Chester Ultra 100, 2020

One of the memorable innovations of the Lockdown period has been the Virtual Event: a chance to accumulate the miles that one would have done on an event, but in their own backyard, so to speak (and in some cases, actually!). And, the chance to acquire some unique bling!

May, June, July is peak season for the longer runs, and one I had entered was the Chester Ultra 100, due to take place at the end of May. The organisers decided to make this a virtual event, giving competitors 5 days to complete 100 miles – 6th-10th June. On offer for completion was a very nice, wooden, medal – with the familiar lion’s face roaring from its centre.

20 miles a day sounds better than 100 in one go, but in actual fact I found it much harder. This entailed planning 5 routes, 3 of which would be after a working day, and since I had work to do over the weekend, I couldn’t slope off and do the whole thing in one or two sessions. (One person did the whole 100 in one go – on a treadmill!!)

The Iron Bridge, Eaton Hall Estate, Aldford

My wife, Helen, and I had promised ourselves a late evening walk on the first day, so I did a morning run on the Iron Bridge loop which, together with a fine walk around Delamere that night, gave me 21 miles for day 1.

Delamere Forest

One of the problems of running in the time of Covid-19 is keeping away from the popular spots. In Chester, the Groves and the Meadows are always very popular in fine weather, and have become even more so as restrictions are eased.

I had already started working on a route over the last 6 months that would circumnavigate Chester, using relatively less-frequented paths, so I decided to put the Northern half to the test.

The ploy worked, and is documented here…[ to follow]

Stile, across stable estate, near Backford

It was hot day, but all worked fine. – Day 2 complete, another 26 miles in the bag, making 47.

For Day 3 I really wanted to reach 70 miles, but Legs were tired, and I didn’t really fancy another round of stiles and ploughed fields, so I decided to do an out-and-back along the canal. The Chester Ultra events depend a great deal on canals, around 50% on the current 100 route, so the mindless slog is an essential part of the experience.

And a mindless slog it was. Pretty – it’s a very scenic route – but also pretty boring. By the time I got home, around 9pm, I’d clocked up another 23 miles and reached my target of 70. But I had also started to notice that my back was aching – not from a twist or other movement, but more like a full spinal ache.

I spent yet another full day in front of the computer on Day 4 – back to back meetings – and my back was still sore when I set off for my evening run. I chose a route I hadn’t done for many years – from Ferry Lane, across the fields and through the stables that lie midway between Sealand Road and the Deeside Cycle Path, past the shooting range at Sealand, and on to Harwarden Bridge. After a fruitless discussion with the guard at Shotton Steel, regarding accessing the right of way which extends along the Northern bank of the Dee, I crossed the railway bridge and ran back along the Southern bank. There are a few small, but tricky, navigational spots, and as a whole it is not recommended.

That was 17 miles – leaving 13 to do – but my back was really painful now. Sleeping that night was almost impossible, despite taking pain killers. But 13 miles still needed to be done.

Day 5 was another full day in front of a sea of faces in various committee meetings. I turned my camera off occasionally and stood up, just to relieve the pressure on my spine. Eventually the time came for me to set off on a reversal of the Iron Bridge loop, but I was slow and not really in the mood. The miles were ticked off and my finish duly recorded but, as I write this up two days later, I am still in pain. I’ve decided not to do the Virtual West Highland Way – that would very silly given the state of my back – even though it only requires 9 miles a day for completion.

Having completed 10 previous ‘proper’ 100-milers, I do believe this 5-day version was harder. I am used to grinding out the miles at the end of a 100, regardless of my state, and it does get the challenge over with. I found the last two days of this very hard, just to keep motivated, especially with the backache.

But, job done!

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