Train(ing) for RTTK, 25.5 miles to Winchester

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Race to the King¬†is a 53 mile challenge from Slindon to Winchester and it’s only 5 weeks away !!!! On Saturday I mapped out virtually a marathon for us and more importantly¬†our final 13 miles¬†would mimic the 40 to 53 of RTTK.¬†If you follow the link above it plays a short video that finishes around Winchester Cathedral and into its grounds. The final half marathon was what I wanted us to experience today. The photo above¬†is Winchester with the rain falling but our spirits lifted after a great run ūüôā

Paul and I had the pleasure of running with Del Roberts for the first time and part of the route with our friend Ros. Del is an experienced ultra runner and co founder of On the Whistle , a local running events company.

In our preparation for RTTK we use every run to try something new, for me today was suntan lotion and a cap ūüôā I’ve just got a feeling that June 24th will be a scorcher !!

As we ran out of Fareham from the train station it was interesting to hear more about Del’s running background and as we hadn’t seen Ros for a while it was good to catch up. Del talked¬†about an interesting evening in June with the adventurer Ranulph Fiennes , so already he’d broadened our horizons.

The first 5 miles brought us to Wickham were the annual horse fair was starting to take shape so we skirted around it and joined the old railway line. By 7 miles it was time to wish Ros well as she was turning back and we pressed on, up the gradual incline, for another 5 miles. The changeable weather replaced our sunshine with dark menacing clouds but even at our steady pace we seemed to be out running the rain.

12 miles in and it was time for¬†our scheduled pit stop at Meonstoke Village Store¬†. This Aladins cave of treasures has numerous locally sourced offerings and if you live in the area it’s well worth popping into¬†so as to support the local producers. Today we really¬†only needed water but it came at just the right time,¬†along with friendly service from the young lady behind the counter. Follow the link above to their website.

DSC00364In many¬†ways this was the real start of our run because we had some¬†mles in our legs and we were¬†joining the RTTK route. I’d avoided too many photos up to this point as I wanted to give other RTTK runners an insight into the last 13 miles !!

First up is Beacon hill that climbs out of Exton. It’s about 450 feet of elevation and is the last big test. However, saying that there’s quite a few undulations along the way.

DSC00369Beacon Hill Lane gives way to the steeper White Way that Del and Paul are running here. Why do people run up great big hills I hear you say, well the answer is the view at the top. On this occasion it is Winchester Hill across the valley which is also part of RTTK.

DSC00371Our trusty¬†South Downs Way signs with the blue acorn point you on your way but at times can blend into the hedges once the wood is weathered, but that’s the point of a recce run ūüôā

We continued on our way past¬†farms and barns and Milbury pub.¬†One point we’d all noticed was that the cyclists and walkers that came towards us all had jackets on so there was still the prospect of the black clouds catching us. What we hadn’t reckoned on was hail !! Yes, hail in¬†May. Luckily we only saw it in the hedgerows and Pauls photo.

DSC00373As we approached Cheeseford Head our mileage was now up to 20 and this was where we’d missed a left hand turn a couple of weeks ago. This gradual hilly section will be at about 47 ish miles on RTTK. We ran it today but I suspect it will need walking in June. The wide track changes to a narrow trail through the trees with lots of tree roots so beware “on the day”. This is also near the Boomtown festival site.

DSC00376Emerging from the woods we crossed the A272 and after a few fields we were rewarded with our first sight of Winchester and Intec if you know the area. So with about 3 miles left the end was literally in sight.

DSC00378You can’t beat a¬†downhill section after 22 miles and even¬†the light rain was refreshing. As we weaved our way down the hill and onto narrow county lanes we did have one pause for thought where there were two SDW signs but as Del pointed out one said riders and one walkers. The hedge line that we ran next to looked familiar from a run I did in the opposite direction a couple of years ago so we were closing in on the motorway bridge and Winchester city¬†centre.

DSC00380Yes, I took more photos than I realised but I think they’ll be useful for anyone who runs this, especially as a point of reference when you are tired. The motorway bridge had¬†a rewarding sign that we just had to take a photo of ……………

DSC00381All that was¬†left was to find our way through the streets of Winchester, past the Black Boy pub,¬†around Winchester college and the flint walls of the Cathedral (see the RTTK link and their video). Entering the Cathedral was actually quite emotional after 25.5 miles knowing that the next time we do this will be at the end of the race. Unknown to us Winchester’s Mayfest was today. This festival centres mainly around Morris Dancers, some traditional and some very colourful, however, we needed to sit down … ha ha !!

We’d had a great run and¬†Del is now another member of the growing Thomason Tours club i.e. runners that have come on routes that I’ve planned¬†ūüôā We had a well earned Starbucks coffee, made our way to the station and still had time for another train(ing)coffee to warm/ hydrate us.

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The 27 minute ride on comfy seats was just what we needed and naturally talk was of future runs and races between Paul, Del and myself.

What about the other 0.7 miles to make the training run a marathon I hear you¬†ask ?? Well I live 3/4’s of a mile from Fareham train station so I bagged my marathon before I got home. Thanks for reading and thanks¬†to Ros, Del and Paul for the company¬†/ banter that is essential on long runs.

There maybe some video footage to follow so log in again in the coming days ūüôā

Doctor Dan really is “the man” !!

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Last week¬†I had the pleasure and privilege to attend a talk from Doctor Daniel Roiz de Sa (Dr Dan). The location for this inspirational evening was¬†Absolute Running’s¬†fitness studio. Dr Dan¬†specialises in¬†Sport and Exercise medicine as well as activities in extreme weather climates. Dan¬†is¬†CMO at¬†Gosport’s Institute of Naval Medicine, not that far from our local running shop, Absolute Running (AR). The evenings presentation was wide ranging but with a bias towards his work with the amazing Duncan Slater (athlete & double amputee) on the 250K Marathon des Sables (MDS).

Nick from Absolute Running is always keen to promote local endeavours and especially ex service personnel, so, with Duncan being ex RAF, this is how the evening came about.

Dr Dan has been involved¬†in expeditions to the South Pole with Duncan, Prince Harry and other ex servicemen, various Olympians as they prepared for the Rio games, including Jonny & Alistair Brownlee and numerous other supporting roles for climate related extreme challenges. However, as he mingled with us and wrestled with¬†his laptop I.T. issues you’d never of guessed that he was the key note speaker.¬†It’s often the case that¬†the people who have achieved so much are actually quite unassuming.

As Dan ran through the format of the evening his passion shone through and as an audience, we were captivate by his every word. The second central theme of the night was the charity that Duncan and Dan worked with on this project, Walking with the Wounded . WWTW was set up to help and promote the transition of ex servicemen back into the workplace. The admission money for the evening was being donated and the link above tells you more about their work.

The video below shows Dr Dan’s heat chamber and¬†the special guest who popped down to Gosport to¬†wish a fellow adventurer well. Dan can be seen letting Duncan into the chamber and explaining what to expect !! We learnt that diet, acclimatisation and lots of data was complied to give everyone their best chance possible, no stones were left unturned !!

Dan’s role was not only to complete the 250K (six marathons in six days) but to run ahead of Duncan so as to be there for any medical requirements. The nature of the event is that you are self sufficient with only water being provided throughout the running and tents as your overnight accommodation. This meant¬†Dan’s pack included spare parts for Duncan’s ground breaking prosthetic legs as well as medical supplies,¬†on top of what he needed to complete the race.

The MDS challenge is a constant battle with the sand dunes, exposed wide open flats, temperatures of 40 & 50 C and wind storms. Billed as the toughest footrace in the world the demands of the Moroccan environment would be too much for the vast majority of us but the combination of determination and willpower really came across as Dan showed us photos of dunes that had rope to pull on, because they were so steep !!

Dan left us¬†with no illusions that the organisers will dnf (did not finish) you without too much compassion so this weight of responsibility must have been immense with Dan also¬†trying to mange his own self preservation. Naturally¬†it goes without saying that Duncan’s efforts were bordering on super human as¬†the first¬†double amputee to finish.

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Along with Dan and Duncan local ultra runner James Yeardley from my club Fareham Crusaders had also benefited from Dan’s heat chamber training so it was great to have a chat with him at Fareham Leisure Centre after a Crusaders training night recently.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tom Evans.¬†From the minute¬†Dan told us¬†Tom’s story there was a sense of excitement and real anticipation in his voice. Tom is¬†a Captain in the Welsh Guards and surprised everyone, not least the¬†local favourites, when he came 4th on the first day. Tom eventually finished on the podium in 3rd place which is the best position¬†any European runner has ever achieved. He was running for WWTW¬†and naturally has catapulted himself into the marathon and ultra world with this performance. I suspect Tom will be seeing a lot more of Dr Dan !!

The royal seal of approval was given to Duncan on his completion of the MDS by Prince Harry, so Tom, James and Dr Dan can all say that they beat the desert.

princetweet A number of interesting questions were asked at the end and a heart felt round of applause completed a very motivational evening. Thank you Dr Dan.

We finished at 9pm, I said goodnight to a few of the local runners and asked Dan if he was ok with me writing this blog. Thanks must also go to Nick Carter of AR for organising the night and¬†I think it’s fair to say that we all left feeling that we were capable of “so much more” !!

Finally, AR’s Nick has a series of Red¬†Sofa interviews and this 9 minute episode is a¬†measure of the respect and interest everyone had for the challenge that lay ahead.

Feedback ………. thanks very much Tom.

Tom

18 miles Exton to Cheesefoot Head & back, RTTK preperation

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Race to the King’s¬†53 miles¬†are now 7 weeks away so Paul and I decided to catch up on some homework by running a section towards the end of the route.¬†We started in the bottom right hand corner of the map at Meonstoke and¬†joined the RTTK route at about¬†40.5 just off the old railway line and under the bridge that’s no longer there !!¬†(That link and the remaining links are from Google Maps street view). We followed the undulating¬†South Downs Way path to the A31 which will be about 49.5 miles on the day and was our 9 mile turn around point.

On arrival it was a cold and windy morning so we both started with a long sleeve and short sleeve tops plus jacket. This might sound excessive but kit choice will be key on the day due to the fact that we could be out there for twelve hours, the weather on top of the Downs can be markedly different to the bottom of the valleys and our British Summer time is so unpredictable.

Running through sleepy Exton we soon approached the narrow lanes that take you to the top of Beacon Hill and its trig point. On the RTTK day this will be at about 41.5 miles so the 1.5 mile tarmac lane with its 450 feet elevation will be the last “big” climb¬†to test your physical and mental fortitude. The Beacon itself can be seen just before you take a right¬†hand turn onto the narrow track up to the trig. If you are brave enough to look, here¬†, is the google maps street view as you leave Beacon Hill Lane and start to ascent.

The view back towards Old Winchester Hill where you will have come from is amazing and well worth savouring, I say that because the vast majority of us will be walking towards the trig !!

The trail takes you¬†through a farmyard and along a tree lined section which may be useful if it’s windy but we were lucky today as the wind had dropped and the sun had come out. Now, as we’ve all experienced your mind can play tricks on you when you are running because I mentioned to Paul we must be near Milbury¬†pub about a mile later on,¬†“there’s no pubs around here” was¬†Paul’s reply, just¬†as the path opened out onto the car park and pub. So the Milbury’s pub is now affectionately called the invisible pub.

With the sun getting stronger we stopped for a quick food and drink break in the shade.

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Our next noticeable point of reference was Holden Farm but before that we were presented with a classic South Downs photo opportunity with trees, crops, a hill and a trail. This beautiful view is only spoiled be me being in the way !!

DSC00361As I’m writing this my friend Alison¬†has posted a photo¬†of¬†exactly this¬†location with the caption, “stole your route” which made me laugh !! The South Downs Way ought to be a¬†compulsory trip for everyone to take in¬†the sights.

Did I mention the undulations, well there isn’t anything huge but they do come quite regularly and at this¬†point when we are in the 40 odd miles done stage then I’m sure they will all seem bigger. We crossed the A272,¬†ran around the¬†edge of a field, past yet another barn and then we could see in the distance the A31 traffic at the bottom of the wonderfully named Cheesefoot head.¬†By now we’d clocked 9 miles and the sign that I¬†was next to showed a reassuring 3 miles to Winchester so this will be about 50 of the 53 Race to the King miles. What we also noticed here, were in a couple of tanks in the nearby fields. This turned out to be Juniper Leisure Tank driving ¬†!! How cool is that ūüôā

**Update**, after another look at the map we should have turned left instead of heading down towards the A31 where the Winchester sign was. So that’s at about the “V” of Temple Valley on the map at the top of my blog, “ha ho”, the live and learn !!

DSC00362¬†As you can see behind me our return leg would start with a hill so Paul played his trump card, a pepperoni pizza pasty. Easy to digest, lots of salt and quite tasty (he let me have some). Our return 9 miles were spent discussing RTTK strategy and all in all the 18 miles were the furthest I’ve run the weekend following a marathon so I was very pleased.

DSC00363¬†We leant some valuable course knowledge today as I’m sure that the last 13 miles of our 53 will be much more mental that physical, preparation is the key !! I hope this has helped to give other RTTK runners a flavour (not the pepperoni one) of what’s in store (not Sainsburys) ūüôā We returned to Meonstoke village hall were my request to the lady at the desk of “can we borrow some water on a long term basis please” was met with a “yes certainly”, the hot day had meant we’d both run out.

I will end my blog here but as we speak I am working on a video of snippets that Paul took on our way so watch this space for the final instalment.

3 Forts Challenge 27.2 miles

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The 3 Forts Challenge is a 27.2 mile trail run that takes in the South Downs Way (SDW)and three Iron Age forts. So, Cissbury Ring 250 BC, Devil’s Dyke 100 BC and Chanctonbury Ring 600 BC mean not only are you in a beautiful part of the world but you feel like you are going back in time as I doubt it has changed for hundreds of years.

Crusaders Paul, Sally, Jon, Dave, Lucy and Kate joined my trail running buddy Paul Coates and I on a windy morning along with Phil Hobby from Stubby. Kit choice was going to be important today seeing as we were set for 3,450 feet of elevation and the temperature can drop significantly when you get up onto the top of the exposed Downs. I wore my long sleeve Helly and was pleased I did as well as carrying my Ron Hill waterproof jacket that ties up around your waste because heavy rain for forecast for later. Finally with ten feed stations on route the organisers certainly had the runners interests at heart.

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route

As we set off on the initial two mile gradual climb to meet up with the SDW much of the chat was the fact that this would be two miles downhill to the finish !! Having said that when you have been on your feet for 3/4/5/6 hours the jarring on your thighs can actually mean you hold back on your natural instincts ūüôā

Once onto the main trail some concentration was required due to the dry rutted mud and it was here at about four miles that I chatted wit Phil Hall who I know from twitter and have been in the same races but not actually met, so it was great to have a bit of a chat.

By six or so miles our days task came into view with the skyline being our target.

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I’m a firm believer that you get out of life what you put into it and as runners we train for days like this. The sheer beauty of our surroundings coupled with the physical and mental challenge ahead quite simply make you feel alive and highten all of your senses. With 350 + like minded runners the day promised to be a memorable one. As Julie Andrews once sang, “The hills are alive with the sound of runners” … or was it music ??

We dropped down towards the River Adur which meant the wind dropped and the sunshine was pleasant on your bones but as Sir Issac Newton will tell you what goes down inevitably goes up. Not having run in this area before I couldn’t say for certain which hill this was but it certainly meant walking from about half way up !! The grass and trail then gave way to a narrow road and this road weaved towards the top of the hill. With vehicles parked on the roadside it reminded me of a Tour de France stage, I almost excpected Chris Froome to run past me !! (Cycling joke)

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I’d read on the course notes that 11 miles was a turn around point so it didn’t surprise to to see “speedy” Paul Webster heading in my direction. Paul finished an amazing 41st out of 352 so much respect to you Sir. Paul Coates passed me next with a picture of concentration on his face which isn’t like Paul, we usually get a pose of some description. Clearly his 38 mile ultra from the previous week was starting to take some toll on his legs. I turned and fairly quickly saw Sally & Jon¬†on the downhill then followed by Dave, Lucy and¬†Kate. Seeing as I had my waste¬†band open for a drink I took a photo.

DSC00352Apologies for taking a photo when you were walking but trust me we had all been run/walking at that point. An¬†easy section of downhill was gratefully received and I pressed on to the most challenging section between 17 and 21 miles were the long drawn out hills tested your resolve and patience !! I use¬†either a slow but constant stride for these or walk for a count of ten and then run for a count of ten. This works for me ūüôā

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I passed an open toed¬†sandals runner stopping to take pebbles out of his shoes (well flip flops really) and was mindful that the dark clouds were starting to roll in and that rain was on its way. The twenty mile beep on my watch was a welcome sound and a downhill chalky section between 21 and 23 had to be taken with some concentration but was still a delight.¬†The final hilly section between 23 and 25 miles took some effort but again this is what we train for. If you can smile when it’s hurting you must be enjoying it ūüôā

In many ways hills are a metaphor for life. You keep plugging away with whatever it throws at you and¬†sometimes it feels like¬†you aren’t getting anywhere but when you reach the top and know you’ve reached your goal then the sense of accomplishment is immense. Running can be quite emotional, at points like this,¬†as a wave of self belief sweeps over you and you feel like you are on top of the world (well the South Downs).

The last two miles were bliss as the downward trail wound its way towards the finish line. The¬†drizzle that had started at about 22 miles was becoming¬†more noticeable but there was no way I was going to waste the “free miles” of the downhill section putting on my jacket !!

I crossed the line in just under 5 hours 7 minutes and in 218th place out of 352 which I was happy with in a field of runners who would have specifically chosen this event.

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Phil and Paul had both finished ahead of me and Paul Webster was probably at home having his tea ūüôā The remainder of the Crusaders came in through the heavy rain that had developed so well done to them too. Today got the thumbs up from both the lads above and certainly from me too, even if this photo¬†was from before we started ha ha !!

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Thanks to the organisers for a great event. People ask me why I blog, it’s for days like today when you come away with a sense of achievement, pride and simply an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment. Come and join us on the trails,¬†maybe you will get hooked just like us ūüôā

P.S. I hum to myself when I run (sometimes this gets me funny looks) todays choice was mainly Ben Howard with the lyrics “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” ūüôā