The Greensand Country 50k is a fast ultra run on rolling trails through Bedfordshire at the end of May. With a beginner-friendly route and support at three checkpoints, it’s the perfect race for anyone considering a first go at the 50km distance.
We caught up with Liam Ward and Helen Etherington, last year’s winners, to get the lowdown on the course, how their races went, and what advice they’d give runners this year.
How did the race go?
Liam Ward (3:59:11): For the most part, it went quite well! I felt really good during the first two thirds of the race, feeling quite smooth and just enjoying the countryside scenery. Things started getting a bit challenging around the 35k mark, as my legs were starting to stiffen up and I was feeling the effects of the heat. The last 10k was absolutely brutal and at that point it was basically just a matter of tolerating the pain and seeing it through to the end. I managed to hold on, though, and got the job done!
Helen Etherington (4:48:15): The race was incredibly warm and I am like a little flower and wilt in the heat! However, it was lots of fun and surprisingly pretty – who knew that Bedfordshire could be so picturesque?!
Did your race strategy go to plan?
Liam: My main goal heading into the race was to complete it in under 4 hours, which I managed (if only by the skin of my teeth). I was actually hoping to run it a fair bit faster but it was an absolute scorcher of a day, around 28 degrees I think. Otherwise, the strategy was just to run it at an even pace and to stay on top of my fuelling – I had two 500ml bottles of Tailwind and took a gel every 30-45 mins, which I think really paid dividends.
Helen: I knew that I would like to give it some effort but I am quite a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ runner and so just start off at a pace and see how long I can cling on for! Things did get a little cheeky towards the end with the heat but generally, I felt okay, and despite my aged bones, I was pleased with how it went!
How would you describe the course?
Liam: I’d describe the course as undulating – not extremely hilly but certainly not pancake flat either! In the grand scheme of ultras the Greensand 50k course is definitely one of the faster trail ultras out there. The terrain was very runnable and not particularly technical, although I will say that certain sections were quite knobbly, winding and uneven, and this was definitely something that I noticed more as the race progressed and fatigue began setting in!
Helen: The course has varied terrain but is generally very flat with a few hills thrown in – I think it would be a good course if you were going for a time. Not technical at all and an ideal first ultra. Aid stations were well thought out in terms of spacing along the route. Stand out features for me would be the start and finish of the race in a stunning location and the big hill at mile 17 – save your legs!
What have you done since the race and what are your next goals?
Liam: After Greensand Country I ended up racing another ultra around three weeks later. It was a 50 miler organised by Castle Race Series, starting at Eastbourne Pier and finishing at Hever Castle. Somehow I managed to win that one as well! I was unfortunate enough to pick up a few injuries last December, though, which side-lined me for a bit. I’m currently well and running again and targeting another ultra this November – a 12 hour race on a 400 metre athletics track! In the meantime I’m focusing more on 10k/half marathon sort of stuff to improve my speed and fitness.
You can follow Liam's training and future race on Strava - Click here
Helen: Since completing Greensand I have run a few other ultras and marathons, namely Lakeland 100, which I managed to complete by the skin of my teeth! Goals for this year are to complete two more 50 milers, a 100 miler (Chester 100), complete Chill Swim (5.25 mile swim in Lake Coniston) and finish Outlaw Nottingham full distance triathlon. Swimming and cycling are not my strong sports and it’ll be a real challenge!
What would your advice be for other runners ahead of this year's race?
Liam: I think a few things are key here. During training, try to get as much running done on off-road terrain as possible. You need to prepare your body for what the race is going to present it with, so it’s important to have that kind of specificity in training. Also, try and do several long runs of at least 20 miles leading up to the race. Once you’ve got a few of those under your belt, your legs and lungs should both have the strength to go the full distance on race day. And finally, pace yourself on the day of the race! Start slow and pick up the pace if you’re feeling good. During last year’s race I came out a bit too hot and definitely paid the price for that towards the end.
If this is your first ultra (it was for me), you’ve chosen a good one! The race was very well-organised and the race staff were very friendly and welcoming. Those things helped create a very nice atmosphere on the morning of the race. Doing an ultra can be very daunting, so stuff like that really does go a long way..
Helen: Just enjoy the day out! It’s easy to navigate, there’s some lovely trails, look up, look around, eat often!
Entries are still open for this years Greensand Country 50k, taking place on 29th May. Click here for more information