Race to the King : 53.5 miles, 12 Hours & 1 Big smile

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Race to the King (RTTK) is a trail running challenge from Slindon to Winchester. The route was 53.5 miles along predominantly the South Downs Way (SDW), which also meant 5,200 feet of elevation. I think it’s fair to say that the longest day might have been last week but Saturday was certainly mine and everyone else’s. There are so many people and places that I’d like to mention so bear with me, get comfortable, and I’ll be begin.

My journey up to this point has involved a lot of preparation and planning but most of all the sheer enjoyment of trail running. It seems fitting that my trail running buddy Paul Coates and I are in the first photo because we’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting to the start line. At this point I’d like to thank Paul for all his help, everyone who has sponsored me for the Walking with the Wounded charity, £375, and all the good luck messages.

After a 4.45am alarm call myself, Paul, Dave, Lucy and Kate (all Fareham Crusaders) set off at 6am for Slindon. On arrival we had the first of our many positive impressions from the RTTK organisation. A huge marquee, lots of toilets and friendly staff welcoming us. This photo shows all of the above mentioned as well as Paul Southon but not Thom Dillon who was another Crusader I’d come across later.

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Also running today were our friends Phil and Teresa from Second Wind Running, a great local running outfit, I borrowed this next photo from them, so thanks for that. Phil was 30th overall (9.20) and first in his age category, Teresa was 4th in her category (10.40) fantastic times for two real “givers” to our local running community.

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Now, 53.5 miles and 9 hours 20 minutes I hear you cry, what did the winner run it in ?? Profeet‘s Jack Blackburn ran an amazing 7.13 !! (OMG) It was also great to have a chat with Perfect Pickles from twitter, sorry I can’t remember your first name as my brain isn’t working 100% yet !!

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Conditions were perfect for us with an overcast but humid day that would offer refreshing drizzle at times and thankfully no real sunshine to worry about. Hydration was clearly going to be a major part of the strategy so it was a huge relief that the weather was kind to us. I used two 500ml soft flasks and refilled them both at every aid station with electrolyte tablets.

I’m not that familiar with the first 8 miles or so but as we headed North for 3 miles and then looped around towards Gratton Beacon for another 5 miles all we seemed to be doing was going up !! Paul and I were running conservatively and when there was any doubt we walked, so as to save energy for later. The first feed station was at 7.9 miles and we were treated to portaloos, numerous snack options, plenty of water and a rousing welcome. Buoyed by the prospect of this being the case for the remaining aid stations we headed off with an extra spring in our stride.

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By 10 miles we’d crossed the A285 and my recollections from the South Downs marathon of 2 years ago meant I knew where we were and this also meant 43 miles of course knowledge to come (yes we’d done our homework !!) This also meant a long gradual hill through the crops that came flooding back to me !! Our pace was “steady” as we ran along the top of the Downs making sure to keep an eye on the chalk and loose gravel that characterises this area. I didn’t take many photos because I was concentrating on the matter at hand and ultimately there’s lots in my training blogs.

We chatted to out fellow runners on our way and as we started the descent towards the A285, and Cocking, we knew the second aid station and the long tarmac road that climbs back up to the Downs was approaching. What we didn’t expect was our friend Cat Underwood, she greeted us with her usual enthusiasm !! Hugs were exchanged and off we set. Thanks Cat ….. you’re a star 🙂

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The route out of the feed station meant a long gradual walk, after all we still had 38 miles to go. Our “steady start” strategy was working well but I did get the sense Paul was holding back. By the time we reached the Monkton estate and tree cover we’d had more drizzle but again it was refreshing so no jackets were needed. The 20 mile alarm on my garmin was a pleasant surprise because I’d hardly looked at it and that was after nearly four hours 🙂 I remember thinking “my god” four hours, a third of the way potentially.

Around this point we unexpectedly ran up Beacon Hill (the first one to avoid confusion) we’ve never run up this because it’s quite technical coming down the other side. As feedback for next year I think this was a mistake because with 20 miles in your legs they can run away with you and sure enough I fell over. Luckily it was my pride and a graze on my elbow but I don’t imagine I was the only one who fell. By now Paul was disappearing into the distance but I figured the 3rd aid station wasn’t far away at 23.4 miles. Harting Down was next and then we headed South towards base camp and half way.

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Once again we were greeted with help and cheer, I decided to eat a plate of pasta, bread and rice which took about ten minutes, I’d briefly seen Paul but he was keen to crack on and I wished him well. So, every now and then as runners we have a “moment”, it dawned on me that there were still 29 miles to go but in a funny way running on my own meant I was more in control, I smiled with that thought in mind and said to myself “this is where the run really begins”.

The next 6 or so miles took us through narrow lanes skirting around Butser and then as I ran through QECP there it was, the highest point on the SDW. I marched up Butser trying not to let it beat me and then I had an inspired moment, why not text a few people seeing as I was walking. This worked really well because it took my mind off the gradient and also updated my loved ones that I’d managed 30 miles.

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As the top of Butser Hill I had another hug from Cat and she said Paul was at least ten minutes ahead. Feed station 4 was a significant one because along with the oranges, melon, water and snacks was the thought that the miles between them would now get shorter 🙂 Previously it had been roughly every 8 miles, it was now 6 to Old Winchester Hill (OWH).

Both my legs and feet were bearing up well at this point and my concentration was aimed at trying to keep my average pace under 13 minute miles. The scenery is amazing along the South Downs and it all seemed quite unreal when I looked at my watch and saw 8 hours on it. The furthest I’ve run is 36 miles so it was new and exciting territory.

After leaving the OWH feed station I caught up Thom Dillion from our club, we had a chat, wished each other well and I pressed on down the hill which has lots of tree roots so care was needed. Joining the old railway line briefly I was starting to feel a couple of my toes were sore after the downhill section and my left thigh was tightening. I rubbed deep heat on my thigh and even though this meant stopping it did mean I had 3 other runners to tackle Beacon Hill for company (the second one 🙂 ) We walked a good proportion of it but chatting really helped, not that my spirits were low but just for some variety.

Reaching the trig point at 42 miles was a massive relief because that was the last big hill and I knew the remaining trail well.

I got quite emotional when my watch said 43 miles because that meant I was down to single figures. We’d worked out before hand that 13.5 minute miles were needed for a 12 hour finish. I was at about 10 hours now and still surprisingly bobbling along even if slowly. As long as I was running it kept my goal in sight.

The last aid station was at 46 miles and Cheesefoot Head was approaching. This was significant because it was a gradual climb but at 50 miles you see Winchester for the first time.

When my 50 mile alarm went off I have to admit a tear came to my eye, it was all downhill or flat now and even with some stomach issues and some walking due to that, I knew I could savour the moment because I was going too finish. The bridge over the motorway said 1 mile to go, the streets of Winchester were fantastic to see after hours of quite trails. I knew the road around Winchester Cathedral and as I ran my last100 metres to the finish, there it was, the Cathedral and the finish line.

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Those 3 steps were taken with care and it was all done. What does 53.5 miles feel like ???

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This photo from pic2go sums it up !! Thanks for the photos 🙂

It’s only when you stop that you realise what you have achieved.

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219th out of 581 (some would have been walkers) I decided to let myself off the 6 minutes and 18 seconds that I was over my target 🙂 I felt fantastic, proud and shattered.

DSC00485The great medal was then followed by the realisation I had to walk about a mile to the train station !! I missed the 8.19 so had to wait for the 9.19 but to be honest sitting down for 50 odd minutes was lovely. The train took me to Fareham and another 10 minute walk but this probably did my legs a favour. I was becoming aware of toe pains but three small blisters were an acceptable price to pay.

We are very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world and having The South Downs Way only 12 miles away means we can enjoy running parts of todays 53 miles again in the future.

Well done to Paul (10.59), a great time, as well as all the other Fareham Crusader runners and everyone that was brave enough to enter. Thanks to all my twitter and ukrunchat friends for their messages and support too. If you haven’t discovered trail running yet, give it a go, it’s beautiful.

Thanks to “Race to the King” and everyone that has supported me in my quest to achieve a double marathon.

In short, you can achieve so much, if you just “believe”.

January 2019 Update

I’ve entered RTTK 2019 June 22nd …. can’t wait !!

Many thanks …. Roger

 

Running blows away the clouds in your head

Image (20)Trail running offers you views and scenery but what it also offers you is time, time to reflect and time to look forwards. During these uncertain times your day to day space can confine you both physically and mentally so it’s important to break free !!

I was keen to write this blog to try and describe how countryside running can open your mind and clear the fog in your head.

The clouds, in many ways, represent how I was feeling as I drove out towards the South Downs National Park. I aimed to change my outlook from fuzzy to focused.

As I set off from Meonstoke village hall I had a general idea of where I was going to run but more importantly I had not time restrictions. The concept of urgency almost immediately puts you on high alert, what I wanted to achieve was completely the opposite.

When I think about urgency I also think about multi tasking (ok, I appreciate I’m a bloke but we can do it sometimes) but running gives you the simple activity of placing one foot infront of the other. So, as I joined the Meon Valley trail I could feel myself unwinding.

After a mile or so I approached the signpost that pointed me towards Old Winchester Hill. I was eagerly anticipating seeing the work that had been carried out on the lower slopes to improve the trail. I was impressed to see a smooth surface that continued probably half way up and took away the stress of the rutted previous path.

Once I’d tackled the last steep section then I was rewarded with the 360 degree views. With my day having already improved I was reminded of the phrase “see the bigger picture”. I certainly think we can get wrapped up in our thoughts and not see any further than what’s directly affecting us. The rolling fields give you a sense of perspective and the fact that you’ve reached the top adds to your self esteem.

Image (22)I chose a different route to descend down the hill and as I was drawing the parallels with life and running it struck me that we all choose different paths and it’s a case of finding the right one for you. Your surroundings can definitely effect you in a positive way.

It’s well known that physical activity improves your mood and being rewarded with endorphins shows that when your body feels better so does your mind.

Heading towards Beacon Hill I chose the trail route which has a number of styles, gates and steps. On this particular run these felt like “clutter”, almost distractions from my running flow so once I’d reached this hills trig point I came back via the quiet, straight forward, country lane alternative. Ahh ….. and relax.

I’d worked through my previous tension and cloudy head while swopping the “noise” of my thoughts for the peace of running free with a smile on my face. You could say I’d gone from overthinking to not thinking at all 🙂

Image (19)This third photo from my run shows the local vineyard. The daunting black clouds were starting to give way to the sun perring through. A clear head gives your a positive outlook with new possibilities on the horizon.

If you need to destress and would like to improve your mood, I would personally recommend a run to clear away those metaphorical clouds if you’re having an overcast kind of day.

Thanks for reading

Roger

 

 

 

Green Exercise – a run in the countryside

Image (13)Now, I’ve only recently come across the phrase “Green Exercise” but it completely sums up my whole running experience. A perfect run for me includes scenery to look at, birds to listen to, the occasional style to climb over and a never ending trail to follow.

After parking in an industrial estate my surroundings had truly changed from grey to lush green and coupled with the late afternoon sunshine I was looking forward to connecting with nature. I run all year round but the warmth of the sun on your bones and the added Vitamin D boost are a welcome treat after the Winter months.

There’s no doubt that this form of green therapy will give you a physical buzz as well as clear your head at the same time.

As I approached Nine Elms Lane it was so quiet I could hear the Wallington River flowing by, just the other side of the trees. Next I ran uphill and branched off onto Whitedell Lane with the intention of following the footpaths that have the river on one side and the crops on the other.

As the first photo of my blog shows there was also a wind blowing but it added a different dimension to the crops that I was passing ….. movement !!

Ahh, the wind blowing through your lockdown hair …. ha ha.

Image (15)I’ve often thought that when these crops sway in the wind they look like a green sea. You could almost say instead of a landscape it’s a seascape. I couldn’t resist stopping and watching the ebb and flow effect that the crops were mimicking from the sea. I almost found myself swaying just as if I’d been on a boat or a ferry.

Climbing a style took me into the cow fields that follow the river. I noted the electric fence wire that keeps the cows out of danger, as this wasn’t a sensation I was keen to experience !! Navigating the old cow pats is always a challenge to apply concentration on.

Footpaths have been used by people for hundreds of years and I feel privileged to follow in their steps. I thought to myself I’m taking in the blue sky and green fields just as they would have.

I had looked at my Ordnance Survey map before coming out so I had a birds eye view of the fields that I would run through. My next focus was to find a bridge over the river. It’s great exploring areas you haven’t run before because it adds an element of the unknown as well as the surprises that can be around the next corner.

Once over the wooden bridge my senses were taking in the smells, sights and sounds. Further ahead of me I could see a collection of farmhouses. Once there I ran a short section of road before coming across this posh signpost.

Image (14)This signpost pointed me in a Westerly direction which would eventually lead towards Forest Lane and Wickham Common. With the evening sun now lower in the sky I gradually left the farmhouses behind me and that’s when it dawned on me how few distractions I had.

With every stride I was quite simply looking ahead, to the left and to the right just absorbing my surroundings. It’s difficult to describe how physical activity can be relaxing but when you’ve taken away, traffic, people and buildings and replaced them with woods and a trail to follow, you really are living in the moment.

Mindfulness is often described as taking the time to notice how you feel in a given moment. I’d describe my Green Exercise as mindful movement along a centuries old path with woods in the distance and nature surrounding me on all sides.

I’d also recommend green exercise because you never really get into a constant rhythm like you would with miles on a flat road. The ever changing landscape gives an all round workout.

The lack of noise really is noticeable and a welcome change. You can feel your stress levels drop  as you wind your way through the rural Summer meadows.

 

Image (12)Running on your own might not be as social as running with others but I find you take in so much more. Connecting with nature is something I’d recommend to anyone, you’ll never get bored of taking in what’s on every horizon. I’d hardly looked at my gps watch because pace simply wasn’t why I was out this evening, it was purely for the joy of it.

I decided to save running further for another day so I turned around and retraced my steps. By the time I reached the bridge I’d crossed earlier I was slightly concerned with the sign that I saw but luckily there weren’t even cows in the field never mind a bull ha ha !!!

Image (16)As I headed back towards civilisation I had a smile on my face and I knew these miles would contribute to both my physical health and mental wealth. Oh, and of course it cost me nothing !! There are no membership fees for running off road 🙂

Exploring the countryside might not be everyone’s idea of fun but I find it so rewarding.

Thanks for reading, stay active and stay safe.