• Barry Gerhold

Racing Freya & The Beard

Racing Freya & The Beard

Today I took part in a 41 mile event with Beyond Marathon up in Staffordshire. The Millennium Way Ultra, taking me from Newport to Burton-upon-Trent.

Originally I hoped to be able to push hard for this one, but I ran strongly last weekend running 43 miles at St. Peters Way and my legs were going to be fatigued.

So I was going to run by heart rate and keep it relatively comfortable. My main concern was Storm Freya coming in and likely to hit around 3 or 4pm. So I hoped I'd be safely indoors by then.

We were transported to the start line by coach and here I chatted to a chap by the name of Richard and we had a brief chat about running and footy and then arrived at our destination. After the race briefing we were started at 8.39am (not a typo)

I set off into my groove, keeping pace and heart rate nice and comfy and plodded on along a disused railway line en route to Stafford. This section was quite simple. A good running surface, flat and fairly straight. I noticed 3 chaps casually run past me around 8 miles in, each looking like seasoned ultra runners. One of which fitted the stereotypical long distance runner with a fine looking beard. I thought for a second that maybe I would hang onto them for a while, but swiftly changed my mind and stuck with my original plan.

At around mile 13 Richard caught me up and we continued our chat from earlier and the next few miles seemed to fly by. Having company during events seems to do this. It is a welcome distraction and fortunately Richard seemed like a nice guy.

As the miles went on I could not distract myself from how tight the hamstrings were starting to feel, I knew I needed to change things up, so at mile 18 I told Richard I will be slowing and he went off running a strong pace. My reduced pace seemed to help significantly. The next few miles seemed rather easy and I was now able to build my confidence back up.

Richard and I would bump into each other many more times over the next few miles. Even though he was running a great pace, he made some navigational mistakes and he'd reappear around me somewhere. He ended up running an additional mile in the end which I would have been deeply frustrated by.

So onwards we went, sometimes alone, sometimes together and I reached marathon distance in 4hr 8mins. This is something I did not expect from my legs today. It was strange how comfortable that felt after last weekend efforts.

The course conditions now were getting tough. From mile 11 we were running across muddy fields and along the canal paths covered in puddles. Some of those fields were ridiculous. I very nearly lost my trainer in one boggy field.

At the final checkpoint (mile 31) I was told that I was in 13th place and 12th was about 6mins ahead. Richard stopped to chat to his family and I went on my way with a mouthful of food. I quickly ruled out being able to catch 12th. With only 10 miles to go and this runner being over half a mile ahead, my odds were slim. So I tried to run as comfortable as possible, but I was getting tired.

It's odd how the sight of a runner up ahead can hide the pain in the legs. Two miles on from the check point I see 12th place up ahead. Game On!

It took a while to catch him, it probably took another mile, but I was now focused again. I passed this guy who seemed to be in good spirits and I ran on ahead. Now increasing my pace a touch so that I'd reduce the risk of getting caught. I was now so happy to have gained this additional place.

So I carried on plodding away, it wasn't long before tiredness set back in. It was to be expected after having noone up ahead to aim for. Then what's that? A repeated prescription for curing my tired legs. More runners 😊 Up ahead I saw 3 little targets. It was the beard guy and his pals. They were at least half a mile ahead and with 4 miles to go, this was going to be tight.

Following the winding River they kept going out of sight, the advantage I had is that they didn't know I was gaining on them. They didn't know I was there at all. My brain was now thinking about placings. 11th, 10th and 9th. I could potentially be on for a top 10 finish here.

It was slow going. They were still moving at a good pace and then with a mile to go til the finish I found myself only 200 metres behind them. This could actually be on.

One of the runners happened to look behind him and was surprised to see me. He informed his mates who each turned round and then everything changed. They increased their pace significantly. I was no longer gaining on them. I was fighting hard to match their pace, but I was struggling. We left the canal and turned onto the roads that led to the finish line. My GPS was informing how much distance til the end.

800m to go, can I do it? There might be enough time, but was looking unlikely.

400m, they've now entered the car park at the finish location, I'm running out of time. Sprint finish?

200m I wish it was possible to sprint. I was fighting hard, but no. Up ahead I see them cross the finish line. It wasn't meant to be.

I may not have beaten 'The beard' but I did beat Freya 😊

I finished the 41 mile route in 6hrs 50mins (my average pace being significantly faster than the previous weekend) I also finished 45 seconds behind 9th, 10th and 11th.

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