“Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing” – Oscar Wilde
I’ve been really non-committal with races. Planning next to nothing, entering things last minute and living on wait lists, not being too fussed if I’m invited to join or not. I decided to put myself on the waitlist for Country to Capital (C2C) a couple of weeks ago and luckily was given a spot last minute.
I’d run this back in 2018 and didn’t do well so wanted to have another stab at it. C2C is a 43 mile point to point race starting in Wendover, Buckinghamshire and finishing in Little Venice, London. The logistics of how to get to the start and onward travel from the finish can be a bit of a turn off for some.
For me I got lucky this year. I don’t know how it happened but Barry Gerhold and Claire Foley happened to be running and had a spare hotel room. I’d spent some time with them at the Head torch marathon just after Christmas so took them up on the offer and decided to make a mini break of it and play gooseberry with them for the evening over dinner and drinks. I’ve never done this, always leaving the house early, pounding out the race and returning as quickly as possible is my usual style. This much more relaxed approach taken by Barry and Claire was an absolute dream!
Discussing races, runners and everything in between with them felt like I had OD’d on something. I’d never had such a focussed conversation on a shared obsession before with a running couple. Those around us not having a clue what was being discussed. We could have been speaking a foreign language. I clocked some on the train trying to decipher topics such as Escape from Meriden chained, Centurion Slam, Ridgeway 86 – just bonkers.
Barry and Claire were so organised it was amazing being escorted from train station to dinner and from dinner to a table to watch Barry’s team loose at football. I love Barry’s small misfortunes. Ever since he had to go to work the morning after the very late finish of our last run together it really gives me a smile! (I don’t really do football. Barry’s team were in red. All I remember was that I was drinking Hop House, Barry had Cider and Claire had a Coors Light. Geezer bird!)
After football it was on to the hotel, sleep and then to Wendover for the first Ultra race of the running calendar. I lost Barry and Claire at check in but was kept entertained by a few other regular faces until the start and then made the sprint down Wendover high street to the first bottleneck of the race.
The first 23miles is self-navigated trail through woods, mud and varying hills. Most tend to run in flocks of lost sheep lead by a super prepared Shepherd with the route plugged into his/her swanky watch or with previous knowledge of the route. Most of the time all goes well until the Shepherd gets hacked off with the lack of preparedness he is surrounded by and bolts or he gets the herd lost! The herd then begrudgingly get their maps out, start starring into the abyss pretending to help like they know what they’re doing until someone makes the decision. I tend to try and be the grey man in this situation and blend in. Very lazy but it’s just for half the race.
Survive this scenario for 23 miles and runners make it to the Grand Union Canal. A cheer is heard from all as the navigation for the remaining 20 miles is easy. Follow the canal to Little Venice. Instantly everyone is friends again and the flock scatters as they all find their own pace and confidence with the rest of the race. I stopped for a bit of an admin break before tackling the second half. I enjoyed the canal this year managing it consistently, so far from where I was with this race in 2018. Hitting the 13 miles to Paddington sign and feeling so much stronger than 2018 I decided to hammer down. The last 8 miles being achieved at a 3:30hr marathon pace! I’m not as fit as I was back in 2018 so I’m putting this freakish streak at the moment mainly down to experience.
Even with the self-navigation, 11 hour cut off and logistical planning involved in the C2C it doesn’t seem to put the Ultra runners off entering. The race is highly regarded and sells out every year. The Go Beyond team make the effort with offering qualifying points for UTMB for all who finish and are very good with the hospitality and SWAG. The homemade ginger cake is always popular and goes down well at every aid station.
In my opinion it is not a “first ultra” but definitely one to try and aspire to before taking on some of the even longer distances. I will be back, feel the need to get this one under 6:15 hours…..