Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade knows that some things are just too good to keep to yourself and shares her experience and passion for all things ultra through The Underground Ultra
Photos © Lewis Cousins
Now, who doesn’t love being in on something from the start? I remember the really cool kids from my school going on a school trip to Germany and coming back raving about a song called ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe.
That song pretty much took over the world soon after and their coolness was cemented forever (it helped that they had mullets too). My husband used to go on and on about his Strava segments and I’d half listen while he recounted tales of almost dying while doing some ridiculous speed down Streatley Hill. It took a few years before I caught on to the running catnip that is Strava, though I refuse to credit my husband with any amount of cool. Little did I know that one day I would stumble into a running venture that was, like all cool stuff starts out, underground.
I’ve been running ultras for a few years now, doing big races, small races, 24 hour races, mountainous races, races round a 1k loop in a park soundtracked by Buddhists on sitars, very expensive races and cheap as chips (and brilliant) LDWA events. Every race has elements that you like (beautiful routes, great aid stations) and things that you don’t (aid stations that are just bowls of sweets which feel slightly soggy (and you have a bad feeling that’s because a few hundred people have put sweaty and urine-tainted hands in there), car parks almost an ultra distance away from the start).
Photos © Pete Aylward
So, my friend Mel (aka Mel the Merciless) and I decided to put on our own event for friends and include all the elements that they wanted. There was a beautiful route along the South coast in Dorset, there were very well-stocked aid stations galore, a few of us guided the run so there was no navigation and it was very sociable, and there was a brilliant hot meal and a shower afterwards. And, because this was a small experiment amongst friends we kept it on the down low, a bit like an old-school underground rave, and the name Underground Ultra was born.
We all enjoyed the experience so much that Mel and I talked about doing more events, but opening them up to more people. Next up was a New Year run down at Lulworth Cove, where we had more people, a similarly fun time and a pub meal afterwards. There seemed to be a bit of a buzz about the runs we were putting on, so we set up a Facebook page and seemed to get more and more interest.
We had a lot of queries about different elements of ultra running, from stretching to nutrition, so we hit upon the idea of putting on a training day for runners. We tentatively did a bit of market research to find out what runners would like to see on a geek-fest of a day like this and people’s suggestions were just fantastic. They were basically describing our perfect day.
As we all know, Lou Reed’s perfect day consisted of drinking sangria in the park, feeding animals in the zoo, a movie and then home. It turned out that ultra runners’ perfect day consisted of learning more about strength, conditioning and stretching, learning about nutrition and the mental side of running long and, of course, lots of running!
Photos © Pete Aylward
We found a venue, we sold out all the places we had very quickly and we set about designing our dream agenda. Warren Pole from 33Shake came along to talk about nutrition and Midgie Thompson from Bright Futures Coaching inspired everybody to think about the mental side – examining our goals and motivations and facing our fears. We did some work on our hill technique, learned about using poles and we did a really helpful strength and conditioning session where we all learned about our weaknesses (pretty much everything due to a lot of runners not doing enough strength work!). Lastly we had a two part longer run (punctuated with a tea and coffee stop, in true ultra running style) along the Thames path and through beautiful villages. It was a perfect day and I’m very glad I spent it with such awesome runners.
Lots more is planned for this year. A 50k ultra in Oxfordshire on April 25th is next up and we have plans for a night race and two more 50k events on the South coast in the summer. It’s all very much growing out of what the running community wants, which is a lovely feeling.
You can join our mailing list at www.undergroundultra.co.uk if you like the sound of the above. Get in on it early and be a cool person. Come along and hang out with other cool people. Then in years to come you can be like those people who heard Europe’s rock anthem first and told all their friends. And what could be cooler than that?
Photos © Lewis Cousins
I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners.