Forest Gump once famously said “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. As I stood on the Race to the King (RTTK) start line this phrase crossed my mine.
The last six months have been a mixed bag with no races, varied training, occasional injuries and then the prospect of running from Slindon to Winchester, or at least the possibility !!
I ran RTTK in 2017 and finished in a respectable 12.06, that time clearly wasn’t realistic this year but you only live once so I decided “what the hell” lets go for it.
In the end I called time at 41.5 miles and Exton village, it was both a hard and an easy decision, in that I knew, enough was enough. The remainder of this blog charts how the day panned out. The race was emotional but most of all it was full of the great people that trail running attracts.
After a 4.45am alarm call and a 6.05am departure from Fareham train station myself, Paul, Jamie and Mark were taxi bound heading for Slindon. The sun was out and anticipation filled the air.
Once at the start venue we saw a number of familiar faces, Tracey, Zoe and Sabrina from Fareham Crusaders, then Lee and Neil from Gosport and I was particularly pleased to meet Deborah who I talk to on twitter but hadn’t actually met.
Paul, Jamie, Neil and I set off at 7.45am with Lee and Mark already fast disappearing into the distance.
The initial mile and a half allowed for some overtaking so the field largely found its pace quite early on. The temperature was already warm and as Paul and Jamie eased away from me (not intentionally) I decided not to chase them but to run my own race at my own pace.
For regular readers you’ll know I like to take photos to show where I’ve been, the two photos above plus one more from the start were the only three I took through the whole day. Why ? Because I decided I had to give 100% concentration on this attempt. Thanks to Paul Coates FCRC and Su Baldock from Gosport RR for the remaining photos 🙂
As I approached the first pit stop at about 8 miles the scenery was breath taking, classic South Downs Way. It had been a long and gradual climb to reach the top of the Downs.
Each aid station has an amazing choice on offer and great marshals. I filled my 500ml soft flasks, grabbed a couple of energy bars and set out (they even had portaloos ).
By mile ten I was into a rhythum and was starting to contemplate what the rest of the day would hold. The sky was blue, the grass was a lush green and the white chalky paths made for a scenic contrast.
When running on your own it’s very easy to talk to yourself !! I commented out loud, “the heat is certainly building” !! As I crossed the road at Cocking there’s a steep hill and three quarters up it I noticed Mel from our running club. Yes, she’d run past me and not noticed and likewise I hadn’t initially twigged it was her.
The ironman tattoo on her calf and the Crusaders t shirt caught my eye, we discussed how these 12 miles or so had gone and then as the theme of the day would develop, she moved on ahead.
Around mile 13 I had my second wake up call of the day with a pain in my hip. I ignored it for a while and then decided to use some deep heat. The second pit stop at 16 miles appeared and after a quick chat with Aaron from FCRC, refills and some spectacular Tuna sandwiches I set off again on the long uphill country lane opposite. It was also good to chat again to DiscoDeb as her twitter name says 🙂
As with all climbs you may be walking (no one was running) but you can still be productive. I took my cap, sun tan lotion and more food out of my rucksack while walking with purpose !!
Once up on the Downs again a refreshing slight breeze helped but I decided to blast the hip pain with a double whammy. Paracetamol and more deep heat. By the woods up ahead and 18 miles I was hot and getting even more heated with the pain in my hip.
Granted the tablets hadn’t kicked in yet but my frustrations were heightened when I couldn’t find were I’d put the deep heat. I had a paddy, emptied virtually all my rucksack onto the trail and there it was. A couple of passing runners asked if they could help but I assured them I was fine, I was lying, I was annoyed.
In situations like these, in the middle of no where, there isn’t much choice but to press on so I used a combination of running and walking. The irony of being pissed off is that passing runners sense your frustrations and pass with either a knowing “I’ve been there” nod or they genuinely want to help.
Around this time Sabriana and her husband overtook me and I wished them well.
The kindness of total strangers immediately brought me down to earth 🙂 I knew the remaining thirty odd miles well from this point as we approached the first of the two Beacon Hills so I offered as much course knowledge advice as I could to everyone that enquired after my wellbeing. Trail runners are great people.
With Beacon Hill staring us in the face this also meant basecamp wasn’t too far away and even though we had a series of hills to master with Harting Down the 2.5 miles or so to the camp are largely shaded and downhill or flat, all of which I knew would lift my spirits.
Running into basecamp at about 23 miles it dawned on me I’d been running for over five hours and was on the verge of only the second marathon distance I’ve run in 2019. These facts gave me a boost and I left the camp with a renewed approach. I think I saw Tracey from FCRC here but I’m a little cloudy on that one ?? The multi-coloured flags were waving in a slight breeze which was very welcome.
The next coupe of miles were shaded which helped immensely as it was about 1pm by then and I was starting to get a headache. This could have been the heat or dehydration or stress with my hip but either way I needed a distraction to take my mind of it. My saviour was Su Baldock from Gosport Road Runners.
I’ve never met Su before, I just noticed she had a Gosport RR t shirt on. I know lots of GRR runners and without exception they are all friendly. We initially chatted in general terms and then when I mentioned I had a blog she told me my 2017 RTTK write up had been essential reading for a number of her fellow club mates which was very gratifying to hear.
As was the case for the whole race Su headed on in front of me and I set myself for the long gradual climb up New Barn Lane and the steep incline through Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I kept my sense of humour by imagining the many times I’ve run this lane but in the opposite direction. I tried to recall all my running friends that have accompanied me in this area and again the trail running community spirit spurred me on.
Once through QECP the legendary Butser Hill presented itself.
Again I used the hill walk to eat and text my family to ensure they knew I was still alive even though it wasn’t all going to plan. Butser really hurt my hip, I was starting to suffer with the heat and to be honest I wasn’t in a good place. I knew the 31 mile pit stop was on top of the hill and I pondered on dropping out.
I’ve never DNF’d (Did not finish) so I refilled with liquids, flat diet coke and peanut butter sandwiches (which I hate) but it was good to get proper food inside me as well as gels and snacks. I must mention another positive from this race in that there were no single use plastic cups so my refill bendy cup came into its own. Well done RTTK for tackling plastic issues.
I soldered on past the Sustainability Centre and down Salt Hill. The tough undulating downhill played havoc with two sore toes I’d largely been ignoring and for the first time in perhaps nine hours I actually stopped, sat down and contemplated what was my next step.
Yet again, the sound of a friendly trail running companion asking the way meant I could offer my local knowledge and consequently my mood was lifted. I told a few runners about the cold water tap at Meon Springs and their eyes lit up !! I poured more over my head than I drank 🙂
Old Winchester Hill was a slow walk and I entered the pitstops with a resigned demeanour, I was close to packing it all in. Zoe from FCRC passed me and we said hello briefly but I knew the end was in sight. I could have asked to be signed out there and then but I felt I owed it to myself to reach 40 miles. I plodded on.
The trig point on Old Wincheter Hill is a favourite location of mine but it wasn’t today, I was getting moody and the day was catching up with me. On the descent my hips and toes hurt but more than anything I knew I wasn’t enjoying it.
I’ve mentioned before that I sing to myself when running and as I contemplated my situation The Clash “Should I stay or should I go” came to mind. It was time to go.
I rang my wife and she came out to pick me up near Exton. So, 41.5 mile in approaching eleven hours with various stops and it was all over. My first DNF in 30 years.
The final irony was we still needed to go to Winchester to pick up my kit bag and at the same time I could officially register dropping out.
It was the right decision and I haven’t changed my mind. I still love trail running 🙂
Huge congratulations to everyone that finished. I managed 3/4’s of the distance on not enough training, a hot day and pain, others may have finished with a similar scenario but enough was enough for me.
I really appreciate the supportive comments that I’ve had on twitter, facebook and instagram from friends. I appreciate that they respected my decision and not one person offered sympathy because it wasn’t needed. I made the decision.
I’m proud of the 41.5 miles that I covered and yes, “I’ll be back” !!
5,000 calories and all but one of the big hills covered meant my appetite has gone crazy. A Harvester breakfast was the only answer on Monday #dayoff .
Thanks for reading. Rog 🙂