Event reviews, Reviews, Run

The Oner Ultramarathon 2015

Last year I attempted the Oner and got beaten by the weather. You can see the full report and how badly it went wrong for me here. I was dressed like Superman and was raising money for the wards in Derriford hospital that had been treating my wife for Leukaemia. Incidentally, she had a stem cell transplant last April and is just starting to think about running again herself 🙂 .

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Before I carry on I really want to say: Thanks Mum, you were great 🙂

In 2014 Brutal Events seemed to like having someone join in that was even more of an idiot than normal and they encouraged me to come back and have another go. This year I was more prepared than ever, had done loads more in training, had a new costume and a new charity.

For 2015 I would be dressed as a Harlequin with bells on, literally, and raising money for the Brain Tumour Charity. My Dad fought against a Grade IV Glioblastoma Multiforme before it took his life on 10th January this year. My Dad was an amazing man who instilled in me an inherent nuttiness for attempting ridiculous challenges and without doubt had an awful lot to do with making me into the person that I am today. For the Oner my Mum had taken on the role of crew chief and number one supporter to help get me through the event.

The Oner isn’t cheap to enter, but then what good race is? The organisers place a huge emphasis on safety, which makes total sense as we are all out, tired and navigating our way along cliff tops in the dark. They also have minibuses at every check point, arrange transport to/from the start/finish and the race HQ and are generally flexible, friendly and helpful. Don’t underestimate the value that you will place on the chance to sit in a warm minibus while pausing at a windswept control at 3am on a cold morning while munching on a sausage roll and as many jelly babies as you can fit in your mouth.

The 80 mile race starts from near Charmouth at noon on Saturday, features 10000ft of ascent and finishes in Studland. As I meet more and more people on the Oner it becomes obvious that everyone wants to finish, but the course is so tough that many people are simply seeing how far they can get. These are also no ordinary people. Most of them have completed at least one Ironman triathlon (usually way faster than me!), or they have a variety of other ultramarathons under their belt. On my way around I met many folks that were taking part to get points for the Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc, and met several other who were on at least their second attempt at the Oner.

Before I go on I should probably add that when I use words like “bonkers,” “nutter,” and “crazy,” they are to be considered compliments to a variety of interesting and lively people. It doesn’t mean that they should be sectioned…..probably.

The four key players in the debacle that was my Oner attempt turned out to be a physio who, in preparation, ran loops from her house through the night to see if she had what it takes to do an overnight ultramarathon, a transatlantic yachtsman and multiple ironman triathlete who was looking for another challenge, another multiple ironman triathlete and ultramathoner building points for the UTMB….oh, and a delightful young lady who I had the pleasure of watching accidentally cable tie the zips together on her rucksack and who also stopped me from stepping out in front of a speeding car a short while later 🙂

Before The Oner I hadn’t met any of the people above but during it I swapped many stories and had many laughs with them. If you wondered why people do ultramarathons then this is one of the reasons. Ultra running races can be wonderfully sociable events as like minded nutters battle the weather, the countryside and their own sense of self-preservation late into the night.

Unfortunately none of those mentioned above nor myself got to the finish, but wherever we individually got to was an amazing achievement in its own right. With something like the Oner it really is about taking part and having your own individual battle, some of which you will share with wonderful strangers on the way round as your personal pacing strategy repeatedly brings you together and pulls you apart again.

My strategy for this year had a number of features in it, but it can be summed up as “start slow and keep going.” Last year I was defeated by the weather, so this year I had a few extra things in my special needs bag which could be accessed at 26 and 40 miles. I also carried a much better waterproof top, the OMM Kamleika Race Smock II. I was determined that the weather would not stop me this year.

Other clothing, apart from my Harlequin outfit, included Asics running shorts with a Lycra insert, a long sleeved Merino Wool top, a merino wool Buff, Asics Fuji Trainer 3 shoes and Wigwam Trail Trax Pro Socks. Of that list I would not change a thing unless the weather was going to be consistently above 15 degrees Celsius. In that case I would swap out the Merino for something cooler. I also carried a second merino top, merino buff, gloves and Salomon tights in my pack in case I had a forced stop and got cold. These items don’t weigh much and also pack really small compared to the massive thermal punch that they can offer in an emergency.

Gear wise I was using an Ultimate Direction PB pack with two 500ml collapsible bottles plus saltstick caps for my electrolytes. Due to the levels of sun in the first half I ended up drinking about a litre every 10k and was popping the salt caps through into the night whenever I felt that I needed them. I also carried other sensible kit such as maps (in a map case) compass, first aid kit, wet wipes, mobile phone, GPS, food and whatever else was on the required kit list from the organiser. Oh, and my invaluable pair of Black Diamond running poles.

For my food I tend to have a fairly basic routine through an ultra. I eat bourbon biscuits like they’ve just been discontinued and supplement them with Strawberry Honey Stinger Waffles whenever I feel like it. I also reward myself with an almond butter and honey sandwich after each 26 miles as well as eating whatever I crave as I pass through the aid stations. On the Oner I mostly fancied coffee, Jelly Babies and Sausage Rolls.

Enough about the people and kit, what about the race?

The Oner is well organised and is great to mentally get your head around because it is always around 10km or less to the next checkpoint. i.e. You mentally only have to do 10km at a time, so it compartmentalises really easily. We all started with the honk of an air horn at noon and 84 of us tootled off into the countryside. Only 48 would make it through to the finish in Studland.

I wanted to better my times from last year and thought that, with my increased fitness levels, I should do that naturally without having to push. Sure enough, I was 15 minutes up by the time I got the first marathon under my belt. The next section was around Portland and didn’t feature any major difficulties. I ran/walked most of it with Nick and Sam, and we were laughing nearly all of the way, taking it in turns to have bad patches as energy levels waxed and waned.

After Portland we met up with Greg and the five of us stuck together for about 4 miles as we ran along the flat promenade. As we got into the hills Greg and I eased away, regularly looking back to check on the lights of our compatriots. As expected the hills after Weymouth were hard and relentless, but at least they weren’t muddy and slippery this year. I was pleased with how I kept moving and I was half an hour ahead of time at Lulworth Cove compared to being half an hour behind time last year. Unfortunately I was unable to carry this through to Kimmeridge Bay where I ended up being about 15 minutes late and timing out.

Running through the night was again an amazing experience. This time the skies were clear and the stars were beautiful. I didn’t see quite as many animals, but then again I was jingling with every step. My Petzl Nao lit up the countryside beautifully and two batteries were just enough to last the full night on the brightest automatic setting. I had the privilege of watching the sun set, then seeing the moon rise large and red over the sea in the early hours before the sun came around and popped into the sky again.

What about chaffing, I thought that was compulsory?

None, whatsoever. No blisters, no chaffing. Just a touch of sunburn on the back of my right hand. I fully reserve my right to have all my toenails fall off and for inaccessible body areas to chaff raw during my next ultra. Past lack of blisters and chaffing is no proof of future chaffing and blister invulnerability….

Next year?

Next year I intend on doing the Oner again providing Claire and her team at Brutal Events don’t decide that someone in fancy dress is an idiot too far 😉

After being beaten by the weather last year and being beaten by the course this year I have some clear areas for improvement both in training and in race strategy. I would happily share these thoughts over a beer or during a run, but for now I have run out of time.

Charity and what’s next?

If you wish to make a donation towards The Brain Tumour Charity then, thank you, you can find out more at my fundraising page www.justgiving.com/run247

My next key races are the Frome Half Marathon in July and then the Eden Project Marathon in October. I have some personal goals that I need to take care of before returning to the Oner and my harlequin outfit next year 🙂

And finally

I would like to offer a final thought for one fellow that I saw on several occasions. He was much faster than me, but overtook me several times. This was due to a tendency to wander off course and get lost before finding his way and catching me up again. I think that he did actually get to the finish in time which is a testament to how fast he is, but he would have done it much quicker if he had stuck to the route!

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