Running long-distance outside of a formal race environment is hard. Pushing past marathon distance solo takes a strong mental focus and some serious planning. However, during this time of coronavirus when races are off the cards, many runners have tackled long distances on their own, often as part of virtual running challenges.
In this blog, runner Hannah Slater talks about her experience of taking on her first-ever 50-mile run virtually.
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Switching to virtual running
From running in one or two events a month to none was quite a big deal. I eventually started to dabble in the world of virtual races. I wasn’t sure about the lack of other runners around you, the lack of atmosphere and everyone running different routes. But I thought I’d try as I needed something to aim for. Plus, I was missing adding to my collection of medals!
I’m still very much new to running, especially the longer distances. I thought I’d start off with a marathon. Having only ever having run up to 14 miles previously, this would surely challenge me! In May, I entered the White Star Running virtual race, and ran my first-ever marathon, non-stop, in under 5 hours. I was thrilled, while also getting a bit of a confidence boost.
Off the back of this, I was keen to explore my limits. I searched for a 50K virtual race, but I couldn’t find one that had a nice medal! So I ended up throwing myself into the deep end and choosing to run in the virtual GB Ultra Scotland 50 miler. I had dot-watched people before so, to actually be a dot was a bit unreal. Even though a virtual one…
Preparing for my first ultra
I’m lucky to have a brother who’s an amazing ultrarunner, taking part in mountain/trail events across the UK. He suggested 10-mile laps were the way to go. That way, if I needed anything from home, or I had much-dreaded digestive issues, I wasn’t far away from comfort. I had my aid station all set up inside my front door with everything possible that I may need… plus the kitchen sink! I figured if I prepared my aid station right, then everything else would follow. I had spoken to my sports nutritionist from XMiles UK, and felt confident in my fuelling programme.
My brother also gave me three bits of advice: keep eating; don’t sit down or stop as you won’t get going again; and walk up hills from the start.
So I put on my vest and shoes for the 8am start. Everyone started at the same time and finished when the 50-mile marker was reached. I should also add that this was completely solo; no-one at home to clean up my mess, no-one to talk at me when I was running to take my mind off it. Just me and my mind for 50 miles.
I had a 10-mile loop, which was mainly trails, and the hills were in the first three miles. Once I was up, it was good-ish going. What I wasn’t banking on were the slippery stones and overgrown paths on the last mile – I literally had to watch every single step.
During the (virtual) 50-mile race
At mile 18 a muscle, just below and to the outside of my knee, gave me sharp pains, stopping me dead. I was gutted, not knowing if I could continue. I acknowledged it and said, “I hear you, but not now, not today”. After a quick rub, and maybe a thump, I carried on and it went away.
After every 10 miles, I stopped at my aid station, refilled bottles from a pre-placed jug and restocked my food. I knew I drank 250mls an hour on long runs, and my water contained Mountain Fuel.
I found after 30 miles that I didn’t want to eat; something I thought I’d never struggle with! So I forced tiny amounts in as often as I could. I didn’t want any gels anymore, but instead had cravings for things I never have, like flat Coke and crisps! (Glad I had included these in my buffet, as I had heard so many people mention crisps and Coke!).
Sometimes I ran listening to my thoughts, sometimes my mind seemed clear, like I almost wasn’t thinking at all. It wasn’t until mile 42 that I actually picked up my headphones and put some music on.
The finish line
I also changed to road for the final loop, as I didn’t want to get tired, trip or become clumsy. In any distance, I always find the last mile hard. I think my body gives up as my head is saying I’m nearly there. I was huffing and puffing on that last lonely mile, but I got there just as my watch said 11 hours and 51 minutes.
My goal was under 12 hours, so I was elated that I achieved that, finishing in 12th place overall. After 50 miles, with 4,200ft elevation, I was now a dot at the virtual finish.
I must admit as soon as I stopped that was it. – I had to hang onto the bannister and wall to get up the stairs. I had to lie down for 30 minutes, after I had forced myself to have my recovery food and drink, and I couldn’t even make a cup of tea. A hot bath, muscle rub and a couple of ibuprofen later, my legs and feet eventually allowed me to sleep.
I didn’t get the normal runners’ high. I think this was due to being alone and not having the atmosphere at the finish. Luckily, it started to sink in the following day.
Next stop… a 10-mile fell race along the Dorset coast in October, The CapTen. Fingers crossed we are back to normal by then.