I’ve entered the 2019 Race to the King which is a 53 mile and 5,000 feet elevation race from Slindon in Sussex to Winchester in Hampshire.
I wanted to start my preparation by revisiting the section of the race that gave me the most satisfaction and curiously most dissatisfaction too, in 2017 – the last four miles.
I suffered with stomach issues in the last hour of 2017 so, without going into too much detail, I wanted to retrace this final stretch and replace the previous memories with a positive mental images to draw on, come June 22nd this year.
So, in 2017, while running through the forested section of Cheesefoot Head, carefully avoiding the tree roots, two significant thoughts occurred to me. I’ve run 49 miles and, yes, I’ve run 49 miles. Ok, so I’ve repeated myself but its in a New York, New York kind of way.
Up until running RTTK my garmin had never shown me 40 miles covered and now it was on the verge of showing me 50. I knew my first sight of Winchester would be over the next hill and to be honest I got quite emotional.
When I say emotional I mean, pride, self fulfilment and the kind of raw excitement you simply don’t get unless you’ve really challenged yourself and come out on top.
However, this tidal wave of positivity was soon to be dampened by curious churnings in my stomach and lets not mince words here, farting. Yes folks, the kind of farting that has an unnerving “Indian Jones temple of doom” kind of vibe.
Moving on, I crossed the busy main road which was quite a revelation after hours running along peaceful solitary trails, across a pound field, along the edge of a tree line, through a short forested area and up a slight incline to then be rewarded with both my 50 mile alarm ringing and the sight of Winchester’s buildings in the distance.
I’m not ashamed to say I shed a small tear and shouted out loud “come on Winchester lets have it” in my best Oasis/ Liam Gallagher ascent and I set about trying to minimise any unwanted stoppages with a run walk strategy.
Now, walking downhill in running terms is like drinking coke at a free bar, like fish and chips without salt and vinegar, all are quite simply unthinkable.
However, I had no choice and that’s why I wanted to return on my first day of specific training since entering RTTK so as to dispel those thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, expecting the unexpected is very much part of ultra running and I was 15 miles further into a race than I’ve ever been before but as Mr Sinatra says “That’s Life”.
The refreshing sight of sub eight minute miles this Sunday just gone won’t be repeated on June 22nd but I felt I’d laid the downhill walking to rest. The drop from the crest of the hill in this photo down to the road is probably 300 feet.
The short tarmac stretch of road then gives way to a South Downs signpost and a cunningly narrow entry to the next trail section. After eleven and a half hours you could be forgiven for running straight past this but having recced the route I knew exactly where I was going and it was covered in neon markers by RTTK.
Decision making is quite a feat after hours of endeavour, estimating the resources you’ll need is one thing, running out of brain power is something that just needs practicing I guess !! That said my wife might say I run out of brain power every Friday evening once I’ve finished work … ha ha !!
Hugging the hedge line with the roar of the motorway crossing growing ever louder meant I could dream of the Cathedral finish line and attempting to catch the train home.
Now, I must have passed a hundred signs in 52 miles but this was defiantly the most exciting. If the sign had been a person I’d have kissed it 🙂
Knowing there’s a downhill road into the city centre buoyed me both then and now, I can remember feeling the aches and pains disappearing and thinking maybe sub twelve hours was still on the cards but as soon as I got onto the flat it was if two bystanders had strapped weights to my thighs.
The aforementioned run/ walk policy took over again but I was so close I could hear the cheers from the other side of the huge flint wall that surrounds the Cathedral. In many ways we were pilgrims on a quest, a quest to gain some sort of inner strength that will stay with us forever.
Even now, a year and a half later I still draw on the experience and the willpower that was required.
As I rounded the final bend I was treated to this magnificent sight, the last one hundred metres (only with lots of flags, banners and people) today it was “race finish” free !!
The trees almost frame the cathedral as if it was in an art work and on a chilly January morning a shudder ran down my spine, was it the temperature or was it me revisiting the setting of easily my greatest running achievement to date.
I say “to date” because I’m determined to improve on my 12.06 time and enjoy my experience in twenty one weeks time.
I’ll be taking nutrition advice from Mark at APT Nutrition and I’ll be out on the trails knowing that my passion, focus, inner strength and belief are 100% aligned.
You learn a lot about yourself when you take on an ultra run but this blog isn’t about showing off its a celebration of finding out what you are made of physically and mentally.
I run off road and I bloody love it.
Sunday’s January run was straightforward and yet inspiring at the same time.
Thanks for reading, enjoy your running
P.S. On that June race day I walked to Winchester train station from the finish and missed the Portsmouth train by five minutes, I simply couldn’t conger up even a light jog. I remember thinking, “to hell with it” there’ll be another one in an hours time !!