On Saturday, after months of planning, I stood on the start line of the Race to the Kings, 53.5 miles along the South Downs way finishing in Winchester by the cathedral and hopefully slaying a DNF from last year along a similar route.
Planning for the race started many months ago with a decision to run this coming almost immediately after my DNF and then having a non to scientific training plan of running a lot and doing a couple of marathons before the event but basically ignoring it and focusing on the London/Milton Keynes double for the Kids charity and using that as a springboard. These various races had broadly gone well or at least as intended. I felt fitter than I had done in a long time, had avoided injuries, lost a bit of weight and mentally felt ready to attack the race. I’d also spent a lot of time on kit (or lack of) and copying the approach my wife took to races and cutting the weight right down and changing the configuration etc.
The big unknown for me was doing the race alone. I’ve never done an ultra by myself, rather always as part of a team. So, my big nervousness was how I would react after 12, 14, 16 hours with me, myself and I !! I can have a habit of struggling mentally at times on long races so had decided to take earphones and listen to music when I could feel that happening or catch up on Facebook etc. Wow that helped!
Anyway, enough of the preamble. I travelled to the start with 3 other Hedgies, all ultra virgins (not that they haven’t ever, ever had sex, more it was their first ultra!). So there was lots of nervous chat and the normal jokes.
Matt, the really funny looking one with the cap back to front absolutely destroyed the race by the way, doing it in 10 odd hours and finishing in the top 40! THE TOP 40 out of 1500 !!!! His success was based on carrying a pasty in his rucksack for emergency fuel.
Paul and Matt, in the matching white caps were running the race together and had done a lot of training runs on the course so were also planning on going out hard as well. (They also finished brilliantly but haven’t heard in detail how their race went).
Anyway, the race started, I made the decision at the start not to run with Mark and Paul (originally I’d asked Mark if I could run with the for a bit for company), but when the gun went I felt Iike I just wanted to do it my way so at the first turn rather than going right I went left and went for a wee! By the time I was done, they were gone and it was back to just me.
The first leg was 13ish km and was all about getting into the race, lots of uphills to separate the runners I guess, and eventually got to the first checkpoint which was a welcome sight! Water refuel, packet of sweats, a selfie and I was off again
Anyway, plodded along for another 11km to the next checkpoint which was amazing! I had a coffee, a ham sarnie, two sausage rolls, packet of mini cheddars and a packet of sweats! I was offered a packet of crisps but I did have to say no as I’m an athlete!!!
My approach to this race though was to treat it as 9 mini races and just ignore the finish and ignore the final mileage. My aim for this was to write down the individual legs and turn my watch off at each checkpoint and re-start it again for each leg. This worked really well in tricking my brain. This is my hand (before it rained and ruined the system!)
Next leg was much of the same, bit of rain, lots of hills and 12km of walking up hill and trotting on the flats and downhill. Met some lovely people on this leg. An Israeli doing the full thing in one day (like me), and a pair of ladies who were doing the two days (camping at half way) and were great company.
Left checkpoint 3 with only a little 7km leg to go to the halfway point where I knew food and a change of clothes awaited me. And there was my first proper mistake, just thinking the little 7km would just happen and go away. By this time it was monsooning it down and the paths were mud slides to walk along and even worse to get up. By the time I finished that 7k to half way, that was the hardest 7km I’ve done in a long long time.
But to meet me there was Jenny! She had a box that I’d given her of stuff and couldn’t wait to get into it!
I ate some some pasta chocolate rocky road cake and some bread and started to feel a bit better.
My anal side had done a list of things I needed to do at the half way point and swap over so I went through the the list, refilled supplies, got changed into new clothes (sooooo good), put on some deodorant (for the ladies!) and got ready to go!
I do have a confession to make though which is not very ultra at all…. When I nipped into the changing rooms to get changed (I thought it was best to do it away from people who were eating), there were some some showers so I nipped in for a quick clean! Felt amazing !!! Thoroughly recommend it !
After an emotional hug with Jenny (I did truly lover her at this point), which whilst lovely, when you have inflatables up front you can’t really hug for fear of lactating!!! Me not her!!!!! My drinks bottles…..
I was then in full on “get this done” mode. Cracked out the first 8k, then 10k, then 8k with some great pitstops along the way where I stuck to coffee, water and porridge. I could feel some hotspots developing on my feet but to be expected. Some more bl00dy big hills and walking through a burst river were some highlights! But before it got dark I remembered to take some pictures:
It was over these stages that I plugged in my earphones, answered some good luck texts, even had a call with Hannah (my sister in law) but generally kept my spirits up in the stages that I know from experience can be a slog.
At checkpoint 7 I was getting really excited as my wife and one of my girls were due to meet me. Emotionally this would give me a good boost but also I really wanted Sophie to see and experience the madness a bit. As I got to checkpoint 7and I had the following call.
Me: hi my love, how you doing, I’m at cp 7, thought you would be here, are you far?
Gem: For goodness sake (there was more swearing than this but…), you must have walked straight past us, for goodness sake etc etc
Me: OK, I’m sorry, bit tired I’m at the CP now, can you come to the CP.
2 minutes later she calls back
Gem: I’m at the checkpoint where are you
Me: I’m at the checkpoint, checkpoint 7.
Gem: Are you sure
Me: I’m pretty sure I’m at the right checkpoint
Gem: well I’m at checkpoint 7 so you can’t be
Voice from behind Gem: Madam, I’m very sorry but you’re at checkpoint 6
Gem: Oh for f’s sake!!!
Me: Ok then, I’ll crack on and see you at checkpoint 8. Love you
I can safely say I left the checkpoint with my spirits definetely raised!!! Not sure that was Gem’s intention but it worked…
A coupe of miles further I came across Gem and Sophie and we had a laugh about it and she gave me half her cheeseburger (that’s love). Seeing Sophie was great though, she was loving being on an adventure
As I approached checkpoint 8, Gem and Sophie were there as they couldn’t get the car to the checkpoint so they gave me a spare t-shirt and I off I went to the checkpoint to get my feet looked at as the blister on my right heel was turning into a real pain!
The medic who sorted it and the checkpoint crews along the way were awesome, genuinely amazing. Such high spirits, really couldn’t do enough to help and properly got the spirit of adventure right.
12km to go and I got a text from Gem saying Mark and Paul had just finished and therefore were only a couple of hours ahead of me and that Matt (who had finished at 6pm) was waiting for me to finish as he wanted to see me through the finish line. Knowing that Gem and Sophie were at the finish was amazing as I Wanted to show Sophie what you can do if a little bit crazy and also the fact that Matt, an absolute running legend was waiting for me made me well up a little bit.
Genuinely, at that exact same moment I tripped over a stone and landed on my blister and that sorted out any emotional moments!
Earphones plugged in, walked really strongly and even ran downhill, towards the M3 sending my wife a km by km countdown. Eventually crossed the M3 where I had a Greenman moment (you cross the M5 on Greenman ultra and it feels very odd being over a motorway in the dark).
Now, I had been warned that once you cross the M3 there is still a long way to go and good god they were right! Bloomin magical mystery tour of Winchester until you get to the cathedral and finish. What a moment. I felt strong, Gem, Sophie and Matt were there (and a big fat security man eating a burger) and I had done it, I’d done it!!! At 1:41am I got to walk over the finish line with Sophie (she wasn’t overly bothered!) and saw the massive smile on Gem’s face
– Walking into Winchester, just after the M3 along a back road, arms in the air, knowing I was going to finish.
– Seeing Jenny and her magical box
– The amazing support on Facebook through the Hedgies, the messages from friends, the nighttime humour from Nicola and the message from Sarah Butler late in the evening from her cruise ship holiday that just said You are hardcore
– The checkpoint conversation with Gem that still makes me laugh now
– Having Sophie there at the finish (I hate to think what she told her friends and teachers on Monday)
Things I learnt
– you really do eat an elephant in small pieces
– No gels is the future for me, I felt so much better without them and porridge is the key
– If you have the opportunity for a shower, take it
– Turns out I’m quite happy in my own company but some music is always good
– The support from friends and the Hedgies really does give you a lift.
Very quick gear review:
– Ultimate direction rucksack – worked so well, sat brilliantly, pockets in the right places and big enough for what you need but not so big you fill it!
– Runderwear pants – 53 miles and no chafing. None! Brilliant
– TomTom watch – didnt let me down and did what it needed
– Salomon socks – been using them for years, probably should get some new ones!
Finally, if you’re still reading thanks for getting to the finish and I leave you with a photo that best encapsulates how I felt at the finish