PICKING YOUR TRAIL RACES…

On Thursday 9th January at 8.55am I was excitedly sat at my computer at home waiting for the clock to tick up to 9.00am. I was waiting for the UTMB ballot results to be announced. This was my 2nd attempt at getting into the CCC; I had two entries into said ballot and felt pretty good about my chances. What I didn’t count on is a record year for entries across the board! It was a 2nd failed attempt and I was pretty upset tbh.

This is why:

  • This has been a goal race since the summer of 2017 and I got the points in 2018. I have been dreaming about this for a while now.
  • Waiting until January for the ballot means many other races are sold out, and also I kind of structured my year around this race. That means I couldn’t pick a race to replace it in July as it would be too close to my first 100 miler.
  • Finding another race is kind of a pain in the ass.
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I really want to go back here!

After the rejection flashed up on screen I immediately went onto the ITRA site, but it was having issues as I think many other runners were doing the same, lol!

I did this back in January 2019 after the first rejection but at that time I didn’t really know what I was looking for. In the end it worked out with Cumbria Way being a super choice, but as I started setting the parameters on the site it made me think about why I choose the races I do.

This is what this blog is about, hopefully, it will give you some ideas for your future race choices.

  • How many races do you want to do and how many do you want to actually go hard in? For ME, I try to plan a race year. I now pick a max of 4 big races. Some people may say that’s too much but I am not “RACING” them all.
  • What distances do you want to run? This will depend on your experience and also what you are comfortable with. Maybe half marathons are your thing, maybe you love a trail Mara, whatever it is you are the one running it, so you have to be either comfortable or ready to step up to it. Don’t go from half to 100km just because everyone is doing it.
  • Vert is not real! Well as much as the trail community jokes about this, it really is. Looking at the total elevation gain is also a key point of choice. Think about how you will train for a mountain race if you live in Norfolk. There are ways, but it will take more research and possibly some travel to get you used to what will come after you cross that start line.
  • Where do you want to race? This is also super important as overseas races are great but local ones can be super awesome too, plus you have the benefit of being able to train on the course. If oevrseas travel isn’t an option you could look at just travelling within your own country. Plus it’s great for the environment to not fly quite so much and you’ll be able to speak the language, which can be helpful if you get into a pickle at an aid station.
  • What will it be like underfoot? This often links to location. Sand could be your thing or you might like a nice woodland trail. These types of things affect how hard a race could be. Are you going to be scrambling over rocks for 40% of the time out on the course or are you going to be stuck in bogs? These are important things to consider.
  • Why? This is probably one of the most important things to think about. Why do you want to do a race rather than just go for a run? Back to No1, is it a goal race or challenge? Do you fancy a social trip with friends? Or do you just want to explore a new area in the safe in the knowledge that you are being looked after by an awesome team or organisers? There are many reasons for picking a race.

With these points in mind here is my thought process behind my race choices for 2020.

I started by deciding in early 2019 that I wanted to run 100 miles. Why would someone do that I hear some of you ask? For me, it started as a personal challenge to myself, what would it feel like to go that distance? After some thought, I decided I would want help with this kind of distance from friends, so that instantly put me off going overseas as it would be too expensive to fund a crew traveling. My next thought came to how I wanted to approach the race and I decided that I wanted to race it and give it 100%. Now I had to think about time of year. I knew I would be in the ballot for the CCC, with that in mind it would be better if it were at least 2 months either side of that race. I would then be looking at either before the end of June or after October. This kind of limits you in a country with not that many 100milers. The next point was being able to train for it. Which led me to something in Southern England and naturally to the South Downs and https://centurionrunning.com . At this point I hadn’t run one of their races but I had heard such good things about the company. After looking over the route, profile, cut offs, and aid stations I decided this was the one for me.

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Exploring the SDW

I would now build my race calendar around this race and the CCC potential.

The next one I booked was Hardmoors 55. The reasoning behind this is that I was looking for something in March/April (to give me enough recovery for June SDW100) with nice elevation gain, (this has 2500m+), a decent distance, (55 miles), and visiting somewhere else in the UK that I haven’t been to before. This one is set in the north York Moors, which are supposed to be beautiful. I asked some people what the race is like and got some positive feedback, which is another important point. Ask people about races. There is so much to learn from people who have run these events or know people who have. Message in forums or put posts up and you will find runners are more than happy to offer thoughts and advice.

Next up I booked a motivational race.  Something that’ll be fun and get me out there early in my training in 2020. A social race as such. This had to be Maverick right?! And there just happened to be one on the South Downs end of Jan that a bunch of friends wanted to do and Gillian too. It ticks all the boxes. Not too far, on the terrain for the 100 miler, and all the socials.

The 3rd BIG race I booked is a bit left field, but I love NYC, and after running Chicago in 2018 and having such an amazing time, the thought of running New York Marathon was epic. Notice I say running and not racing. This is a race I booked as a present to me. The reason being, is I know I can cruise round in around 4 hours and have the best time, soaking up the atmosphere of the 5 boroughs. Yes I booked a Sports tour but I don’t care. I know things will change in my personal life and I probably won’t have this kind of opportunity again so you know what screw it!

BIG RACE 4?

Now we come back to the start. To me not getting into the CCC and looking for a race.

This can be so much fun maybe a little stressful but you now have some choices! These were my parameters:

  • 50miles to 100km
  • Had to be August or early September
  • Decent elevation (3000m+)
  • Something interesting
  • An adventure

I used the International Trail Runners Association (ITRA) website. I know this is not everything and you can find a lot of great races that are not on there but it’s great for a search.

You can set dates, Country/Continent, ITRA points level (same as UTMB points) and Mountain level. From this it will give you a guide as to what’s around in established races.

NOTE: to get ITRA/UTMB points the race organisers have to pay. This is why some races don’t do it and if you know when and where you might like to run you can search for other options easily. Here are some other websites worth looking at:

https://www.runultra.co.uk

https://findarace.com/ultra-marathons

https://www.ultramarathoncalendar.co.uk

http://runfurther.com/ultra-calendar/

https://www.letsdothis.com/gb/running-events/ultramarathon

Back to my parameters; I set the dates, set the ITRA points to min 3 and to Europe wide.

The first thing that interested me was a mountain race in Switzerland. After Eiger 51km in 2019 I definitely want to go back but after thinking about it for a while I decided to count it out for two reasons.

  • Cost: Race entry was about £130, then to add to that it’s pretty dam expensive there as I found out last summer!
  • I went there in 2019. This would be like a replacement for CCC and I decided I wanted something different.

That’s when I came across the Persenk series of races in Bulgaria. 3 races with distances at 164km, 112km and 51km all with decent elevation. I asked a friend if she had heard about them and she had and it was all good. So I went through my list of parameters in my head.

  • 50miles to 100km – 112km Yesss!
  • Had to be August or early September – 22nd August, perfect!
  • Decent elevation (3000m+) – 4700m+ ooh yeah!
  • Something interesting – On the kit list it said Bear bells. Now it does scare me a little, but what the hell!
  • An adventure – I have never been to Bulgaria and this interested me. I also somehow convinced 4 friends to come too. Awesome.

With all those points, plus the fact it was a lot cheaper than Switzerland, I booked it. Now this won’t be a goal race BUT I will train for it and I will give it the respect it deserves and I’ll truck along like I did in Poland. Taking in the scenery, enjoying the aid stations and experiencing the culture of a new country.

And that’s how it stands for 2020 so far. I say so far, as I might run a couple of shorter races if they fit in, but then again, I might not. Before I sign off though, I want to leave you with a few links to races in the UK that you might find interesting.

Maverick. I’ve said it many times before but these guys and girls know how to put on a great event. You usually have 3 distances to choose from and can even drop down on the day. It’s a great intro to trail running and they even have some ultra races now too. The swag is good, medal, beer, tribe bar and an iced coffee. Plus they have shoes to try too if you don’t own trail shoes. This year it’s Adidas terrex.

https://www.maverick-race.com

Maverick_Original_Kent_2019_Jake_Baggaley-202 2
Racing Maverick Kent 2019

Centurion. I have only run one of their races so far, but I’ve also volunteered at one and they are just awesome. Usual distances are 50 and 100 miles. They sell out pretty quick so keep an eye on when they release the entries. The medals are epic and the T-shirts instantly recognizable on the trails.

https://centurionrunning.com

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top of a Hill at NDW50

Pure Outdoor Events. I ran the Cumbria Way and I have to say this team is top notch. I was recommended them by a friend who lives in the lakes and I have to say she was 100% right.

They have a few different races, go check out the website.

http://www.pureoutdoorsevents.co.uk

Beachy Head Marathon. I have run this twice and it’s a really good trail event. Normally they do a 10km along the 7 Sisters and the epic marathon. In 2020 they also have a half marathon option. It’s good value and the volunteers are just as amazing as the sausage rolls at one of the aid stations! It has decent elevation and beautiful views over the South Downs.

http://www.beachyheadmarathon.co.uk

These are ones I have experience of in the UK and recommend. I know there are many more and with that in mind keep an eye out in your local area as there are some true gems. In fact I hope to run my local 10km this year which is about 65% trail and most of the money goes to a local charity.

To conclude, I hope this helps you think about the races you pick a little more. With trail running being so popular it’s easy to get caught up, so take a moment and think.

Now go run up a hill and enjoy the views x

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