Panther Takes the Hindmost

At the start of January I blogged about the races that I had entered for 2020 (read about it here). I can laugh about it now, but like everyone, nearly all races were cancelled. The Oldham Way Ultra in April, cancelled, Castle to Coast triathlon in July, cancelled, Coniston one way swim, not cancelled but I deferred to next year as swimming pools have only just re-opened. The last race that I had entered was panther takes the hindmost, an elimination race. This wasn’t cancelled and it went ahead yesterday.

There were some issues. The race was originally planned to take place around the Fewston and Swinsty Reservoirs near Blubberhouses. Me and my amazing wife even went for a post lockdown run in the area (read about it here). Unfortunately the area was deemed to be too busy for a safe and socially distanced race. Punk Panther, the race organiser, opted to move the event to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal on an out and back course starting and finishing at Hirst Lock.

The format of the race is quite simple. Starting from 9am you have until 2.55pm to run four laps of the 10 and a bit km loop. At 3pm the elimination part of the race would begin. Whoever was last, but inside the 90 minute lap cut-off would be eliminated, and then everyone remaining would go again. My aim was to run 6 laps, which would be my longest run only run. I wasn’t too optimistic about going longer, as my longest run this year was 26 miles from Kendall to Lancaster along the Lancaster Canal (read about it here), back in June, and then a week before the race I managed a gentle 30km run.

The day before the race I stopped off at Asda to load up on snacks for the event, as well as setting out everything that I would need, plus a load extra that I might need; two pairs or running shoes, extra socks, gloves, hat, thermal layers, etc.

Race day, and first problem was that our Satnav didn’t recognise the postcode. A quick search on Google Maps showed a bakery very close to the start, which had a postcode that was recognised. Driving there was a bit grim as the weather was horrendous, and the route was a bit of a dog-leg taking almost two hours. In the end I made it to the start with time to spare. I grabbed my number and chatted to the organiser and fellow competitors. At 9am most people set off, with 30 seconds between each runner.

I set off at a nice gentle pace, not worrying if it took me 5 hours for the almost marathon distance first part of the race. Most people had a similar plan, although some walked more than others, all except for one woman who didn’t start until I had almost finished my first lap. She then proceeded to smash it, finishing in 3 hours 10 minutes. It took me an hour longer, but I still had almost two hours to recover before the ‘race’ part of the race began.

The 5km out and back route went past the famous Bingley five rise locks, which upon first glance looked like a wall of locks rising skywards. In fact they only rise 18m, but they do look impressive.

We also passed the slightly less impressive 3 locks rise where I took my one and only selfie of the day.

During the first 4 laps the weather had been changeable. I set off in rain wearing gloves and a hat, and within a mile the sun had come out. On my fourth lap I went out in bright sunshine only for it to hail ten minutes later.

Back in the carpark and as people completed their 4 laps they would set up a camping chair behind their car, resting their legs and eating and drinking. I went for a short walk in an attempt to prevent my legs from seizing up, as well as a few stretches. And then before I knew it, it was time for the elimination laps. 17 of the 18 starters had made it this far, with the other runner missing the cut-off but continuing anyway to complete 5 laps. No medal or t-shirt if you didn’t complete 5 laps.

We were lined up with the slowest runners setting off first, in ten second intervals. This made it a little trickier as you could finish in front of someone, but actually have taken longer. In the end not an issue. I was 7th or 8th to set off, and as expected my legs felt terrible and I was soon passed by almost everyone behind me, although I did overtake most of the people who had started in front of me. As long as at least one person finished within the 90 minute lap time limit behind me I would be OK.

It was a struggle but I finished lap 5 in almost exactly one hour, with four people behind me and one other missing the cut-off. Twenty minutes rest and we were off again. I was amazed by how good some of the runners looked, having already run just over 50km, whereas I was shuffling along like an old man. Mentally I knew that lap 6 was going to be my last, but I finished in one hour and ten minutes, well within the time limit and not eliminated. I informed the organiser that I was pulling out, as were another 2 or 3 runners. One of the runners who stopped when I did said that she had completed a 97 mile run along the West Highland Way the previous weekend!

Once the remaining 13 or 14 runners started lap 7 I was handed my medal and t-shirt. Everyone loves a bit of bling.

After finishing off the coffee from a thermos that I had brought with me I headed back home, feeling very tired and sore, but also happy with my longest run, 38.7 miles. Back home and Helen had lit the fire, she ran me a bath, handed me a beer and then fed me chilli nachos followed by a meat pie. The best welcome home ever. Nelly, our silly pointer, could also relax as everyone was home and accounted for.

This morning, just before writing this blog, I had a look on Strava to see how everyone else had got on. The winner did 10 laps, with 104km, while second place didn’t do a full 10th lap and was happy completing 100km. Third place completed 9 laps. It also appeared that 6 or 7 people dropped out on or at the end of the 7th lap. In hindsight it would have been very foolish for me to attempt the 7th lap, as I could feel various niggles blossoming. I would definitely do another elimination race, or a last runner standing race, and full marks to Punk Panther Events for a very well organised and rewarding race.

Races for 2020

One of the racing tips that I’ve picked up over the New Year is that you should tell everyone what races you’ve entered, that way there will be more chance that you’ll succeed.

Another slightly random tip is when you’re on a long run, count down the miles to go rather than the miles you’ve done.

“Only 5km to go, that’s parkrun, I can do that.”

This is a run down of my four main races (events) for 2020. I’m sure that I will enter a few more, but these are the ones that I’m focusing on and training for.

I mention the psychological tip because I’ve entered a couple of ‘big’ races. First up in the middle of April is the Oldham Way Ultra (OWU). 40 miles of trails, canals, woodlands, tracks and plenty of hills. As with many people contemplating ultra running my fear is getting lost. One of my two previous ‘longer than marathon’ races was a multi-lap race back and forth across the Humber Bridge, aptly name Hell on the Humber. Last year I completed the 50km Canalathon, which involved running from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge along the Rochdale Canal (Read about it here). Virtually impossible to get lost. The OWU promises to have a fully marked route, plenty of feed stations and live GPS tracking. There is a 13 hour cut-off with an 11 hour cut-off at the feed station at 33 miles. My aim is just to finish, preferably under 10 hours, as there are a lot of hills.

http://www.oldhamwayultra.co.uk/

My second main race was a birthday present from my amazing wife, who has also entered. It’s the Castle to Coast Triathlon, a point to point middle distance race. It starts with a 1.2 mile swim in Dorney Lake, Windsor. The bike leg is 67 miles from Windsor Castle to the foot of Ditchling Beacon. The run is 13 miles over Ditchling Beacon and down to the coast, finishing in Brighton. Me and my wife love quirky events and we are both incredibly excited for this race. The last time that I undertook a middle distance triathlon was back in 1998 at Ironbridge in Shropshire and I’ve never done an official M-Dot Half Ironman (and I won’t be doing one in 2020).

Castle to Coast

The Lake District has loads of organised swimming events every year, over all distances. I had thought about the 10 mile Windermere One Way, but with all of the running that I’ll be doing this year I doubted that I would manage to find the time to train for it. I have instead entered Coniston one way. A shorter event at ‘only’ 5.25 miles. Helen was also looking at this event, but she will be supporting me here as I will be supporting her on her ‘big’ swim at Bala earlier in the year. I am a tad jealous as the Bala swim involves a steam train ride to the start.

Coniston One Way

Last and not least, and probably the craziest race that I’ve ever entered is the Panther takes the hindmost (elimination ultra marathon), organised by Punk Panther Ultra marathon Events. This is in a similar vein to the increasingly popular Last Man (Person) Standing races. I say ‘person’ as the 2019 winner of the original race was Maggie Guteral completing 250 miles. There are two Last Man Standing Races in the UK; one in February in Northern Island and the other all the way in the south in Essex. The Essex race clashes with Helen’s Bala swim, so it was an easy decision (especially as Helen will ride on a steam train). One day I would like to have a go at a Last Man Standing race just to see if I could make it to 24 hours (100 miles).

The Panther takes the hindmost race is held on a 10.5km loop and starting at 9.30am four laps have to be completed. At 3.30pm the elimination begins, with the person in last place being eliminated every half lap, until there is only one. In reality more than one person drops out each half lap. Last year the 2nd and 3rd place runners both dropped out at 8 and a half laps. The winner continued and completed 10 full laps (just over 100km). I have no idea how I will fair. As the OWU is 40 miles (64km), I would like to go just a little bit further. My target is therefore 6 and a half laps, anything beyond that will be a bonus.

Panther Takes The Hindmost

I am slightly scared about the two ultra events, although I do plan on increasing my running, both distance and frequency, as well as plenty more off-road running. In anticipation today I purchased a new pair of trail shoes. New running shoes are always exciting.

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What races have you entered for 2020?