Monday, 28 October 2013

Stort 30 - Not a Race Report. A sweepers View at the back

The Stort 30 mile, or to take its social media venacular...Stort30 promised to be a brilliant race and now in its second year had everything a novice ultrarunner needed. The organisation looks sleek, a great Race Executive team, beautiful scenery, boat life and the usual goings on by a canal. I thoroughly recommend this race to anyone new or old in ultrarunning.

Sweeper Duties

Instructions from the Race Director, Lindlay, were to meet at race HQ by 7.30am for race briefing which I was happy about as the clocks went back the night before allowing me to have one more hour in bed as I did not relish two 5.30am starts at the weekend!

The British, as ever, are fixated by the weather and this past weekend had the media in a frenzy over the fact that the St Judes Day storm was about to batter the south of England. As I stepped from my door to get into the car I was both dismayed and excited to see that the wind was up and the rain was coming down, I hate motorway driving at the best of times but I detest it in the rain...

But the the sun broke through!

Pulling into the sports club the sky changed from one full of grey ominous looking clouds to a beautiful blue, sunny one such that the runners were seen ripping off their waterproofs and putting them in kit bags. I chose to stuff in a spare short sleeved top if it got bad later

As the crowd of 150 runners gathered it was very obvious that there were a lot of newcomers in the crowd doing their first "step up" into an ultra distance which is to be expected, lots of club shirts mixed in with a few trophy shirts from longer runs. Either way this was still going to be a good race as the marathon runners take this distance at pace, we were not to be disappointed.

...and they are off

The job of Sweeper is a varied one, the most important is the safety of the competitors whilst be aware of their own as there is no one behind them to pick them up if they fall over. The other is to stay at the cut off pace but not such that they feel pressured. I was to pair up with Alistair Stewart from The British Trail Running Podcast fame. I was even interviewed for the next one...God knows what I said and hope it was OK!

Alistair and I decided that we would give the runners a half an hour start but before that we  blocked off the road to traffic to guide them towards the Stort Navigation Channel.

...and we were off

We went off at a very comfortable pace and were really pleased when on the canal which soon came apparent that it was out of season as only a few die hards were moored up and very few actually navigating but the few people we saw were a friendly bunch and walkers willing to chat. Our pace was such that we hit the first checkpoint at 5 miles with the news that the back markers were about 10 minutes ahead, time to have a break and a laugh with the other volunteers to move on.

The same happened again when we discovered at the 10 mile mark the leaders were passing us in the opposite direction, the winner completing it in 03:23:21. It was just past this checkpoint at about 12 miles we spotted the back marker and by chance the only lock-side coffee shop was available. We decided that the best thing to do was to them some space and we could have a break to watch the other runners pass through, some looking a bit worse for wear, others really up for the remaining 12 miles. At this point I was getting worried that my good running buddy, George, was missing as some of the runners passing us were slower than him. It transpires George had taken a wrong turning and we had passed him whilst he was discovering new paths! George, even with the detour had a brilliant run and true to form was at perfect pace for the distance he did.

Turn around

Even with breaks Alistair and I were really pleased that we got to the turn around CP at 12:28pm, 2 minutes before the cut off, at our rate of effort, without breaks and staggered start we would could have got a nice sub-6 hour run but today's run was to give a bit back to the community and to concentrate on the runners. It is so nice to have this type of run, feel as though you are doing some good without the pressure of the clock.

Now there had been about 300 footfalls and the mud in places was sticky such that you had to watch your step. We stepped off the pace as we were aware that we had quite a few runners very close to the cut off speed so we just enjoyed the autumnal views, and weeping willows reflecting in the waters, beautiful.

At about we spotted the back marker again but chose to play a game of cat and mouse, not to pressure her and it almost became a game when we got to open ground however we were discovered at the 10/20 mile  CP when we misjudged the time. Alistair discussed a game plan to allow her (Nici) to get a head start but we warned her that at 5 miles we would be on her to get her through, it was agreed.

So as the run went on I was feeling surprisingly good considering this was my second 30 mile run in 8 days but was actually finding it hard to keep the speed down but brilliant training for the longer runs.

So in the last 3 miles we were met by Anna,  who had already run the race and part of it with Nici which is a wonderful gesture so the four of us pushed on with a lovely flourish at the end for Nici as she crossed the line completing her first ever Ultra... I was glad to be part of it and smiled as she went off to celebrate with her friends.

In conclusion

If you get the chance to enter this race you will not be disappointed, the organisation was second to none wit a wonderful medal, technical t-shirt and well stocked CPs, you even get hot drinks and  food at the end. A must do race


  1. Sounds like a really great event. Our trail races always have very skilled and fit sweepers. They have quite a number of duties to perform. I hope to get a chance at sweeping next year.

  2. Not expert in trail races but it sounds very interesting. When I come back to UK I will only be able to run the ParkRuns.