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Imber Ultra Race Report - it's all about the mug!

Ironjediby IronjediMar 15th 2015 Check out this cool video of the race - look out for me!

The Imber Ultra starts at Westbury and heads up on to Salisbury Plain. This 33 mile ultra is a combination of trail, grass, track, concrete and compacted dirt which has been pounded by tanks. It was recommended by @Sam_The_Obscure who did it last year and I was quite envious of his finisher's mug if the truth be told. I will do anything for a mug...

Race morning came and this was to be my first running ultra, and first long race, with no wife to support me :( There was little point in her coming to cheer me on, it would have been a pretty dull day for her. She would have seen me off and then stood around in the cold for about six hours waiting for me to come back. So off I went on my own to Maltravers School in Westbury where a free shuttle bus was laid on to take us to the start. I arrived fairly early....those who know me well are aware of my dislike for being late. I did this at the London Marathon once with dire consequences. On the bus the nerves were building. I sat quietly listening to ultra this and ultra that and felt like the newbie having never run an ultra before. Normally I need a swim and bike to warm up. This would be a first! After a short bus ride we were at the Sports Centre. The facilities were great and I made it to the toilet before anyone else. My body was clearly in flight or fight mode! I checked my bag and checked it again and again. I had packed a heavy bag for two reasons. One, I didn't know what I would need, particularly food wise, and secondly I needed to run with a heavy bag as a trial for the Oner in April.

I had around 50 minutes to kill before the start of the race, everyone seemed very friendly, talking and giving advice. I packed, repacked and went to the toilet again. I was drinking Science Fitness Glycosource Berry - awesome. In the pack I had a couple of Jackoatbars, peanut butter and jam pittas, apricots, raisins and cranberries in yoghurt, a banana, 9bar, homemade 'warrior bar', extra drink sachets, poles (never planned to use them), an ultralight down and a waterproof. Far too much but I am a newbie!

I met up with Helen (an experienced Ultra Runner who had been plagued with injury of late and was not sure she would run the whole thing). Helen had completed the Imber previously and was armed with a small amount of change ready to buy some ice cream at around the 20 mile mark as we would pass a garage on route. She was wearing a Oner t-shirt, of which I was very jealous.

At 9am the race started and was being filmed by a UAV operator called 'Ocuair'. The UAV helicopter was above at the start, this really added to the excitement of the event. It all started with a lap of the sports field. The weather was a little chilly but clear. The rain was due to come in later in the day and we had been warned about the wind on the back 15 miles. The lap of the sports field served it's purpose and by the time we commenced the climb out of Westbury towards the Plain, the field was a little more spread out. Now, I am sure I am not the only person to think that a plain is supposed to be flat. I was lead to believe that we would climb up onto the plain and then run around the flat circumference! Oh, how one could be so wrong. The Salisbury Plain is far from flat and I would spend the next 33 miles committing this fact to my memory bank.

I ran with Helen for the first mile or so. I slowly started passing people and felt strong. I had broken the race down into six parts. The 5 checkpoints and then the run to the finish. I came to the first checkpoint at 7.2 miles in good time and felt great, stopping for a short time to fill up my bottle. I pushed on again, driven by following these two guys in front, one of whom was running with his spaniel. It was quite funny watching the spaniel running all over the place, it must have clocked up 4 times as many miles as us. The route up to this point had been good underfoot, being a mixture of track and grass, and was very easy on the legs. I pushed on to checkpoint 2. As I ran along enjoying the route, I kept looking ahead but clearly wasn't paying enough attention to where my feet were falling and as a result, twisted my left ankle at around 11 miles. A guy who had been playing leapfrog with me passed by and checked if I was ok. I walked it off for a few minutes and then continued to checkpoint 2.

The marshals and helpers at the checkpoints were awesome, so friendly and helpful, always full of encouragement. Just after checkpoint 2, I started to run up a small incline and the track seemed to split. I saw the leapfrog guy 'Jared' at a standstill, trying to work out from the route description which way to go. He seemed to know what he was doing. A quick conflab and we took the high road which turned out to be the right path. At this point I did not know that we would spend the rest of the day together.

So my new found mate 'Jared' and I chatted as we ran along together. Jared is an experienced ultra runner whose main goal for the year is the Cotswold Way. The Imber was his first race of the year. The miles just seemed to whizz by. We ran past the Salisbury Plain ghost town - Imber - which is used as a training ground by the army. It looked like a rundown Barrett Homes site. From about mile 13.5 the ground underfoot became a combination of concrete path and tightly packed dirt (very similar to the concrete).

Before I knew it we were through Checkpoint 3 at 18.5 miles. Again we were met by helpers and marshalls in fancy dress and good spirits! A real boost! There was a long road section followed by a muddy, tank destroyed section of deep mud, thankfully this was hard enough to be able to dodge over the tracks (this might be why we lost our track).
We came over the brow of a hill and saw ahead of us what I can only describe as a village meeting. There were around 10 runners all huddled together, clearly lost and trying to decide which way to run. We slowed down and tried to work out where we had all gone wrong. Before we could get to the group ahead, they ran off to the right. We headed down to where they had been and before we knew it we also had a small village meeting going on. Clearly the signs had been smashed over, by a tank I suspect! After a quick chat, maps out and Garmin route on, we worked out where the track was and headed off. As we went over the brow of the hill we met up with the first group who had got lost. Now a strong group of around 20, we carried on to checkpoint 4.

Checkpoint 4 - "WOW, WOW, WOW" - homemade brownies, flapjack and a host of other sweet things - just what the body needed! Immediately I felt rejuvenated. However this warm, happy feeling was soon ripped from me as we started along a long concrete road which just dragged on. This did not change until we reached checkpoint 5 and seemed to last forever.....and the wind that we had been told about earlier was also now in our faces. I hit a real low point and had a massive sense of humour failure with the race. This was supposed to be a trail race right! However, I consumed some jelly babies at checkpoint 5 (around 28 miles) and the combination of them and the thought that the race was coming to an end in about 4 miles spurred me on. Jared and I resumed our conversation and the miles dropped away. Before we knew it we could see Westbury to our right and knew that we just had the descent to the finish.

As we headed down the descent my quads were screaming at me to stop. They were sick of being beaten up by the concrete all day. As we got nearer to the finish, I was disappointed to realise that we had just gone over five and a half hours. If only we had gone a bit quicker. Actually I didn't really care too much, I was just pleased to have finished and well and truly popped my Ultra Cherry.

As we crossed the line, we had our hands shaken and we were addressed by our first names, which was a nice touch. I finally got to receive my well earned mug. The race was well organised and great value. It was in a beautiful setting and although the route was not what I had expected, I did enjoy it.

Would I recommend the race and do it again?! For another MUG......definitely!!!!
Imber Ultra Race Report - it's all about the mug!
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