Butcombe Trail Ultra: 2022 Race Review
The Butcombe Trail Ultra is a 50 mile race across the Mendips linking six pubs and raising money for the Mendip Hills Fund.
The Butcombe Trail Ultra is an event organised every Spring by Town & Country Harriers. There are two distances on offer: 50 miles or 56 miles. It's a single-day event and the route is self-navigation across off-road terrain. Both distances are complete loops, starting and finishing at The Swan Inn, Rowberrow.
The route is beautiful! An absolute dream if you love trails and enjoy a good hill. The route follows the Butcombe Trail which links six Butcombe country pubs across the Mendips.
The race starts in Rowberrow and follows the Butcombe Trail clockwise, hitting some of the most scenic spots the Mendip has to offer, including Beacon Batch and Crook Peak. It's largely off-road (think fields and woodland) with only short sections of tarmac interspersed. There's an abundance of stiles, gates, cows, sheep and of course...views!
In terms of elevation it's a relatively hilly course. The elevation for the 50 miler is 6500ft. This mainly came from extremely steep sections rather than the whole route being undulating.
This was my big event for 2022 and so I've been pretty regimented with training. I started training at the start of January, giving me a little under 4 months to prepare. The main principles I focussed on were:
- At least one speed or hill session every week
- A long off-road run every weekend, usually hilly and around 20 miles
- Gradually increasing weekly mileage, peaking at 53 miles
I ran the Greenman Ultra 30 miler about six weeks before this event as part of my training. This was the longest run I did and it was really useful to get the mileage in but also complete the distance at a higher intensity than my usual training runs. Running hilly trails for almost all my runs was the best way to gain confidence on the terrain and build my leg strength ready for the elevation. I also made sure to recce the route to minimise any difficulties with self-navigation on race day. This was really helpful both for navigation but also for the mental aspect of knowing what was coming.
I'd have loved to include more back-to-back long runs at the weekend (i.e. 18 miles Saturday, 12 miles Sunday) but sadly I didn't have the time. I'd really recommend trying to get a few of these back-to-back runs in for anyone ultra training. Also - more strength and conditioning. A constant battle of mine!
The race started at 8am and it was one of the nicest starts I've ever experienced. Registration was in a lovely pub, The Swan Inn, with the option to get a coffee and bacon butty ahead of the start! After a warm welcome from the Race Director we set off towards Dolebury Warren.
The crowd of runners thinned quickly but I had sight of other runners for most of the route - a pleasant experience after running solo for long stretches at other races. From the very start I ended up running with another runner, Steve - we'd overtake one another and then catch each other up. This continued for about 40 miles. We didn't chat much other than the odd word of encouragement or profanity when we reached a hill!
Checkpoints were positioned every 8 or so miles and they were extremely well stocked - fresh fruit, sandwiches, sweet treats and hot drinks. Volunteers were really helpful and supported with filling bottles, directing to toilets and checking in on how things were.
In terms of covering the miles I was really strict with walking the hills and using this opportunity to take on food. It was a strong and fast walk and as soon as the ground flattened out I was back to a run. I ran flatter sections at 8.30-9.00min/mile. I only stopped when I reached checkpoints and minimised the time here to fill up bottles and use the toilets. I'd grab food and eat this whilst walking away from the checkpoints. My stomach always lets me down so I minimised sweet foods which really helped. I started eating cheese sandwiches from 20 miles in and kept this up throughout the race. I had sweets and banana loaf on me for sections where I felt I needed a quick sugar hit but otherwise bread and cheese were my sustenance!
I started feeling bad at Crook Peak, about 34 miles in. It was really windy, my legs were getting tired and I fell over some of the rocks at the top. Roughly knowing the route had been helpful until this point - remembering my recce's and knowing what was coming was quite motivating. But, once you start feeling tired and remember all the places you still have left to run, it starts to have the opposite effect. I knew I was the first female at this point and I'll be honest my competitive edge pushed me through. I didn't stop, just kept counting down the miles on my watch.
As I approached the final few miles I set the goal of getting in under 8.5 hours and really pushed it up the final hill to the finish line. The photos of me at the finish are some of most awful I've seen, but I really did put my foot down at the end as I wasn't totally sure how far I had to go. I managed to achieve my goal, crossing the line as first female in 8hrs27.
A big thank you to the wonderful runners at TACH for organising such a great event and for Steve who really helped me push on around the course and ran a great race.
Official Time: 8:27:32
Position: 1st lady, 3rd overall
This is an incredibly friendly race. All the volunteers at the checkpoints were really helpful, approachable and supportive.
Although the race is self-navigation, markers were placed at particularly tricky sections or near busy roads for participant ease and safety - this extra help made all the difference in getting around the course without getting lost!
The start and finish location is great. A field is opened up for easy parking. There was coffee and bacon butties available before the race and post-race the pub provided a delicious veggie chilli to all finishers.
The event is really well organised with really clear communication leading up to race day.
There is a Facebook group for the event which provides the opportunity to meet fellow runners and recce the route together in advance. Four recce's were arranged by TACH in the weeks leading up to the event.
It's a great value event and it raises money for the Mendip Hills Fund. The cost is set at £1 per mile, so the 50 miler was £50 - much cheaper than many other ultras.
This is a self-navigation race so ideally you need a good watch that you can upload the GPX route to or you need to live locally to recce the route in advance.
The kit list is relatively extensive. I've never had to carry waterproof trousers with me before! I understand the reasoning but it's definitely worth practicing long runs with a heavier pack.
If you're thinking of signing up to this race and have any questions, feel free to send me a message. I'll be running the Maverick Mendips next, in June 2022!