I’ve always wanted to attempt a ‘Last Runner Standing’ style race so when Infinity Running decided to trial a lockdown version I immediately signed up.
Run 4 miles on the hour, every hour, until there’s only one runner left. Sounds straightforward and as a concept it is, but in practice it’s a lot harder. Do you go out and run quickly so that you can get a longer break in between loops but risk getting tired quicker or do you run slower but then have less time to refuel between loops? Ideally you want someone in between but as time goes on it’s naturally going to become harder and you’re going to get slower.
The most well known last runner standing race – Big’s Backyard Ultra – has loops of 4.167 miles so that 12 hours equals 50 miles but for the Infinity Running version things have been kept simpler with 4 miles per loop.
After following Big’s Backyard Ultra I have long wanted to try out the concept. That event features the cream of ultra runners who don’t start to warm up until they are beyond the 100 mile mark.
With it being just two weeks since I had run the Barry Island Ultra, I wasn’t sure how well the legs would cope with another long day of running. My goal was to get further than 44 miles and reach 50 miles which would equal what I achieved in Paris in 2018. Anything beyond that distance would be a bonus. To get the full experience I opted to run 4.17 miles per lap instead of 4 miles.
Much like the quarantine version of Big’s Backyard Ultra which took place in 2020, the Last Runner Standing event was going to start and finish at home and without any other runners. 52 runners started the event and was a mix of veterans of the Infinity Running events and those like myself who were newbies to the events.
I had pre-selected a route to follow which was an out and back along the River Usk but on the morning of the race I decided to plot a few more routes for some variety. As it happened, I would never actually run that pre-selected route.
Even though it was only a virtual race, leading up to the race briefing I was experiencing some pre-race butterflies. I hadn’t felt like that in a good few years and whilst I knew that I wouldn’t be ranking high in the race, I had set myself a goal so was nervous that I may not achieve it.
Whereas the recent Barry Island Ultra saw me taking all food with me (mainly gels), for this race I had the luxury of returning home to refuel. I wasn’t sure how well I would do and what I would eat so went a bit overboard with the snacks. There were Pot Noodles, crisps, a Soreen malt loaf, cocktail sausages, mini pork pies, pots of custard, Jelly Tots plus a box full of different types of energy gels such as Spring and Gu.
I took a gel with me on most loops which I would eat around 30 minutes into the run and back at base I’d had a nibble at everything with the salt and vinegar crisps, custard and Pot Noodle going down well. There was also the ultra aid station staple of full fat Coke which tastes so good as the day progresses.
For hydration I was using ORS hydration tablets which are fairly new to me having only previously tried some sample tablets on the Barry Island Ultra. I also had two sachets of SiS Beta Fuel left from the ultra which I had at around 34 and 42 miles and with 320 calories and 80g of carbs did a surprisingly good job of perking me up, particularly when paired with an energy gel.
Only being out for around 40 minutes at a time I didn’t want to take the Salomon running best with me so decided to treat myself to an Ultimate Direction Clutch to carry a bottle and a gel with me. It’s not cheap but does come with a ‘body bottle’ which is a HydraPak soft flask that’s more ergonomically shaped to fit in the Clutch or Race Belt.
Having the bottle always in my hand I found myself drinking from it much more frequently which is just what I wanted to do on this race. It was so easy just to twist the top with my mouth and take a sip and as the bottle is soft as it empties it collapses down within the Clutch. The zipped pocket is small but suitable for a gel or two and key.
I had the intention of heading out along my pre-defined route which I had recced earlier in the week but instead opted for an impromptu route planned hastily on OnTheGoMap.com whilst getting ready for the race. The planned route was handy as it was an out-and-back route which would have been easy to run but with a sunny day forecast, it would have been more interesting running through the centre of Newport so chose a route that ran along the Riverfront.
For this loop I ventured out on another impromptu route and this time heading out east along Caerleon Road towards Caerleon. The Newport Half Marathon usually takes place around St David’s Day but this year there was a virtual version so there were plenty of runners running along the same road as me which happened to form part of the official race route.
Loop #3, #4 and #5
Back to the same loop as loop #1 and allow the Riverfront again. There’s hardly a cloud in the sky, there are lots of people enjoying a walk in the sun and I’m encountering more Newport Half Marathon runners including some wearing race bibs. It was nice to encounter a couple of familiar faces both from my running club and Lliswerry Runners.
Even though it’s only 10°C I’m starting to get warm in the sun particularly as I had headed out on the first lap in multiple layers. At the end of loop #5 it was time for a change of clothes as well as a change of shoes. I was feeling some discomfort in my feet wearing the Hoka Bondi 7 shoes so swapped them out for the Hoka Rincon 2. I did wear the Bondi 7’s on the Barry Island Ultra without issue but not sure if getting the exact size shoe rather than going up a half a size was the reason for the discomfort.
The refuelling strategy was going well and I was feeling good after eating a Pot Noodle, crisps and having some Coke. I was still taking out a soft flask with ORS and was continuing to take regular sips throughout the loop.
I’m now beyond 20 miles and heading towards 25 and the legs are feeling a bit tired and I’m starting to feel a little nauseous which for some reason always seems to happen around this distance into a long run. It’s usually just an underlying feeling of nausea and isn’t a cause for concern and is more of an annoyance. For this loop I’m fancying a change of scenery so head out towards Caerleon again although there was a bit of an incline towards the turnaround point so decided that I’d switch back to Riverfront loop.
Loop #7, #8 and #9
It’s the Riverfront all the way now although seeing so many people going for a walk with a takeaway beer in hand I was feeling envious, and tired. By now I’m contemplating whether I should just stick with the original goal of 50 miles rather than try and see how far I can run. It would be a good training run and I’d much prefer to tackle a bigger distance with more experience under my belt.
Starting each loop on a hill was really taking its toll on the quads and the start of each loop was more of a painful hobble down the hill and then when on the flat I could get into a rhythm and plod along at a consist ~10:00 /mi pace. With only a couple of roads to cross I was lucky enough to be able to keep moving until I got back home to that hill (it was easier on the legs running up it).
It was now 10 hours since I started the first Riverfront loop, the tide that was heading out is now heading back in and the sun that hadn’t long risen was now setting.
I think 50 miles is going to be the point at which I stop.
By the time I had head out for this loop the sun had set and I had decided that this was going to be the penultimate loop and I was going to bow out at 50 miles. There were still 7 men and 4 women standing and many of them had been finishing consistently around 40-45 minutes so were likely to still be running. The next milestone would have been 62 miles / 100k but I would have had to have kept going until midnight and I certainly wasn’t relishing the idea of that.
The final loop and when you know it’s the last your mind set changes completely – you know the end is in sight. It’s still tough though! The run down the hill from the house was ever more painful but once I’d got into my rhythm on the flat it wasn’t as bad and I could maintain my 10:00 /mi pace once again.
Heading back home I crossed the 50 mile mark at exactly 11:37:00 which was quicker than Paris (12:57) although you can’t really compare the two runs. Still by the time I’d finished at 50.40 miles it was the furthest I’d been and I had run every single mile, an achievement I was proud of.
Stopping the Watch
Even though I had decided to call it a day at 50 miles, it was hard ending the run on the Garmin. I had no intention of heading back out but wasn’t entirely convinced that I should be ending the run. I had run all 50 miles so hadn’t attempted a run/walk strategy which I’m sure could have got me further but I had no chance of winner the event or even finishing in the top three (the winner completed 84 miles) so was it worth putting my body through more miles? I’d completed two ultras in a month which was a huge achievement considering where I was this time last year.
When I ran the Barry Island Ultra I was self-supported and only ate the things I carried with me (energy gels, Duo Bars, Powershot jellies) along with Maurten, ORS and SiS Beta Fuel which I mixed with water that I picked up from Tescos along the way. I was always conscious of the time so rather than stopping to eat something more substantial I’d just keep going but with an aid station to return to each hour I did much better with refuelling. I’d hope that on the next self-supported run I don’t worry so much about how long it’s taking me and stop more frequently to eat more than just gels.
Overall it was a great experience that I ‘enjoyed’ and would love to try again at an event with other runners. Running an event like this on your own is not easy but when surrounded by dozens of other runners I’m sure you’d be encouraged by them to push yourself further. I saw the event as more experience of running long distances and once the legs are back to normal I’m looking forward to the training for the next challenge.