The week prior to the 60k Reservoir Dogs ultra event I felt on top of the world. I had completed 2 successive marathon weekends. Plus, in the last weekend run I put my legs through the paces. The week of the event, I felt terrible. I’d soon discover why.
You may have noticed that I didn’t call Reservoir Dogs a competition; I called it an event. I’m making a conscious effort to use the term event to change my mindset; to take the pressure off event days and to associate the event with an experience.
Using the term event doesn’t mean I no longer want to be, or don’t have the confidence, to be competitive. On the contrary. An event is the whole package. The journey to the event, the people you meet, the running itself – an event is a positive association with the experience that I’ll be able to draw inspiration from and to look back at in years to come with fond memories.
On the day itself, after an hour’s drive from Stamford Bridge to Otley, accompanied by Matt and Mollie on Radio 1 (I know, a guilty pleasure as a 40 year old), I arrive unusually early and un-flustered. My navigation skills are even impeccable, but I have been to the same place 12 times to compete in Punk Panther events since the start of 2019!
The early arrival gives me the opportunity to warm up casually and have a catch-up with the race organiser’s wife, Bev. We talked about my training, how I had improved remarkably from the maiden year in 2019. Also, I told her that my partner, Mel, would be joining me this time next year for her first ever ultra. More about that another time.
I begin running after a covid safe staggered start and I’m feeling good, an hour in and not a niggle to be felt. I’m basking in the glory of the scenery, enjoying the endulating course and I’m feeling strong, but then…
I see a handful of runners coming toward me. I even laugh at one and proceed to say ‘easily done’. Then, as more followed suite, it dawns on me I’m going the wrong way around Thruscross Reservoir! To add, this reservoir is big, as in circa 10k in circumference. I have a decision to make, do I go back on myself or continue?
Behind me there’s Steve, in his 50’s, having only started running a few years back, similar if not worse than me at navigation. We decide to continue together and buck the trend.
One after another, we see runners bemused, frantically looking at their gpx devices, quickly relieved by the “it’s not you, it’s me” announcement. After the umpteenth runner, I had found inventive ways to explain our pedicement, adding universally recognisable hand gestures to the mix.
Too close for comfort
I had lost Steve on a climb and we got through the oncoming runner traffic at that point, nearing the end of the reverse loop. Then, after I climb over a stile into an incredible pinewood avenue decend, my Garmin prompts me – this time – that I’ve gone the wrong way again. Where were you 10k back Garmin?
Do I go back, or do I climb over a barbed wire fence? I go for the practical option, barbed wire it is! Now, height is not on my side, so celibacy was a risk. I climb over unscathed in the end, only to find Steve, much taller than me, doing the same, but twice the speed.
We get to the next checkpoint and there’s Steve’s wife, Helena. She’d been dot watching our trackers online, laughing at us along with the rest of the marshals on the course. Ryk, the event organiser had apparently told Helena over the telephone to leave them too it. Probably best.
Embracing the moment
After leaving the checkpoint, I continue running strong and there’s no more mishaps. My pace deterioration retracts and I’m now in full flow. Even the seemingly clockwork 30-40k lull doesn’t come to fruition. I’m hoping this is because introducing half a Jordan’s bar each hour has put that anomaly to bed once and for all.
I get to a summit of a hill and there’s panoramic views across the Yorkshire Dales. Feeling on top of the world – pun intended – I feel the need to raise my arms up to feel the wind flow through my fingers. I momentarily lift my head up, take a deep breath through my nose and savour that moment.
I get to a main road, a 2k climb running against oncoming traffic. I actually really enjoyed this part as I could see other runners scattered up as far as I could see. As I get to the top I see a familiar face coming up from behind; Stephen (“SK”) gliding past as he does. You wouldn’t think that he’d finished 3rd in the Hardmoors 60 the weekend prior and top 10 in the Hardmoors 110 a few weeks before that! Absolute respect for that guy.
At the top of the hill we get to the next checkpoint. He stops, but I shout 274 (my tracker number) to the marshal going past and decide to use this opportunity to make ground between SK and I, but I knew full well it would be short-lived.
About 5k later I see SK 100 meters behind me and I decide to pick up pace and keep him at bay. As the frequency of stiles increase and my speed decrease at the same velocity, SK catches up with me. ‘What took you so long?’ I say. SK replies, ‘I stopped to have a jam sandwich’.
I continue in amazing spirits, but moments before getting to the end, I put on my “victory song” and pick up the pace. I weave in and out of people in the park and sprint to the end, narrowly avoiding hitting a delivery van as I cross the main road! Mel will discover this minor detail after this blog publication!
I stop my watch, I’m done and I’m grinning from ear to ear. I’ve recorded the fastest trail ultra ever, by a country mile. This, despite the fun and games at Thruscross Reservoir.
In the end I came 5th out of 97 runners. That’ll do me. There’s some good runners who take part. Normally, I’m a happy mid-pack runner. Today, I wanted more.
In the days after I think about the event and only now I’ve decided why I did so well.
Firstly, whilst sounding ridiculous, could I have felt out of sorts in the week leading up to the event because my body was telling me to slow down, in preparation for Reservoir Dogs? It’s a theory I’ll explore over time.
More importantly, throughout the whole course, I felt happy. I had a clear mind. Not a care or worry in the world. I felt like a different runner, perhaps for the first time, a genuine ultra runner and an equal amoungst my fellow counterparts.
I’m making a pledge from today. I’m going to run happy.
Oh yeah, my victory song. For some unknown reason, my go to song is from an unexpected artist, Amos Lee, Windows are Rolled Down. A beautiful song.
About the event
Reservoir Dogs was held on 26th September 2020 and is one of a series of ultra marathons in the Yorkshire Dales, starting from Otley. I could not speak more highly about the organisers, marshals and runners. Check out the events here.