After four marathons last year it was time to step up to the next chapter in my off road running adventures with 33 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation around Salisbury Plain. The hour and a half drive had given me plenty of time to ponder on how the day would pan out and as I arrived it was a balmy 2 degrees. Fareham Crusaders, Geraldine Perrier, Pete Barty, Mark Greenfield & me were joined by Stuart (Mark’s friend who took the photo).
Talking of friends I also managed a quick chat with 3 twitter runners that I’ve talked to but never met so it’s a “great to meet you” to Louise, Jeff and Beth. We were set off at 9am by the local town crier with a lap of the field. Even in this first half mile there was lots of encouragement from the organisers and marshals and this set the tone for a very friendly event. Today would be challenging for us all, runners and marshals alike.
Our first task was a muddy mile or so that took us up a hill onto the Imber Ranges footpath and the signposts with a cannon on, which would be a point of reference for the rest of the day. I have to say the maps and race notes were fantastic what with the event being relatively low key i.e. a limit of 150 runners. I’d laminated mine and referred to it regularly. During the first hour or so we all kept together and chatted amongst ourselves as well as with other runners.
The first checkpoint wasn’t until 7.4 miles and a large proportion of that was uphill but as I said to another runner “lets get as many of these hills out of the way as quickly as possible” !! It’s true the big climbs were towards the start but there were lots of gradual climbs waiting for us to enjoy later on 🙂
By ten miles the wind was quite a feature on the high ground and I was pleased I had my trusty eGloves . Just to add some mental arithmetic to the day I realised I’d inadvertently stopped my watch and not started it again, Charlie (a new friend I’d met along the way) said we were about 2 & 1/2 miles further on than my garmin said. This was a double edged sword as yes it meant we were further into the race but it meant I had to keep adding 2.5 miles when reading the route notes. This became more challenging as the hours passed !!
The terrain was a mixture of tracks, road, grass, clumpy grass and mud which in a way gives you something different to concentrate on. Broadly speaking you could see for miles throw ought most of the route as well as the coloured tops of runners on the horizon.
Thanks to the organisers for letting me use these photos of the flatter sections.
Talking of runners on the horizon I accepted that my club mates were stronger than me so I watched them disappear in favour of me running at a steadier pace. Charlie kept me company until about 15 miles but as we passed the German village of Imber which is used by the Army to practise attacks (no one lives there now) I knew my mental battle was going to start when I insisted she went ahead.
Checkpoint 3 (19 miles) was at the top of a gradual climb and I have to be honest my spirits were starting to drop. I’d like to say thanks to one lady marshal who was particularly encouraging after I’d said I wasn’t enjoying it. I put on my jacket as it was getting colder, more grass and tracks passed by with the occasional tank in the distance and by 21 miles I had hit my low point, I was now combining walking and swearing with equal measures !! It was then that the whole spirit of distance running was summed up by a chap that stopped to walk with me. His constructive advice could be summed up in a short sentence, “we all have dark times of self doubt, it’s how you manage it”.
After a cup of tea at Checkpoint 4 (22.4 miles) a wave of positivity swept over me with his words in mind and within half a mile of a long gradual climb I’d overtaken two people who’d passed me earlier. With less than 10 miles left I started to believe again and had the advantage of a handful of runners ahead of me. A clif bar and the last of my jelly beans meant I was fuelled and gaining in optimism. Checkpoint 5 (28 miles) was a real boost as the 5 runners I’d been tracking hardly noticed me take a quick drink and then set off ahead of them !!
The next 2 miles were another gradual uphill but on good tarmac so that was easier to maintain a rhythm. The chap with his words of wisdom from earlier caught me and it was all smiles and well done’s which felt really good. The red flag that marked a right turn off the ranges was in sight and after a tricky muddy descent I was now filled with self belief and smiling. How ironic it was that the lady marshal from checkpoint 3 was pointing us in the direction of the last half mile and again it was all smiles. As I crossed the finish line I found out I was only 25 minutes behind Mark, Pete & Gerry in 6 hours 41 minutes.
Pete kindly bought me a coffee and Stuart kindly bought me a burger as I must have looked like I needed them !! A quick chat and well done with twitter friends Jeff and Beth was great too as I realised they were on 2 minutes ahead of me. Mark and Gerry said their goodbye’s as I had my post race massage and I thanked the organiser from Avon Valley Runners for the event. The Imber Ultra mug was a surprise and it will serve as a reminder that it’s how you manage your dark times that gets you across the finish line. The long distance community (runners & marshals) really does pull together in events like this and I’m proud to be a part of it. Thanks for a great day.