We had a conversation with Jo Gorrod, client services director at Oak Jersey, about the Double Top Ultra Marathon. She and her husband Nick, were one of 35 relay teams which took part in the trail running challenge on Saturday 19 September.
Jo talks all things running, from preparation to start to finish. Read on to find out more.
Jo and Nick Gorrod - winners, mixed relay team
Tell us a bit about your running career
I competed in athletics and cross country as a junior, following in the footsteps of my older sister who was a very talented track athlete. I gave up all sport in my 20’s and then rediscovered my love for competition in my 30’s. I made the switch from being a pure runner to triathlete about eight years ago. I still love running even if I’m not as quick as I used to be and off-road running has always been my favourite.
What’s next on your race journey?
We were due to race in Ironman Italy at the end of September. The Ironman event is gruelling, with a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km bike ride with a marathon to finish off, so a proper day out! We signed up this time last year and it has been a full year of planning and preparation. The aim was not just to finish but to try and get a qualifying spot for Kona which is the IM world championship in 2021.
What was the preparation like and how did you manage to train during a pandemic?
We had a really good training group all aiming for the same goal and you definitely get closer with the group when a bike ride means five hours plus in the saddle.
Due to COVID, we were always aware that there was a strong chance that the race would be cancelled but having that goal kept you motivated on the big weekend’s train. We only found out four weeks before the race that it wouldn’t be going ahead so all the preparation was already in the bag and we needed to refocus on a new challenge.
I would say that I am never not training but the serious work started at our annual training camp in Fuerteventura at the beginning of March. We were lucky to get away as it was just as COVID was beginning to have a significant impact.
Lockdown was a challenge initially as we were restricted to two hours exercise a day which limited some of the long rides on the bike, it also meant that pools were closed from March so it was a very early and cold start to the sea swims this year, booties and neoprene hats in my case.
What essential gear do you need to have for the different types of race?
Running gear is so simple, just a pair of trainers and you are off. We have however, had to invest in a hydration vest for this event as it was 20 miles on the coast path and you need to be self-sufficient. Triathlon on the other hand is just kit, kit, kit and more kit. There are bikes, turbo trainers, time trial bikes, wetsuits, training aids for the pool, bike shoes, running shoes, swimwear, bike clothing (winter gear, wet gear, summer gear, run clothing (the same) and then there’s the nutrition… We also decided to take part in Breca (a swim run race) which involves a different wetsuit, shoes you can swim in and another lot of kit. Needless to say our garage is full of sports gear.
Tell us about your Double Top Ultra Marathon experience
The Double Top Ultra was a new experience for me - a relay, with my better half, Nick, running the first leg from St Catherine’s to the end of Les Landes and me taking the return leg. He was up and raring to go for a 7am start whilst I had a more leisurely morning to prepare. I set Nick up on tracking so I could follow his progress, I was all very relaxed until I realised he was going faster than expected and I had to race to Les Landes for the changeover. When I arrived at Les Landes the first runner was just coming through and it was a mixed team, so I knew I would have a target to aim for. Nick came through about 25 minutes later and I was off across the headland at Grosnez into a bit of a headwind.
There were quite a few runners heading into the handover whilst I was on my way out but plenty of encouragement between the competitors. I felt good and was flying along the cliff paths until we hit the halfway point and it got hard, most of the elevation on the return trip is in the second half of the race and by that time I was struggling with cramp and paying for my early enthusiasm. When it gets hard you just have to break it up into small targets and keep going. Somehow the mind is able to push the body through (or the other way around) and you find yourself on the descent back into St Catherine’s and just a little stroll to the end of the breakwater and back.
What makes the Double Top Ultra unique?
The spectacular views. We were training last Sunday on Jersey’s North Coast and it was a perfect blue-sky day. People’s perception is that racing means fast but when you are facing 20 miles and 3000 feet of elevation it is about just keeping yourself going over the later miles when the pain hits. It’s a great challenge whether you opt for the full 40 miles or just a mere 20 miles of cliffs. Trail Monkey has great support on the Island as they put on races which cater for everyone, those just seeking the challenge of finishing and those who are looking for something more competitive. The organisers are passionate about running in the great outdoors themselves and want to share that with everyone. There is great support amongst those taking part with everyone encouraging each other as they pass.
Do you have any tips to share with aspiring runners?
“Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional”. It’s all about your mind-set, anyone can run – just do it at your own pace and set your own goals.