Beta Challenge

Part challenge, part experiment, I was introduced to this rather niche ‘event’ via an underworld ultra running site. You have to complete 8 x 10km stages within a 24 hour window, you should space your starts 3 hours apart.

My thoughts were to get the night time legs over first and then use the comfort of daylight to get through the second half. Clare joined me as I started at 7pm on Friday night, a gentle out and back down to Arkwright and on to a flat section of Pennine Trail. Leg 2 at 10pm was cold and well lit by the moonlight. All tarmac this time as I did a couple of loops around Heath. Highlight was almost losing my head to a swooping barn owl. Leg 3, I’ve snatched an hours kip and creep stealthily around the house to avoid waking Clare. Setting off the stiffness in ankles / legs takes a good 10 minutes to dissipate. Half road, half forested trails, weird shadows in the moonlight accompany me. Crept back in the house and feeling good at this stage, too good maybe. Quick bite, drink and curl up to sleep for an hour. Leg 4, stiffness again, 4am start and it’s 2km of running before I’m loosened up. Half road, half trail and pretty cold, pace is starting to slow a little now and the legs less bouncy. Pleased to see the lights on when I get home. Clare has made me some porridge and a cuppa. Curl up on sofa with the comfort of two spaniels. 7am, Clare joins me for the first half as I run down to Queens Park for the running club’s monthly race. Carrying a full backpack this time as I need clothing and food for the next 6 hours. Arrive at race HQ to tackle marshal duties and cheer runners on. Clean up the place and do a lap of the park before running home on Beta no 6. Mental fatigue starting to set in as I totally miss a footpath and go a very different route home. Nice adventure though.

Bit of lunch and back out at 1pm. This is one of my favourite local running routes and is 80% trail through Springs Wood, 5 Pits Trail and home via Shire Lane. Pace hasn’t deteriorated any further but I am starting to feel annihilated. Wolf down more food and drink at home, try and stay active but lapse into laying on the kitchen floor with the dogs. The last leg, BETA 8, Clare joins me as we set off slightly earlier than the scheduled 4pm. Running has evaporated, it’s painful jogging downhill, painful walking up hill and a painful mix of the two on the flats. The dogs run with us and serve as a pleasant distraction. I make use of the trails in and around Springs Wood as well as doing a few out and back repeats. Finally trudging up that last climb to home I let the GPS read past 10km before pressing stop for the last time.

81km run with a total ascent of 1149 metres in a cumulative time of 10 hours and 11 minutes.

Initial thoughts were that it was much harder then running a straightforward 50 mile race or even a 75 mile race. The issue was that the extremes in activity; a running peak followed by a resting trough; really caused the body to react adversely. Stiffening up was pretty much expected between runs, less expected was the gastric upheaval from the half way point. On a straight through ultra you measure your pace and try and keep your effort levels constant and your nutrition intake small and frequent. Here with the Beta activity they were all over the place. I found that I performed better if I kept myself busy and moving between runs. Marshalling at Queens Park definitely made the run home a lot easier. The final run was the most taxing by a long way. Whether this was physical, psychological or both I can’t really say. The mind had to remain strong just to keep my feet moving so I will attribute that final leg to the innate stubbornness that I am blessed with, certainly the limbs had given up on wanting to carry me home.

Where Beta does excel is in conditioning you to a higher degree of fatigue resistance. I can see the virtues in undertaking this a month or more prior to multi stage or multi day races (think Tor des Geants territory). By tackling Beta you are kicking yourself back outside time after time and believe it or not, there are times when the stiffness has dissipated where you feel pretty invincible and could keep running forever. Equally there were times when you felt dire. Cope with it though and you do learn a lot about your reserves.

Alpha is next. 100km over 8 legs in 24 hours. Gonna give it a few weeks though.

Published by Jamie Glazebrook

Fear of a flat planet.

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