Mad Max Makes an Ultra Effort

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Sussex 36 Mile Ultra Report from  Max Mladenovic:

With the Comrades 56 mile ‘marathon’ now less than 100 days away it was time to venture into the unknown and take on my first Ultra.

Somewhat concerned by the race description as ‘strenuous effort’, the elevation profile of 5,840ft of ascent and with Kevin ‘The Beast’ Boake’s advice to ‘run as much of it as you can’ ringing in my ears I arrive in Eastbourne for the EnduranceLife 34 mile South Coast off-road Ultra. With a weather forecast of snow showers, windchill of -7C, and strong winds this was going to be way out of my comfort zone to put it mildly.

Arriving for the pre race briefing at 7am with a gale blowing and temperatures plummeting my confidence dipped further noting many of my fellow competitors kitted out in full on mountain gear with Ultra Trail Mont Blanc badges sewn on their windjackets and speaking in Italian, German and several American accents in the air.

In a bizarre reversal of the usual pre race game, we are all furiously digging layers out of our kit bags to wrap up against the biting wind as we head off to the start. Then we’re off. Half a mile and we hit the first climb up onto the South Down cliffs. Halfway down the field and I run up feeling good. A sharp descent and then the next big climb up to Beachy Head and I notice that nearly everyone is walking. I make what in hindsight is the best decision I’ve ever made in a race and start walking myself, we are only a mile in and I’ve learnt my first Ultra lesson – if you feel like you are going too slow – slow down!

As we pass over the peak it’s back to running again and my xc descending memories come flooding back and i pick up a few places. The next few miles are up and down along the cliff path before we head inland and the only flat stretch of the whole race. I pass a few runners but am concerned by how tired I am already and how much the climbs are taking out of my legs. Through  the HM and I’ve settled into a rhythm of running the flat and downhill, walking the uphill. No-one is overtaking me on the walks which is helping my confidence. As the marathon distance approaches I’m pretty exhausted and the climbs are feeling harder and harder.The wind at times is incredible and almost impossible to run into.The temptation to walk ‘a little bit longer’ each time becomes almost overwhelming but I force myself to run as the ground levels off. The field is well spaced out now, but I occasionally catch and pass another runner – I must be doing something right. In fact no-one has passed me for a good 20 miles as I pass the finish of the marathon and carry on for the first time in my life past the 42.2.

I’m exhausted and every step is an effort but I’ve come this far and I’m not giving up now (I later find out that 20% of the starters didn’t make it to the end). A quick look back as I near the top of another huge climb and I’ve got a 300m lead over the guy behind. I can see a couple of runners ahead who weren’t there before – another couple of places might be mine if I can keep going.

Into the last 5 miles and we are still climbing huge cliffs, I can see the iconic red & white Beachy Head lighthouse way down below as the wind again makes forward progress a herculean effort. At last the path turns inland and downhill to the finish. There’s some shelter from the wind and I realise that if I can run all the way in I can beat the 6 hour mark. I pick off the runners I saw on the last climb. One last effort and I cross the finish line. The ordeal is over and I’m handed a printout with my checkpoint split times and finish time, 5 hrs 56 mins 59 secs. It also gives my position, 14th. I’m so tired it doesn’t sink in at first. My first Ultra and I’ve finished 14th and 1st V50, all the pain and effort were worth it and I’ve more than held my own in an incredibly tough race in atrocious conditions. I’m an Ultra runner!