had enjoyed the Stort30 ultra last October with my run buddies, pushing the run event mileage further suited both my wish to go longer plus also get a solid base built for Brighton ahead of time. So the St Peter’s Way 45 mile Ultra was the perfect plan, pretty local too, it being a historic footpath, through some of the best of the Essex countryside, from Chipping Ongar through to St Peter’s Church, one of the oldest churches in the UK, at Bradwell-on-Sea, also claimed to be the UK’s muddiest ultra! What’s a bit of mud after Benfleet 15 eh?!

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Chatting to Keith and Beno, my coffee and cake club buddies, Keith’s appetite was quickly whetted, and Mark and Nicki were straight into planning the recce runs. It’s a self navigating race, and the last thing you want to do when running so far is to get lost! Colin Dunn said he was tempted, but needed convincing, so he joined us on our first recce, stages 4 and 5, and soon signed up to, despite slipping over twice in the mud in his trusty Hoka’s! We also found out that Dan Benwell had also signed up too.

My training started properly Jan 1, with the MAF plan, I’m not going to bore everyone again with this. Enough to say it’s about developing your aerobic (fat burning) base effectively by running so slowly it defies logic. Training runs were almost daily, and slow, weekly mileage 50-60 miles, culminating in one crazy Monday night run, when I ended up on an unplanned 7 hour slow run, 32 miles, one beautifully clear starry skied evening, getting home at 2am…. The MAF training also required healthy eating, 25% healthy carbs in my diet, not 65% of junk carbs, so my twice daily cake became once weekly, daily ready meals banished, everything cooked from fresh… One thing I knew from Stort30 is you have to respect the distance. Luckily I loved the training and discovered I could cook and make a mean soup…including with cheese….

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Fast forward to race day. My first long race where i’d not gorged on carbs, this was going to be a leap of faith for me with the Maffertone Method, a mini science experiment as well as a bloody long run. I’d made up bottles of water with honey which Gail and the Beno’s were going to keep refilling my bottles with, my coconut oils and marmite sandwiches made, baby bells packed. Check, ready for the off.

Me, Keith, Col, and Dan joined up 7am at the start point at Chipping Ongar, at one end of The St. Peters Way, which did you know, many years ago used to have a motte and bailey castle. Keith and I were very grateful to Anna Watkins, who was volunteering at the event, who gave us a lift. Mandatory kit check before we were allowed to register, and if anyone failed the mandatory kit check, that’s it, race over! I did wonder if Lindley, the guy with the most impressive beard behind Challenge-Running has shares in myracekit.com, as I know Keith, Col and me all spent a small fortune in kit there to make the cut.

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I think we were all almost blasé in our anticipation pre race day, but we were all surprisingly nervous as we fixed our race numbers and tried to kill the hour (always early me!) before the off. This was the first time I pinned my number to my shorts, that’s what all ultra runners do isn’t it? I used 8 pins just incase I knocked it off with a stray arm swing. As time went by, all the runners started to mill around, a field of around 80 I think started, small, and typical of one of Lindley’s races. Several faces were starting to become vaguely familiar from previous runs.

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What can I tell you about the course, well it’s badged the 45 mile ultra, but truth be known, it’s the St Peter’s Way 42.5 mile ultra, but that doesn’t have the same ring, so like many ultra events, the organisers round up to the nearest sweet number. Seems no one worries about the odd mile or two when you’ve run so many! 5 checkpoints, all roughly evenly spaced, all around 3 parkruns, give or take. The route goes through fantastically picturesque countryside, as well as under the A12, over the A130 (most of you will have driven under the SPW footbridge along that road) plus a small tunnel where even Beno has to duck to go under the main train-line to East Anglia…

Keith and I had planned to break the race into stages, 5. Col decide to stick with us at the start as we’d recce’d more than him and Dan was going to be heading off in the distance. We knew for us it wouldn’t be quick, the recce runs with Nicki and Mark showed us how muddy it could be. We didn’t have a finish time in mind, as long as we were within the reasonably generous 13 hour cut off. The forecast was dry, with a bitter North Easterly wind. It was dry with a bitter North Easterly wind!

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The start to CP1 at Ingatestone was uneventful, we passed through Blackmore, which, some more history here, in 1348 lost two thirds of it’s population to the Black Death. Mercifully the muddy fields had dried well since the recce’s, I started developing a blister, which bugged me, I knew I had to sort that quickly or it would blight me the next 10 hours!, So more gurney goo and a compeed plaster applied at CP1, and it would be sorted hopefully. When we got to CP 1 we saw Anna again and also Gail and her girls, and Maisie, and also Colin’s folks, so lovely to have such a great welcome. 8 miles down. Blister sorted, deer spotted, onwards to CP2, West Hanningfield.

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CP 2 arrived, pleased to have ticked it off, as I think it’s the hilliest section, well ahead of cut off time, to be greeted by Gail and her girls and Maisie again and also Lou and Steve and Benji. I think I spent more time chasing Gail’s girls playing hide and seek and ‘BOO’ than I did refuelling, I do remember the fuelling highlight being a cup of Gail’s hot chocolate, Keith also partook.

 

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We were on the Purleigh next, to CP 3, it was starting to get harder now, passing through Stock Village, past it’s windmill, CP 3 would be just shy of a marathon distance, so starting to get serious now. As expected the 80 or so runners had spread very far and wide, we had no one in sight in front or behind now. It’s not a race I’d like to do on my own without having done the recce’s. We were given typed route instructions for each stage, but I need my glasses for reading, it’s just a pain, and a second opinion is invaluable. Luckily Keith was all over the map reading, which coupled with the recce experience meant me and Col only went wrong twice on the whole route before luckily Keith got us back on track, including through that tunnel under the main line to Anglia

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This stage, just shy of 10 miles was the longest, and it ended with a steep hill climb to Purleigh, made so much easier by the sight of Anne, Tina, Graham, John and Storm running down the hill to greet us and cheer us on up the hill, where we saw Mark and Nicki.

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I’m not going to get emotional here, but it’s just the best feeling to have such warm hearted genuine support lifting you, it really does. They also shared many of the messages being posted on FB. So a quick refuel here and multiple hugs, and then we were off, just two stages to go, around 6 park runs, “we’ve got this” we told ourselves. We’d learnt while at the CP that the race had already been won, fastest runner home in just under 6 hours, that’s just incredible!

So as we set off to CP 4 at Steeple, my watch beeped to tellme the last mile had been 26 minutes, we’d spent more time hugging than I realised at the CP, (but time very well spent). The trail went through Mundon, with it’s unique beautiful hidden Parish Church of St. Mary and it’s 1000 year old petrified oaks, featured as October in the flyers 2016 calender. The race was getting tougher as we went through 30 miles around Maylandsea, a special place for Keith as his father was once Commodore at the Marina there. I must admit that I still felt fine, blister had been headed off at the pass, the fat burning (as opposed to sugar) training was paying dividends, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was growing stronger as the race unfolded. We found some more very muddy sections, tip toed through them, Col didn’t slip over. We found the field of friendly horses, I’m not a huge fan, but I led the walk through the field trying not to attract them, in my flyers orange carrot coloured shirt….I almost made it before one galloped up behind me and veered off at the last minute, I first heard Col hollering, or was that laughing? and then the heavy thuds as he (the horse, not Col) cantered towards me, only to veer off last minute.

 

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Climbing over that stile out of the field was a personal highlight! Soon we were on the long road section though Steeple town to the CP4. Again we were greeted by Nicki and Mark, Anna wonderfully manning the CP, and Debbie, Colin’s wife and his folks, what a great welcoming party, needed as we were growing colder. Keith was starting to wish I hadn’t whispered in his ear all those months ago, and Col I think was just focusing all energies on getting to the CP to see Debbie for the first time in the day at the CP, I think he did a race PB that last few meters to get his hug 🙂 Me, I was just fantasising about multiple caramel cake portions sometime Monday!

Highlights of the CP4 was the baby bell race. I’d brought some along but my hands were too cold to un wrap it, so Beno took control, but he was also cold fingered and dropped the bloody thing, and it bounced on it’s edge and then rolled down the road with us both chasing it! Lordy knows why after covering around 35 miles I decided I should chase after a baby bell ball of cheese! Beno recovered it and we applied the 5 (ish) second rule and I scoffed it.

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We knew we had this one in the bag, 36 miles done just 2 and a bit parkruns to go, head torches at the ready, matching UD jackets on, we almost looked like pro ultra runners! by far the most exposed section, through Tillingham to the sea wall ahead, and we were off. This was the hardest section, the winds in parts were brutal. I was hoping to use a line in my report that Kelly coined in her fab Gt. Bentley run report, “listening to the wind whipping at the window like an evil dominatrics”…. well it was just like that, but the nearest windows were miles away….. Col had become very cold while we were standing at the last CP, and it took him a while to warm, The remoteness meant we had to face the full force of the blustery bitter winds, at 35 miles plus of endurance, it’s a brave new world. Col warmed up, but his legs were giving him problems, he’d hit his wall. Keith was also cussing, vowing to never ever do this race again (ask him now how he feels and you’ll get a different answer). Me, well, must admit, much like Stort30 in October, I still felt strong, bouncing along, so much so Keith christen me “Tigger”! It was this section where we walked the most on the flat, as Col mustered his remaining energy and courage to get his legs working again, which he did, awesome determination, and Keith became refuelled with those magic little Soreen loaves. Keith is a running legend, driven by such a strong determination and happy runners spirit, no matter how tough it gets. As we approached the sea wall, we managed to get some running going again, small matter of climbing up the sea wall and all we had left was the 2 laps of Gunners Park to the Church, on a narrow sea wall, in a strong wind, in the dark…… why make it easy?!

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This section we all got into our own rhythms and single file headed to the church, which was illuminated tiny in the distance by the headlights of Lindley’s truck. I loved it, I know this section so well having been along it before with last year’s Saltmarsh race, and other excursions. Something about that place energises me, I think it’s the desolation and being at natures will. I am an odd one!

A strong finish for us all, as we ‘ultra shuffled’ the last miles I could see Keith’s head-torch a short way behind me and Col’s a little further on, and before we knew it we crossed the line, wonderful, and just over 11 hours. We had finished at a wonderfully historic place, The Chapel of St. Peter’s on the wall, one of the UK’s oldest churches, built around 653AD

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The time didn’t matter, what did was competing an amazing experience, a 45 (42.5) mile endurance event. I was still feeling like Tigger, loved it, the feeling was amazing. To cheer us home was Nicki and Mark, Lou and Steve also, fabulous, plus Debbie and Colin’s folks, plus Dan, who’d had an amazing run and completed in just under 10 hours, plus Neil Kirsh, a Flyers friend, another fantastic run by him. Lots of hugs followed and then the joy of Lindley putting that beautiful medal around our necks. I know it’s getting soft here, but competing this event, with Keith and Colin, was just a euphoric achievement. I remember punched the air after Stort, I gave this one a double punch. That’s why I love endurance events. When I do things like this, push myself to new limits I remember the circumstances of why I started running almost 4 years ago now, and I feel proud.

So, in one of the oldest churches in Britain, we had a cup of tea, a few more hugs, a few more photos and we were done. Keith, Col, Dan, what amazing shared memories, and then, thanks again to Nicki and Mark we were whisked safely home. Thanks again guys.

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So, (and well done in getting this far, almost like your own endurance event) would I recommend the St Peter’s Way Ultra? Definitely yes, it’s a fantastic trail run, no frills, well organised by Lindley and team at Challenge Running. It deserves respect, like any marathon does, and this is probably twice as hard. But if you want a challenge, it’s brilliant. Join me there next year?

 

What’s next for me, well, I’m off down under shortly, family wedding and sun. Another advantage of the MAF slow running is the fat burning and the 10 kilo weight loss this year will also suit the beach work 🙂 I’ve got myself a half marathon booked while I’m there, and then several marathons and ultras when I’m back. Will I be thinking about going even longer? Are Flyers Southend the most supportive amazing family? hell yeah to both 🙂

 

Final note of thanks from Me, Keith, Colin and Dan, for all the hugs and encouragement along the way, and all your amazing Facebook support, you guys are just amazing, flyers is one hell of a running club, wow! THANKS xx

by Richard Pryor 1/3/16

 

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