• Tue03February 2015
  • Peddars Way Ultra Marathon 2015: running in a snow storm

    Another weekend, another trail race. It has become standard training for the Marathon des Sables. But the Peddars Way Ultra Marathon 2015 is a race I will never forget and not just because I was placed as second lady.

    A cold and chilly start of the Peddars Way Ultra (c)  Matthew Hearne

    A cold and chilly start of the Peddars Way Ultra (c) Matthew Hearne

    What is the Peddars Way Ultra?

    The race now in its second year cover a 48-mile stretch of Roman road from the Suffolk borders to the Norfolk coast (now a National Trust trail). Organised by Positive Steps Fitness & Wellbeing, the course takes you past some beautiful scenery, including the ruins of a Priory in Castle Acre, the bleak flat fields of Norfolk and then towards the coast to finish in the small beachside village of Holme-next-the-Sea.

    Was it well-organised?

    The organisation was impeccable. With three checkpoints and volunteers standing in the cold to cheer you on, the team behind this event could not be faulted. Honestly, they put on a fine spread with everything you could need to fuel this epic race. It was a banquet for this fairly-new-to-ultra runner.

    Beautiful but bleak landscape

    Beautiful but bleak landscape

    How about getting lost?

    You could download a map before you set off but as the Peddars Way is a National Trust trail, it’s pretty easy to follow. All you need to do is simply follow the acorns (signs with acorns on them). You do hit Ringstead village at mile 44 which would disorientate you on other occasions but thanks to red and white tape markings you know which road to take.

    Any quirks? 

    Before you finish the race in the village hall of Holme-next-the-Sea you have to run to the beach and tear a page out of a book. Not easy when your hands are frozen.

    Now to the weather… 

    It is a race that takes part at the end of January, which means the weather can be changeable. Mandatory kit includes waterproof jacket and trousers plus a foil blanket and headlamp for a reason.

    My experience

    The first half of the race was pretty steady – I kept up a slow pace as I have never run more than 32 miles and didn’t want to peak too early. In fact, I was feeling pretty tired up until the 27-mile mark. Too many late nights and a hectic week at work plus training meant I had no real aims with this race apart from to finish. It is important that I know that I can cover the long stage of the Marathon des Sables even if it is in almost the opposite weather conditions. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

    It started to snow - hard...

    It started to snow – hard…

    After Castle Acre it started to snow. And by snow I mean blizzard. Fine, I thought, just keep going it will stop soon. I was wrong. The snow was coming down so hard it was pummeling my face and body like tiny stones. Then is started to soak through my layers of clothing. When I looked down at my gloves, they were like fistfuls of snow. The only way to describe the race at this point is brutal.

    Mentally I knew I had to keep going, not stopping even to put my waterproofs on. I was cold now and another layer probably wouldn’t help  now would cutting short my flow. I kept on going, trying different methods to raise my temperature such as Ujjayi breathing from the yoga practice that I have done as I remember the teacher saying something about how it creates warmth (It’s funny what you recall sometimes.) And you know what? This desperation to finish seemed to pay off. My pace didn’t slow, I kept it steady and I even managed to pass some other competitors en route. When I saw the sea, I knew that the finish was almost in sight. It was like all my Christmases had come at once. Only two more miles to go.

    Then it was head to the beach, rip out a page of the book (bizarre but a rule of the race if you wanted a medal and t-shirt) with my frozen mitts and then follow the volunteers directions back to the village hall. That sensation that a) I had almost finished and b) I had almost completed 48 miles in one day filled me with so much joy.

    Finally, after passing some finishers and asking how much further I saw the village hall. I was so cold, I could barely talk to my mate Matt (the guy who kindly let me use his photo above and organiser of the Stour Valley Path 100K – check it out http://www.svp100.co.uk/). I also learned that my strategy to just finish and run towards the warmth had earned me the place of 2nd lady, which, of course, was a massive bonus.

    Freezing my bottom off but came in 2nd lady.

    Freezing my bottom off but came in 2nd lady.

    Would I do the Peddars Way Ultra again?

    When I was frozen to the bone and trying mentally to think happy warm thoughts, I was thinking never again. But, after some reflection, I would certainly contemplate it. It is such a well-organised race and you really can’t get lost unless you try to (which is good for me – see Trailscape). I also loved the supportive nature of the other runners. On the way out, I slipped over on a patch of ice and a bloke instinctively reached down to help me up. Another bloke kept on checking that I was ok when I was fiddling with my phone trying to find Radio 4 on FM. All the ultra runners supported each other on what was an experience and a half through the snow.

    You can’t control the weather but you can decide the kind of race you want to try and this one was full of a bunch of supportive people who love going the extra distance.

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