A couple of weekends ago I ran the Imber Ultra (a little late to write this up).
The Imber ultra is a 50k event based around the Salisbury Plains, in Wiltshire.
Training was very spotty leading up to this race. I ran an Ultra called the Montane Cheviot Goat in December 2018 which left me a little busted up with some knee issues. I spent most of January / February going through the cycle of trying to resolve issues with strength and conditioning work, to then go out for a run tester , to find I was still not ready and needed more time. I ended up ‘DNS’ing on two races already this year, the SAS Fan Dance in Brecon, South Wales – and the Brecon to Cardiff ultra.
Around February my knee was fixed up and I managed to build a bit of mileage ending in a 20 mile trail run the week before this race.
I decided I was not going to go full tilt on this race and have it as a warm up Ultra to other races in the year. I also plan to run the Newport Marathon in May this year, and so I did not want lose two weeks of training from getting to busted up running an ultra.
Newport will be my only road race this year, after that its back on the trails for the North Downs Way 100 mile race, and the Montane Spine Challenger.
Not a great deal to say here. The race was only 30 minutes away from me. The night before I put out my saloman s-lab vest, filled two soft flasks with tailwind, and packed some sachets of tailwind into the vest, along with a couple of trek bars.
My mate Mark and the Imber race staff recommended road shoes (he ran it the year before), so I wore some Altra Torin’s. Turns out it was a lot more muddy this year, very muddy in fact. I took a few falls during the race and ended up quite often skiing along some of the muddy paths, but this was balanced by being able to run in road shoes on the tarmac sections.
I also checked the weather, and there was a storm warning ‘Storm Freya’ (80mph gale force winds / heavy rain). I thought to myself ‘this should be interesting’ as Imber is bang in the middle of the ‘Salisbury Plains’ which is a wide open space used by the military, its very exposed and is very windy, even on a mild day. I can’t say I was freaked out or anything, I am used to running out in the mountains during the winter months, so I trust my gear a lot. If anything I made a mental note to look out for loose tree branches or stray debris hurling around in the wind. I did not want to end my life with ‘runner killed by falling tree’.
I started off at very steady pace. I never race off, its too risky – muscle shock can happen here and play out later on in the race. You can get away with that on a 5-10k, but on an ultra it can easily cause problems later on. For me, the first mile is a mini warm up.
There was a muddy climb at the start, followed by a long trail path dropping down about 200 ft. Normally I would whizz down these sort of sections at a 6-7 minute mile pace, but I was slipping all over the place and almost taken out other runners. From here on in, my pace dropped for the climbs and went up again for the flats and downhills, as expected.
My watch was showing an overall average pace of 9 minutes per mile, which meant I was on for a sub 5 if I could keep it up (a nice enough time for a muddy 50k with a some elevation).
The old legs were fairing me well. I kept on top of my nutrition, by sipping on my tail wind and letting chunks of energy bars melt in the corner of my mouth. It was proving to be a good race, right until I got to about mile 18. This was when ‘Storm Freya’ kicked in and reduced us all to walking, or a very slow forward leaning jog. At times it was even a challenge to walk forwards whenever a strong headwind came in.
For this section I put on my goretex jacket (Montane Spine Jacket, freaking love this coat) and pulled down on the cords of the climbing jacket style hood. The last ten miles is normally the faster section (where my road shoes would have come in lol!). Here I slowed down to 11-13 minute miles and just focused on driving it home to the finish with a time of 5:40.
Back at HQ I changed into dry kit right away and drank a pre-mixed tailwind recovery drink (I likely sound like I am promoting them, promise I am not, I just get on well with their gear). I did some stretches and chatted with some other runners.
I got my race mug (they give you a nice thick clay moulded mug instead of a medal, which I really like as I use it for my coffee).
Went home and spent the evening watched ‘Loser’ on Netflix and stuffed my face with food.
Great race, and really good value for money. All of the event staff were super supportive and welcoming and the race went without a hitch. Its also a really nice course, not a crazy amount of elevation, but definitely not flat.