MIUT 85k Race Report

MIUT 85k Race Report

I want to share my experience of the MIUT 85k as a novice Ultra-Runner – what my background is, how I prepared, how the race went, and what I would do differently next time. My hope is that it will provide a valuable perspective for anyone new to ultra-running considering a challenge, or indeed anyone wanting to know a bit more about the MIUT races.

Background

The 2024 MIUT 85k was the first target I set myself in the Ultra category, and at the time I made that decision, the longest race (indeed the longest run) I had ever done was the 40k Snowdon leg of the 3 Peaks Yacht Race (3PYR) in June 2023.

MIUT 85 is a Mountain Ultra with a savage 5,000m of ascent and descent. It’s fair to say that this was going to be a big challenge for me. Without wanting to get too ahead of ourselves here: my only real goal was to complete the race with a smile on my face, but I was loosely training for a sub-18h time. So, to ultimately cross the finish line in 15:13:31 (coming 184th of 467) left me overjoyed that my hard work had paid off, and filled with gratitude for all the people that helped me get there. Particularly the support and kindness of my generous and patient wife Silvia – running is a solo sport, but it’s now clear to me that ultra-running is a team effort.

Allow me to tell you a bit about my journey.

MIUT 85k Race Report

Preparation

Coach

I had enlisted the help of a running coach just over a year before attempting MIUT (a few months before the 3PYR). After coaching me through the 3PYR, Simon Dicks of Focused Running developed a long-range training plan that prepared me for MIUT. This incorporated all the usual stuff that you would expect: a long build of my aerobic base, intervals, hill repeats (lots of those required in Oxford), and strength work (don’t skip it!). 

I won’t rehearse the details of the plan, but I strongly believe that having a coach enabled me to achieve this lofty goal. Simon and I worked well together: he always helped me balance running with the rest of my life, he tweaked my plan based on feedback from my physio, and always listened to my feedback. Simon was so inspired by MIUT that (along with his wife) he joined us in Madeira for the MIUT 115 (coming 144th of 959). 

Enjoying Running

In pushing my limits, the genuine enjoyment of the training has been a huge factor in the sport for me. Please excuse the cliché, but for me it has been much more about the journey than the destination. While this has frustrated Simon (because I didn’t find hill repeats fun, but am starting to appreciate them), I believe that enjoying most of the minutes spent running, and looking forward to the next opportunity to do a big training session or race with my friends has been a huge factor in me making the time to train, and ultimately getting me over that finish line. 

Reading

As I started to appreciate that I was entering unfamiliar territory I idly decided to gain a little extra perspective by reading The Essentials for Ultra Running by Jason Koop. I loved this book. As someone technically minded it gave me all the detail needed to understand the “why” of my training plan (making it even more fun), and taught me countless things I didn’t know I that needed to know. I cannot recommend this book enough (the link is not an affiliate link).

Looking after my body

Despite enjoying (most of) the training, I could feel that my body was redlining. I was always listening to the slightest sensations (hints of shin splints, sore knees, tight hamstrings), and dealing with them as they came up. For several months, and right up to the race, there was always something niggling at me. But being proactive in managing load and seeing a good physio (thanks for everything Kate Ryan) seemed to keep me on track. 

I love my sleep and appreciate its restorative effects on the body (check out Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker), so I naturally focused on getting good sleep which I think helped me a lot. As an (un)fortunate side effect, I dramatically reduced the amount of alcohol I was drinking, and ultimately stopped about 6 weeks leading up to the race. I typically also like to eat light and healthy food.

A large crowd at the start of the MIUT 85k Race Report

Taper Madness / Being a Nerd

In the weeks before the event I was getting nervous-excited and was 100% suffering from “maranoia”. With less time spent running, I had a little more time to busy myself with preparation (displacement?) activities related to the race. 

I spent an hour or so studying the GPX route in 3D on Google Earth – I did this to have an idea about how the course was structured, where the climbs would be, and what the terrain might be like. For some I think this might spoil the element of surprise, but for me it gave me a bit more comfort knowing what was coming. I think for my next race I will opt for it to be more of a surprise!

I studied the required kit-list and bought the various bits I was missing.  

I copied the checkpoint distances and elevations into a spreadsheet and took note of the food that would be available. I used this to estimate the time I would spend on each leg; what I would eat and drink at the aid stations; and therefore, how much water, isotonic, and food I would need to carry with me and what I should have in my drop-bag.

I also printed (and laminated!) my own little chart to carry with me on the race. It was a great handrail: reminding me what I had ahead of me on each leg and what I planned to eat and drink. In the end I was going faster than I had anticipated so ate and drank appreciably less than planned, but I was very glad to have a plan that I could deviate from rather than no plan at all.

I had noticed that the aid-stations were offering Näak isotonic drinks. I was excited to potentially not carry quite so much Tailwind with me, so brought some when buying all my other food (from the lovely guys at Centurion Running). I tested the Näak on a run, but it was thicker than I’m used to and generally un-familiar, so I resolved to take my Tailwind. Spoiler: it’s lucky I didn’t like it because when I tried it during the event it was so watered-down that it would have totally thrown my fuelling plan off. Lesson learned: be self-sufficient.

I found the GPX for MIUT 85 2022 (the event organisers posted the 2023 one which included a diversion – most unhelpful). I loaded it into Garmin Connect and added the aid stations as waypoints into my watch (Garmin Fenix 7s). It was very helpful to see the actual distance to the next aid station so I could manage my effort and fuelling. Seeing the elevation profile and climbs is of course also invaluable. Here is my GPX for MIUT 85 2024.

I watched a few YouTube videos of the race which gave me an idea of what the layout of the aid-stations would be and gave me a glimpse of the drop-bags.

I laid out and packed all my gear and planned out what was going to be with me from the start and what was going to be in my drop-bag.

Kit layout for an ultra race

In Madeira

As we got on the flight to Madeira (3 days before the event) I was totally convinced I was getting a cold / flu. This is interesting because this has now happened to me before each of the big races I have done. Clearly it is my super-power: to manifest cold symptoms alongside my “maranoia”. 

We landed in the early hours of Thursday morning, so we went to registration on Thursday afternoon. It was busy, but nothing like it was on the Friday – my advice would be to go and register soon after you get to the island as it gets busier closer to the race. The tag was attached to my backpack, and I was issued with my bib, some free gifts, and the drop-bag (a 44 x 60 cm polythene bag). 

We made the somewhat dubious decision to rent a campervan for the week. The idea was that it would be cheaper, allow us to explore the island more fully, and enable me to sleep at the start line. I can safely say that exploring Madeira in a large vehicle is not a good idea (we lost the deposit), however sleeping at the start-line most-definitely is!

The day before the race we had an early dinner and early night ready for my 05:00 wake up for the 07:00 start. I had a surprisingly good night’s sleep (perhaps the melatonin helped) despite the heavy rain beating down on the camper (that the MIUT 115 runners had been enjoying since 00:00). 

A bowl of porridge, a carton of milk and a pot and a kettle on a stove for the MIUT 85k race report

Race Report

Having been convinced (even the night before) that I had such a bad cold brewing that I would be unable to race the next morning; I woke up feeling totally fine knowing that, somehow, I was going to get to the finish line.

I had a familiar breakfast (porridge, chocolate buttons, and tea which I’d brought from the UK – great idea), met up with Anna who was also doing the 85k, got dressed and headed to the start line.

Leg 1 to Ribeira Grande / 10.3k D+550 D-250 / 07:00-08:15

We gave our drop-bags to the crew at the start line who put them in a truck. Then went to queue up in the drizzle. You could taste the anticipation. 

We had gentle start through the town and then some lovely forest trails. I was bold and started cold. I felt strong but perhaps started a bit quick.

I was carrying 1.5l of water with me – which was way too much considering that we started in the dark and cold. The sun rose as we ran out of São Vicente. 

I didn’t take anything at the aid station except some water. It was here that I tasted the Näak and was disappointed that it was heavily diluted. 

Leg 2 to Encumeada / 4.4k D+810 D-300 / 08:15-09:21

The MIUT 115 runners joined us at this first aid station, by this time they had already been running for over 8 hours through some very wet and miserable conditions – but everyone I saw was in great spirits.

We were faced with a solid climb straight out of the aid station through the trees which was beautiful, but hard work. We came out the other side and I was feeling very strong at 15k as I clipped along the famous Levadas(irrigation canals) of Madeira. 

I continued to follow my nutrition plan quite stringently. We arrived at Encumeada (the first proper aid station) where I refilled my water flasks, went to the loo (long queue!), and ate some crisps.

Leg 3 to Curral das Freiras / 14.8k D+935 D-1,130 / 09:32-12:02

Straight out of the aid station, we started down into the valley, and back up the other side along a pipeline and through the forest. 

Down the other side was a beautiful descent: initially technical and over a sharp edge, and then down through the trees into the valley. 

Coming into the valley, I was feeling so strong that initially I thought about not stopping to eat at Freiras – I had lots of food and was moving along nicely. Checking my laminated route chart to remind myself of the distance and elevation to Pico Ruivo made me remember why I had planned to stop. 

Nearing the aid station, we joined the road and started seeing the 115k and 85k runners ahead of us leaving Freiras up for Pico Ruivo. We cheered each other on.

As I approached, I was mentally planning the things I wanted to do at Freiras. I timed myself and was amazed at how quickly I racked up 25 mins. I went to the loo (no queue), picked up my drop-bag, ate some rice with Bolognese, topped up the flasks, re-packed my bag, re-packed my drop-bag and dropped it off. In retrospect, I had way too much stuff in my drop bag (e.g. spare shoes!?). 

I had a power-bank for my watch but with some features turned off, its power estimate was more accurate, and it was clear I should be able to make it to the end without a charge.

Leg 4 to Pico Ruivo Refuge / 10.0k D+1,475 D-305 / 12:28-15:01

This was a monster climb. 

I made friends with a lovely Danish lady called Lena as we jogged down the road out of Freiras and started hiking up towards the trail. She told me that she had attempted the race before but injured herself and so had to pull out after 60k. This time she was back to finish it!

We started the 1,475m climb for this leg up through the terraced fields and forest. It was beautiful, but tough. I felt glad for all my strength training as I kept power hiking, passing quite a few people on the way up. It started raining so I put my jacket on to try and keep dry as we gained altitude (very happy with my La Sportiva Pocketshell). 

We got out above the trees and started climbing along the peaks of the mountains with some tight and technical climbs and fun trails. At some point along this leg the MIUT 60 route joined us. We were running in and out of the fog and could hear supporters ringing bells, sounding as if they were all around us. It was magical and spurred us on.

Towards the end of this leg, I was starting to feel a bit weak – my stomach was tight and uneasy, and I had a cracking headache brewing. I was getting anxious that I had not taken enough salt, and the headache was bugging me. I decided that when the aid station arrived that I would take some time for a “brew” (tea), eat some candied ginger (for my stomach), plenty of crisps, and warm up a bit. 

In retrospect I think I was feeling off because I was a bit hyperglycaemic (which I noticed from my Supersapiens sensor), low on salt, and a little dehydrated. The weight of my pack on my shoulders might well have contributed to my headache too.

When I got to the aid station there was an awesome vibe (I remember them playing bad guy by Billie Eilish, among other pumping tunes). I took a paracetamol, had the brew I’d promised myself, ate more crisps, and refilled the flasks.

By this time, I was starting to fall well behind on my nutrition plan, but I was also about 2h30 ahead of schedule, so my bag was heavy with food I wasn’t going to eat. I thought of leaving some at the aid station until I remembered how much it cost!

Leg 5 to Chão da Lagoa / 9.6k D+415 D-745 / 15:15-17:04

Leaving the aid station, I had been told that we were expecting it to be significantly colder and windier as we went over to the more exposed side of the mountain so dressed accordingly. In reality, it wasn’t too bad, and I was over-dressed!

This is where the route started getting particularly stunning with the epic mountains, tight trails, sharp ascents, ladders, paths cut into the rock face, tunnels, and other fun challenges set against the backdrop of some other-worldly mountain vistas. 

With the paracetamol kicking in I was able to keep moving along nicely and started enjoying myself again. I took the second paracetamol and focused on staying hydrated. 

The Chão da Lagoa aid station was a tent in a field. I saw Lena again (who headed out before me), while I took a break for some more rice and Bolognese and crisps. At this point I was starting to drink more at the aid stations and keep the amount of water that I was carrying down.

On the way out of the aid station, I met a Polish man that I had met on the flight out from London lying on the grass topping up his Vitamin D. 

Leg 6 to Portela / 11.1k D+90 D-980 / 17:16-18:52

This leg felt like it went on for a long time. I was also alone for a lot of it (which surprised me given that with the MIUT 42 joining us, 4 of the 5 routes have now converged). 

From this point (50k) onwards, the kilometres started moving slowly.

I picked my way through some magical winding trails through the forest and slogged down some long and painful downhills. I was starting to notice messages on my phone from people encouraging me which really helped. Thanks guys.  

I enjoyed passing through some moorland-type scenery with sheep (or goats?) in the mist, and there were some very muddy and slippery trails. It looked a lot like Wales and felt a lot like Oxfordshire under foot: so, I felt right at home. 

There was a long and painful descent down to Portela. I was starting to get pretty tired in my legs and longed for any flat ground to run on or even a climb to save me from the downhill. 

I had started realising how much time I was spending in aid-stations, as I noticed myself repeatedly overtaking the same people. So, I was in and out of this one holding a few orange segments. 

Leg 7 to Porto da Cruz / 6.1k D+115 D-700 / 18:55-19:50

This was just a long, lonely, painful descent followed by some lovely trails around terraced fields, and then a section on the road down into Porto da Cruz. 

As I approached the aid station, I had predicted that I might be back in 2-3 hours. Having studied the route before the race, I knew the last 15k were going to be painful. Despite that, I wasn’t ready for just how tough it would be.

At the aid station I just took on water and ate crisps, I still had a lot of food left. I was out of there quickly – I wanted to get home at this point.

Leg 8 to Machico / 15k D+390 D-400 / 19:54-22:13

This leg was a test. 

After around 70k, this final 15k with 400m of ascent and descent was disproportionately difficult. I had never run more than 55k D+1,200, so I was already 15k and D+3,200m into uncharted territory. 

Running along the waterfront out of Porto da Cruz before starting to climb over the headland to Machico I kicked a rock very hard. It was agony. I was fully anticipating seeing blood coming out of my shoe any moment, but I kept running.

I climbed up the hill onto the stunning trail through Boca do Risco. If I was fresh on my feet, this would have been a magical run through the trees of this nature reserve with the waves crashing against the shore far below as the sun was setting. But I was losing it. My legs were spent, my knees were sore, my toe was in pain, and I was simply exhausted. 

I got as far as the coastline, having done most of the climb, before I started walking. For about 20 minutes I just power hiked along the flat trail. I could not muster the energy to go any faster. 

As the sun set and it started to get dark, I had to stop to get my headtorch out. I sat on the side of the trail on a dirt bank to fish it out of my bag. I could feel my judgement failing me as I started to fumble and spill the contents of my pack on the trail, I was sliding down the muddy bank into a heap on the trail. A kind runner stopped to ask if I was ok; I ushered him on. 

At last, I extracted my head torch and headphones, recovered the 90€ and my ID off the dark floor and got up, prepared to keep pushing. At this exact moment, two runners zipped past me; a French guy leading and a Swiss lady (Nathalie) following. 

Having been walking for 20 minutes and been sat down for a few minutes I had more strength. I tried to follow these two runners to try and harness some of their energy. I noticed Nathalie eating, and it reminded me to keep eating. I put my headphones on and was lifted by Imagine Dragons and (surprisingly) Dido. They were trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t hear, I was using all my mental strength to focus on keeping up and listening to my music. I was mindlessly pushing forward, and actually clipping along at a rate that surprised me, where had I found this energy?

I stubbed my toe a few more times and it was torture. I guess I was dragging my feet under tired legs and my concentration was shot. I swore at the rocks, the ground, and myself. I almost gave up, but I had got this far, and I would get to the finish line. Even if I had to crawl. 

Every time I hit my toe the pain was awful but then subsided as I ran. Our little train grew to 4 or so people, and we overtook at least 20 runners as we pushed on towards the finish line.

I followed the pair all the way to the final descent into Machico where I had to find my way down putting as much weight as I could on my poles. Every step was painful, especially downhill. This was particularly frustrating as it was a lovely little downhill fell run that I could have shredded at another time.

Finally at the bottom of the descent, I mustered all my strength to run the final section through the town and over the finish line. 

I was met by Silvia, Anna, and Ben. I had no idea what to think, say, or do. I lay down for a bit, did some half-hearted stretching, treated everyone around me to a shower, then myself to a massage. I dropped in to the medical tent to see what they thought about my toe – I had just bruised it very badly, and their view is that I will lose the toenail.

The immediate feeling after the race was that of total confusion. For sure I was delighted that I had made it, but I was exhausted, and I wasn’t able to feel that much. 

I went to bed within a few hours of having got in, but like a photograph slowly developing, it wasn’t until the hours and days after that I had started to fully appreciate everything that had happened, and to realise quite how much I had beaten my expectations. 

Enjoying Madeira 

With the race done, I was able to stop fretting about getting sick, and sleeping properly. That is to say, I actually started enjoying the island a little more, and to bask in our success. Everyone that had come out to race had completed their race. The only DNF was when Anna bought too much Bolo do Caco (a garlic bread typical of Madeira).

I started trying to put back some of the 7,200 calories my watch tells me I had burned and had a very long-awaited beer.

We visited the Natural Swimming Pools at Porto Moniz for a dip, checked out the mysterious Forests at Fanal (a UNESCO site that is 1,000m above sea level).

We checked out the Eastern tip of the island out past Caniçal and had a swim in the sea.

Reflections

Training: Balancing my time between family, work, friends, catching COVID, etc.; and considering that it’s quite flat around Oxford and that I wanted to enjoy my training: I think it’s fair to say that I did as much as I could. Thankfully it turned out to be enough.

Preparation: I am delighted with how I prepared (even the stuff that felt silly at the time). I am tempted to say that I over-prepared and over-worried, but considering how much of a stretch this event was for me I think that is natural. I hope that I can look forward to taking things in my stride a little more in the future. 

During the race: I was grateful for my preparation, and think that I managed my effort, fuelling and pain as well as I could. I did rack up about 1h10m in aid stations and I can’t stop myself wondering if that time was well spent. Did I spend too much time “resting”? Could I have been more efficient with repacking my bag? 

Regarding my gear: Everything functioned well, and I was happy with all the kit I wore and had with me. With hindsight though, I was probably carrying too much. I did not need a 3rd flask for water (-40g-540g). Nor did I need a spare running top, my fleece (-240g), or a pair of gloves (-25g). I could have probably reduced my food (-250g) when I met my drop-bag. I also now realise quite how much an iPhone weighs.

In general, I’m over the moon with how the race went, and I don’t think there is much that I could have done better given my experience. I beat my expectations, have raised the bar both practically and mentally, and think that I had fun along the way. Thank you to everyone that made it possible. 

Next Challenge

The next adventure for me will be in July: the E51 Panorama Trail in Grindelwald. Two weeks on from MIUT 85, I’m feeling good and am enjoying training for it already. My objective for this one is also to enjoy the journey and get over the finish line with a smile on my face.  

The Inaugural 14 Peaks Ultra
14 Peaks Ultra

"The immediate feeling after the race was that of total confusion. For sure I was delighted that I had made it, but I was exhausted, and I wasn’t able to feel that much."

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A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

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An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

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Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

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Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

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Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.

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Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.

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First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.