Race to the King: if Carlsberg did ultras…

Wow…what an absolutely brilliant time I had last weekend at the inaugural Race to the King Ultramarathon, which was a 53.5 jaunt across the South Downs Way from Arundel to Winchester. The day started with a very early start, with the coach collecting us from Winchester (the end point) at 6am. Unfortunately, due to congestion as a result of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and an accident, we got snarled up in traffic for 2.5 hours. This meant that we missed the start time of 8am, and didn’t end up leaving until 9.15am! However, the organisers were lovely and weren’t at all stroppy with us and allowed us to get fully organised before we set off. The cut-off time was 24 hours (the race was for both runners and walkers) and so setting out late wasn’t an issue in terms of being able to finish within the time- the only downside was getting snarled up behind the walkers on some of the narrower sections early on and the fact that we hit some of the course after RTTK_waterheavy downpours which made the footing more difficult than it might have been had we been an hour earlier.

I can honestly say that this is my favourite race that I have done to date. The route was absolutely stunning- hardly any roadwork and lots of rolling hills, wooded sections and postcard-worthy views across the Downs. There was lots of climbing (over 6000 feet in total) and in places the path was extremely muddy and slippery, we even had a flooded section to negotiate which meant very wet feet for the last 10 miles or so! In many ways I think that this would be an excellent race as a first ultra as the support from the organisers was outstanding. The price-tag for the race is definitely on the high side, but you really can see why when you are out on the course. The checkpoints were stationed at regular intervals and had the most wonderful array of food and drink that I have seen at any of the ultras I have run. What I particularly liked was the variety- the checkpoints all had a different selection of snacks, energy drinks, gels, fruit, cakes, soup which meant that boredom didn’t set in. There were portaloos (clean ones!) at every CP, as well as a seating area and helpful volunteers- the only downside was that it would be far too easy to spend too long at each station! The other thing that was great was the navigation- you didn’t need to do any! Race books with maps were provided but mine stayed firmly in my bag for the whole day as the route was so well signposted that it was obvious which way we had to go (even in the dark glowsticks had been placed near every directional arrow so they were easy to see).

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Spotted a hill fort

However, I did get the feeling that some people had entered this race as their first ultra and had completely underestimated the challenge. Well organised or not, 53 miles with hills is a VERY long way and what astounded me was the number of people I saw who seemed to have completely ignored the suggested kit list. I saw people without waterproofs (who will have regretted that decision as we had thunder and very heavy downpours at times despite the glorious weather first thing in the morning) and one group who had no headtorches with them- having decided that they would be finished before it got dark! I think the important thing to remember about ultras is that you never know what is going to happen and you should prepare for the worst! I finished the race feeling absolutely fine (apart from sore legs), but then went incredibly dizzy and faint and had to lie down for about 90 minutes until I felt able to walk the short distance to the car. This has never happened to me before, but it was a timely warning that not eating and drinking enough in the late stages of a race like this can be potentially quite dangerous. Thankfully my friends looked after me and the medics/Threshold events team were very helpful- letting my husband jump on to an earlier shuttle bus to go and get the car and checking whether I needed food/blankets etc.RTTK_elevation

The finish for this race was spectacular- being literally outside the door of the beautiful and imposing Winchester Cathedral- a real show stopping location. I had hoped to make it in daylight, but the late start and churned up ground on sections of the course meant that I finished in just over 15 hours, around about midnight. This placed me around halfway from the non-stop finishers, which I was pretty pleased with. At the finish we got a great medal and free hot food and drinks were provided (well, for most people they were- I was lying on the floor feeling sorry for myself and trying to swallow a Percy Pig or two!)RTTK_medal

On the Sunday I felt pretty good considering that my back and hip had been hurting throughout the race. I’ve been having issues with my SI joint over the last month or so and it wasn’t really fully recovered from the 90 miles I covered at Endure 24 only two weeks prior to RTTK…I’ve definitely set my recovery back, but I’m hoping that I haven’t made it any worse as I have Race to the Stones (RTTK’s sister race) on 16th July. This means a three week period for me to rest and rehab my back as much as possible. I’m very much looking forwards to it after having such a wonderful time at RTTK. Lots of swimming and Pilates for me over this three weeks, and probably very little running, unless my back feels much better in the interim. If you are thinking of entering an ultra next year I can highly recommend RTTK- you can even split it across two days if the full distance in one is a bit intimidating…if Carlsberg did ultras, then this would be it!

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Look at that view!

24 hour fun :)

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Ready to go!

Wow, what an exciting weekend I’ve just had at Endure24- a fantastic event held in Wasing Park near Newbury. This was my third time here, but my first as a solo runner. The concept is pretty simple: the race runs from 12:00 Saturday until 12:00 Sunday and you run as many 5 mile laps as possible. I’ve competed before as a team of 8 (running 4 laps over the course of the race) and in 2015 I ran 60 miles as part of a mixed pair- we ended up finishing 4th with 120 miles between us. So the plan this year was to see what it would be like to run on my own as a solo. Fortunately I knew quite a few others competing in the event and so there were lots of friendly faces en route to keep me sane. My target was 80 miles, which was 15 further than I’ve ever been before and so I was a bit concerned about how this would go. I find it difficult to cover huge mileage in training as many ultra-running plans would recommend as I suffer with back problems and particularly my SI joint can become quite inflamed. This means that I have to supplement a lot of my running for cross training of various types, mainly swimming, cycling and British Military Fitness classes. My back had actually flared up a little in the week prior to Endure 24 after a longish run in the Lake District and a tough fell race, and so I went into the race a little nervous about how things would be as I hadn’t run at all for 8 days and was hoping that some intensive physio treatment would work its magic! Happily, I didn’t suffer too much, although I’m feeling very stiff now and definitely in need of a week off and some massages!

The conditions for the race were pretty unpleasant- sticky and humid… I’m quite a sweaty person anyway and so this sort of weather is my least favourite for running and I definitely felt like dehydration was a distinct possibility, despite the precautions taken. Initially I was planning to just carry a small hand bottle to reduce weight, but I opted to take my full camelbak instead as I knew that I would need to drink plenty to stop myself getting dehydrated. This meant that I only needed to stop and fill up my water (plus Tailwind sachets containing calories and electrolytes) every twenty miles.

The route is an undulating trail through the woods, which at least means that it doesn’t become too repetitive. The worst part is probably the aptly named ‘Heartbreak Hill’ at around the 5km mark, which is a little soul destroying, especially in the middle of the night.

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V-Dub bar 🙂

However, the brilliant V-Dub Lucozade bar, with its pumping music, does help to spur runners up! The marshals are all fantastic and really do help, as do all the other runners, encouraging each other on. My first 60 miles felt pretty good, I opted for running at an easy pace and walking the hills and also managed to pair up with some friends for a couple of laps which was a real boost. I survived mainly on Tailwind, but a good old PB & J sandwich and a couple of satsumas gave me an extra surge of energy at around 40 miles. I found that splitting the 24 hours down a useful tactic, so I worked in 2 lap increments and promised myself some sort of reward at the end of each pair of laps. After 60 miles my reward was a 30 minute break where I grabbed a quick shower and a full kit change. This seemed to help and I was hopeful that I could get my 80 miles done and dusted by the early hours of the morning where I could then finish, get my medal and go to bed.

However, the wheels started to come off on lap 15… I was finding it difficult to run, or even walk, without wobbling all over the place. I felt dizzy and sick and could not contemplate ‘just one more lap’. At this stage I realised that I probably should have eaten something more substantial than a couple of sandwiches and that the tiredness (and the dark) was really getting to me. I decided to get in my tent and have a sleep. I figured that I only had one more lap to complete to get to 80 and, as long as I set off before 12:00, that was achievable. After about an hour’s sleep and a talking to from my friend’s dad who was crewing for us, I felt much more positive and set out on lap 16. I then realised that I had time to fit a couple more in, and the sleep and a banana had energised me. In the end I managed 18 laps- so 90 miles in total!

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90 miles- still smiling!

This was enough to put me in 8th place out of 71 finishers in the ladies’ competition, which I was over the moon with!! I had exceeded my original target by 10 miles. The last half a km was probably one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had running, the crowd were so encouraging that it was difficult to stop myself from crying! Even worse, as I crossed the finish line the MASSIVE blister on my foot burst, which definitely produced a few tears!

So what is next? Well, in two weeks I have the Race to the King Ultramarathon- 53ish miles on the South Downs from Arundel to Winchester. At this moment in time I could happily never run again, so its going to be a case of resting up, getting my hip and back into working order and getting some swimming and Pilates sessions in to help with mobility! Happy running folks 🙂

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Very hard earned bling!