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 heavy 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).
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.
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!)
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!