Runners are congregating at the start line, alert and awaiting final instructions from Ryk, the race director of ‘Panther Takes the Hindmost’ Punk Panther event. I’m observing this whist driving in to Hurst Wood carpark just before 9am.
Although everyone has now set off for the start of the event, I’m quite happy taking my time to park up. I’m not stressing over punctuality. Time is on my hands and I’ve learnt the importance of pre event rituals.
The marathon qualifier
As crazy as it sounds, we all have until 2.55pm to run a marathon to qualify for the elimination rounds. Yep, you heard me right, and it gets crazier. I’ll explain later.
So, at 9:07am, after chatting with Ryk, I set off due west, along the Leeds and Liverpool canal towards Skipton. It’s a 10.5k out and back. On the first lap I familiarise myself with the other runners, prejudging their capability and game plan as I overtake or pass them in opposite directions. A handful I know from other events.
The week prior, I had recce’d the course. Not because it is difficult from a navigation perspective, but because I wanted to be prepared. Good job I did as the beast that is Five-Rise Locks awaited. Needless to say I decided well in advance to walk up this – and the Three-Rise Locks – that came before it.
Respect hills and embrace walking.
Running up hills efficiently is a good skill the master; another skill to master is judging which hills to run or walk up. Gained seconds are quickly lost if you are shattered when you get to the top! Respect hills and embrace walking.
By the second lap I alligned with AJ, a familiar face in the Punk series. We enjoy a lap together and I get to chat with him for the first time ever. AJ is 21 and on his third ultra in his first year ultra running. He’s breaking the mould – I don’t know any other ultra runners under 30.
My game plan had been to run the 4 laps pretty fast, then enjoy a few hours to have my lunch. However, after being inspired by AJ, I decide to walk the last lap whilst eating my lunch. It’s perfectly timed as I also catch Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 (yeah, I know), something I do every lunchtime during the week. I almost forgot I was competing by the time the lap had finished.
Marathon done and my reward for time management is an hour in the Higher Ground cafe – literally next door to the carpark – keeping warm with a good cup of Yorkshire tea. I also charge up my Garmin, all set for the afternoon and evening that will unfold.
Elimination laps begin
3pm and the elimination laps begin. Because of covid, we start in 10 second intervals, with the slowest marathon runner going first. I’m mid-pack, so an ideal position to be in.
To explain, the last person back is eliminated. However, if that person decides to quit before getting to the halfway turning point, they don’t count. So, it gets very interesting, especially if you only discover this on the way back! Basically, you have to keep the pace going and be towards the front pack to have any chance.
I complete the first lap in 3rd position and as each lap passes, I perfect my tactics; let the top two pull away as I run with everyone else up front. Then, at the turning point, pull away and have a strong finish to the end. My tactics worked and I finish in the top 3 for all of the elimination laps.
Lap pace (KM)
- Lap 5: 5:15
- Lap 6: 5:28
- Lap 7: 5:21
- Lap 8: 5:47
- Lap 9: 5:48
The final three
5 elimination laps complete and we’re down to the final 3. There’s myself, AJ and Alan – a solid runner and recent 9th place finisher at Hardmoors 110. We all gather around the start; who is going to continue?
Winning and losing in a traditional way of looking at it are outcomesHow to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself with Pipa Grange.
Then, I remember the podcast episode I listened to earlier in the day that resonated with me. In this, Pipa Grange, a guest on Feel Better, Live More with Dr Chatterjee said that position is merely an outcome.
AJ decides not to continue another lap. I have two choices; continue and compete with Alan for an unimaginable number of laps until the early hours, or, call it a day. I do neither.
In the days leading up to the event I had made a decision to run until midnight on the basis that this would take me to just over 100k, then see how it goes on the day. I’m on 95k and the OCD in me couldn’t end it there. Anyhow, I would have regretted it afterwards and would have spent a year – until the 2021 episode – beating myself up!
I decide to do a small out and back and round it off to 100k. Alan and I set off together talking ultras all the way to the Five-Rise Locks, my turning point. We swap congratulations and I enjoy the casual run back on my own, wholey satisfied and fulfilled.
Results can be found here
There is only one winner, but this is not the only measure of success. For me, I saw this event as extremely successful; I felt strong throughout, maintained a good pace and it is good preparation for Hardwolds80 in November – what is my final event of the “season”.
For me, it’s deciding what success looks like and having this clear in my head in advance of an event; make it SMART, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.
By all means set out to win; I will be doing that in the 2021 edition. However, position is merely an outcome. Success comes in many forms. Be smart.
About the event
Panther Takes the Hindmost was held on 9th October 2020 and is one of a series of ultra marathons organised by Punk Panther. I could not speak more highly about the organisers, marshals and runners. Check out the events here.