50 miles is a really long way. We know that! But we wanted to make it an achievable goal for those who want to have a crack at it in the Ox 50 race. Made up of 10x 5-mile laps, the Ox 50 breaks down the huge distance into manageable chunks with aid available on course and at the start/finish of each lap. Plus, if you enter and for any reason can’t finish, we’ll still give you an Ox Frolic medal and goodies (unless you opt out) so you don’t go home empty handed.
But don’t take our word for it! We asked Kev Roberts to tell us more about his experience of running the Ox 50 Mile, along with his top tips for first timers.
First and foremost, 50 miles is a long way. A very long way! And it’s not a distance that I can rock up and bash out. I tried in 2018 and DNF at 37 miles.
Given I’d not ran (mostly walked) more than 30 odd miles, the first thing that I did was ask questions and suck up as much advice as I could from more experienced runners, those that had completed the event and other bog-standard crazy ultra runners. My first port of call was to speak with the Race Director Andy Palmer who advised me to identify my weaknesses and subsequently turn them into strengths. Women, alcohol and rusty German cars – I was clueless how to turn that into a positive for ultra running. The wonderful Carol Hayes shared the key to her completing the Ox 50 in 2018 was to train on tired legs, and if there’s only one piece of advice you listen to then that is it.
Our sweeper Carolyn got so fed up with my questions that one Sunday she offered to run with me, which laid the foundations of my Ox 50 plan. I started my training three months before race day in February. As I said, I’m just not the type of runner to rock up and run 50 miles. I’m not a runner entering to win; my goal was to make the cut off and finish the race. Ahead of the Ox 50 my marathon PB was 6:44:01 so nothing was a given; this is why I needed adequate time to train. I use the word ‘training’ loosely and mean back-to-back weekend running, as it really is time on your feet when you’re tired. Any 50-mile race is going to involve some walking; given this, spending a day walking or hiking is only going to be good training for your feet too. Around this time I tested a Winter Larmer route for Andy and entered a virtual 100-mile event, completing the distance in 4 days. The main goal of my training was to be comfortable at feeling uncomfortable.
Getting to know the route was important for me, as it meant come race day there was one less thing to worry about. I may have overdone my training on the Ox route; in total before the start line in the 6 weeks leading up to the race I’d managed 111 miles on the course. I’d fallen in and out of love numerous times with the smell of wild garlic.
Essential kit and fuel
Essential kit for me was a hydration pack, light trail shoes and poles, which really helped me get up those hills; there was 1,755 metres of ascent. Ignore anyone telling you they’re ‘cheat sticks’, as they really help conserve energy and get you up those hills. If you can spend time getting used to running with them and build it in as part of your training, come race day you’ll make a small gain.
Nutrition for the day is so important; if the Garmin app is a rough indicator, it showed that I burned 5,400 calories over the 51.5 miles, so an average of 680 calories per lap. Given this, it’s important to put back in calories from the off otherwise before you know it you’re too far into calorie deficit and subsequently too tired to maintain your pace. If this happens it’s unlikely you’ll pull it back so game over really, which is one of the reasons we see runners DNF at around the 30-35 mile mark. The same can be said for hydration; I used a mixture of electrolytes (Tailwind) and water. The above calculations on calories may be wrong, however the methodology is about right.
I used the same foods in the latter part of my training as I ate during the race; for me it was trillion calorie flapjacks (my own recipe) – the honey and crunchy peanut butter makes it so! Sausage rolls, a few bags of pretzels/Frazzles for salt, and additional salt tablets. For sugar I had jelly beans and jelly babies; from about mile 35 I couldn’t swallow any solids which was fine as I relied on Tailwind – two scoops of fuel in 700ml water is 200 calories. I also took on a Tailwind Rebuild at 30 miles, which is full of all the stuff that you need and easy on my gut – again 240 calories, so I was taking on board enough to fuel my run. I found having food pre-packed in sandwich bags really helped to reduce down time as I could just grab and go, as did having two bladders meaning I could quickly replace the empty bladder when needed. I cannot stress the importance of being comfortable with your nutrition, don’t eat or drink something for the first time on race day.
Even with all the training I was still concerned whether or not I’d make the cut off to start my final lap. I was lucky to have a someone crew for me, which meant I’d reduce faff time and anyone who knows me will know that I like a faff! It’s easy to spend 5 minutes at the end of each lap sorting out food, drink or chatting and this mounts up to a considerable amount of time and for someone like me it’s the difference between the Ox 50 medal and the Frolic medal. Carolyn crewed for me; she not only knows the route/ race, but also understands me as a runner which was important too.
I wore 2XU compression shorts and calf guards to give me extra support as I knew the aches would kick in, however the difference compared to my previous Ox 50 attempt was that I was ready and mentally prepared for when the difficult moments happened and thus able to deal with them as best I could. You won’t need me to say pace yourself, however pace yourself and go at the pace you need to maintain for your own race. At the start a number of people passed me; it didn’t worry me, especially over the next few hours when I noticed a few of them dropped out due to injury or fatigue – it just made me believe more in my race plan. Given during the race you’ll be spending a lot of time on your own, being comfortable with running alone is key too. We are all different and this approach worked for me, however it may not for others; it’s also important that you set out with a positive mental attitude that you’re going to enjoy it, enjoy it all and welcome the pain when it comes. I did!
Feeling inspired? Find out more about the Ox 50 here.