"Done much training?" a lady asked me in the start pen, whilst others around us jumped up and down attempting to follow the warm up.
"Well I just did the Isle of Wight Ultra a few weeks back" I replied, attempting to skirt round the question.
She dived into conversation telling me all about her training walks, the distances she had been walking, and how this was her first ultra. I wondered if I should come clean. The truth is I had done little to no training the last few weeks. 8 weeks ago I stumbled over the Isle of Wight finish line and 4 weeks ago I had similarly stumbled over the half marathon finish line. My body was in pieces. One foot was completely missing a big toe nail, the other had tape holding down the big toe nail that was doing its best to say attached on one side (trust me, this is much more painful than it sounds!) and my legs looked like someone had created modern art with tape on them. It's fair to say I probably wasn't best prepared for the next 100km.
The route itself was great. A mixture of tow paths, fields and pretty little villages (If you want to see it then head over to http://www.london2cambridgechallenge.com/the-challenge/the-route) and with few hills it was alot easier to complete than the Isle of Wight!! Completing my second 100km Ultra in 2 months, here's my top 10 tips for making it through an Action Challenge ultra event;
1) Come prepared. Whether its 50km or 100km make sure you have done the training. You don't need to have covered all that distance in one go before the event, but try and do a good few longs walks or runs in the weeks leading upto it. This will help you identify if your shoes are likely to cause you problems, if you will struggle on hills and roughly how long it will take you to get between check points - always useful for supporters to know who may be with you if like me you are trying to save phone battery to play music and therefore have it on aeroplane mode! .
2) 60% of the challenge is mental. Be aware that you will hit 'the wall' at some point on the challenge. For me this has happened on both Ultras between 60-70km but push through the pain and those km's will continue to dissapear! Try and have some of your favorites songs to play when this happens to give you a boost or get your supporters to come and walk/run with you. Friendly faces and a bit of encouragment works wonders!
3) Don't fill your bag with large quantities of food or drink. Trust me, this will only add unwanted weight to your bag. Approximately every 10km Action Challenge have a large marquee filled with tables of food - crisps, chocolate, fruit, energy bars, energy gels, flapjacks... You want it... they probably have it. You can take as much as you like to last you to the next tent and every 25km there's hot food.
4) Take spare socks and plasters. If it's raining, your socks will soon get wet walking through fields, puddles or wet grass. Even if it's dry, the likelihood is your feet will sweat and your socks will be damp. This is when blisters like to come and play, so I would recommend changing socks at every major rest stop. Likewise, carry some plasters with you and stop to sort out any rubbing as soon as you feel it. If you leave it until the blister is visible you are likely to have issues later on in the challenge! I always wrap the areas of my feet that tend to blister in tape before I start and this seems to work.
5) The rest stop areas are great, free massage, free food, plenty of chairs to sit down on... just try not to spend too long here! For starters, the time spent at rest stops counts towards your finish time. Secondly, its very easy to sit down to rest your feet, queue for a massage, get some hot food and then realise 2 hours has passed. When you try to set back off again your body will have seized and it will take a good few km's to get back into it.
6) Carry a pair of comfy flip flops with you. They dont weight much and dont take up much space but could prove to be a lifesaver. They can be used if you want to air your feet at rest stops to stop you having to walk in bare feet but most importantly, they might get you to the end of the challenge if your shoes are rubbing and causing blisters. I walked the last 15km of this Ultra in mine after getting a horribly painful blister on my little toe (I've never had one there before and I've not had one there since). I was literally hobbling along in my shoes but could walk fine in flip flops and passed many people in the last 10km who were hobbling along and envious of my flip flops!
7) Don't worry about the overnight sections. As someone who loves to sleep at any opportunity, I can promise you the adrenaline will carry you through the night. The route itself gets marked with glow sticks (sometimes it's actually easier to follow the route at night than it is at day) and if you are alone the marshalls will group you up once it gets dark at the next rest stop you reach, ensuring that you have a group of people to walk with. They also have 'Trek Masters' who walk the overnight sections with small groups who will happily walk at your pace and provide conversatation for a good few hours!
8) Do make sure you put new batteries in your head torch before you start! I can confirm that there is nothing worse than walking through fields with a head torch that is giving out less light than the moon and then having to try find spare batteries in your bag to resolve this issue in the dark!
9) Carry some clothes for different weather conditions (or have supporters who can come and meet you with extra layers/jackets etc if needed). It might be blue sky and sun when you set off at 8am in the morning but 50km north or 8 hours later in the day theres a strong chance it could be raining and cold! However, as all the events are held in spring/summer I found that even overnight temperatures didnt get too cold so try not to carry around too many un-needed layers that will just add weight to your bag.
10) Be prepared that this might be the beginning of a love affair with Ultras. After 106km round the Isle of Wight I swore I was never going to do anything like that again. 8 weeks later, I've just completed number 2, and in 8 weeks I will complete number 3. They are addictive, push through the pain and the acomplishment you feel at the end will stay with you forever.