• Barry Gerhold

Black Phoenix Ultra

This event was purely to build up the mileage in my legs in preparation for the upcoming 50 miler. I knew I shouldn’t run too hard due to having another event 5 days after this one, so decided to run by heart rate and try to keep it around 155bpm or lower, which is a comfortable pace.

The event started at 4pm and the weather was hot! With barely a cloud in the sky, the sun was intense and temperature was about 24°C. I stood back at the start line to prevent me from getting caught up with the fast guys because I didn’t want to risk going out too fast. We were soon on our way.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reports, I like to sit in behind someone during the early stages of an event so that I can try and get into some sort of rhythm. I overtook a couple of people and then found someone running at a pace which seemed to match my goals. I let my heart rate gradually increase from its resting rate to the current racing pace, which took about a mile to become accurate and it displayed 157. This I thought would be fine and so I continued to follow this chap.

The laps for this event were on an out and back course. 1.65 miles in one direction and then you track back to the start/finish line to complete a lap (3.3miles). 8 laps would be marathon. My intention was 9. During that outward lap, I could hear someone behind me. Only when we turned around at 1.65 miles did we realise that we were in a group of 6 and all in a nice tidy line. The reason we were all tucked in behind each other is that on the first half of the course there is a slight head wind, so tucking in behind someone will save a little bit of energy.

On the way back to the start/finish line, there was no real advantage using this method due to it now being a tail wind and I edged out slightly and slowed so that I could join the back of the group. Three of the guys now decided to increase their pace and we were now running in two groups of three and they stayed about 30 metres in front of us.

At the start/finish line there is an aid station where you can grab a drink and some nibbles. All of the other five guys stopped here and walked along sipping a cup of water. I had no need to do this as I was carrying my own bottle and went out onto lap two alone. Aware that I was running exposed into the head wind, I decided to try and catch up with the next guy in front, who was not too far ahead. I could hear someone gaining on me, so I made a little effort to reduce the gap and before long I was tucked in behind the runner in front. Although his pace was good, he was starting to slow and it became apparent that I needed to pass him, so as I got close to the turnaround point, I did just that. Not long after this, on the way back, I upped my pace a little. I was feeling very good and didn’t want anyone sitting in behind me, so I hit a few sub 8 min/miles, which was nice although probably a little daft. After a few miles like this, I opted to chill out a little and ease back into the comfort zone and continued to stay within that.

Usually in an event, a head wind is not your friend at all. Today however, it was quite the opposite. Due to the heat, the head wind was a welcome relief and cooled me down considerably. On the sections with a tail wind, I felt the intensity of the sun and no cooling effect from the wind at all. These sections were horrible and on the second half of lap 6, I felt I was beginning to overheat and become very thirsty. I was most likely becoming dehydrated. Having not walked a single bit at that point, I decided at the end of the lap (mile 20), I would walk so that I could hydrate and let my heart rate recover as it had become quite elevated. Doing this seemed to help a lot. As did pouring a fair amount of water over my head and body. Combined with that head wind it cooled me down quite quickly.

At about a mile into each lap, you pass a pub full of people sitting besides the Thames, eating some lovely looking food and enjoying a refreshing beverage… I didn’t feel jealous at all! I’d have to pass these bastards 18 times in all. Great. Just past this pub sat an ice-cream van, which was very tempting, but frustratingly it buggered off after about two hours. Reaching the 21 mile mark, lo and behold, there it was again! I hoped that it would still be there once I achieved marathon distance because I would need/want to take full advantage of this.

Upon reaching marathon distance, I grabbed my car key and ran to my car, picked up a few coins and made my way at full pelt towards the ice-cream van. It was decided that this final lap would be a cool down lap. No intention to get much running in, just to let the legs recover a bit for the following Thursday’s event. I ordered an ice lolly from the van and walked along enjoying the heavenly ice-cold raspberry lolly… mmm, chilled sugary goodness. There were certainly a few people who were a little jealous of such a refreshment and the ice-cream van’s sales went up. Once my lolly was finished, I could run again. I opted for a 0.25 mile walk, 0.25 mile run strategy for the remainder, or thereabouts and gradually I managed to catch the guy in front of me.

I finished this lap and the event of 29.52 miles in 4hrs 42mins and was the fastest finisher for that distance and about 6th fastest for marathon distance. The event was completed at nearly 9 o’clock and it was still 20°C, so a very tough day. I have never seen so many people suffer before. I am happy that I managed to get to the 20 mile mark before having to walk, which I haven’t done for quite a while now. 16 miles seems to be my limit recently. It was also nice to beat my Brighton Marathon time. The legs felt absolutely fine and the pace overall, was comfortable.

You can probably guess who wrote this bit... I got home and stayed awake until my gorgeous hard-working girlfriend returned from her second job. She brought me back a smile, as always and a heart full of love. Apparently, I am her hero and having a girl like her gives me wings. Thank you for always supporting me, my beautiful Nat and for reading through my reports and adding in those commas. I love you, you freckle-faced, mischievous little pixie 😊 ❤ ❤ ❤

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