This is my running buddy Paul’s video of the Portsmouth Coastal ultra. The 4 minutes sum up our 5 hours + of running really well. Good work Paul and thanks very much for letting me share it 🙂
Why would you want to run 31 miles on a morning that started with frost and ice and finished in rain ? The answer is because we love a challenge and we love to run. This photo of my running buddies Paul and Nikki sums up the buzz that trail running can give you. Someone once sung “Money makes the world go round” but they were wrong, it’s people and especially long distance runners 🙂
The Portsmouth based Believe & Achieve running company host a number of events through the year but they are probably best known for their pre Christmas marathon and 50K ultra.
With an 8am start for the ultra and 8.30 for the marathon we were all up “bright and early”. Nikki’s photo below shows the view from behind the Pyramids leisure centre, our race HQ, and out towards the pier, #inspirational !!
Inside the Pyramids main hall we talked with runners from Fareham Crusaders, Gosport Road Runners (GRR) and Pompey Joggers. I also chatted to Spencer from Centurion Running and the Runr chaps who were there manning their running kit stall. As we made our way out for the start it soon became clear that the seafront was quite slippy underfoot and that caution would be needed.
There were lots of familiar faces on the start line by now and we were all marvelling at the blood red sky and the early morning sun. I spotted Dean, Nikki, Paul, James, Simon, Matt, Dave, Thom, Dwayne, Del, Cat and Richard from our local clubs running the ultra as well as Shaun saying goodbye to Susie Chan who was running the marathon half an hour later.
This map from my Strava download shows what lay ahead of us. Two miles along the seafront, a section of harbour mud, compacted trail around the harbour with a small amount of tarmac and then down to the Hayling ferry for the 15 .5 mile half way point. All that remained after that was to retrace our steps !!
The curious thing about ultra’s are that by definition you run slower. As a consequence you rarely see people warming up !! So the hurly burly of a 5K is replaced with lots of chat and banter, both as runners stand on the start line and for a good mile into the run.
Fleet brothers Dave and Matt disappeared into the distance first, they were then followed by most of the other people we knew but Richard Law and Dwayne stayed at mine and Pauls pace. We’d decided to start conservatively. Me, because frankly I hadn’t done enough training and Paul because he’d run Bovington marathon the previous day !! I think he’s up to 61 marathons now.
The harbour mud wasn’t too bad at 2 miles and as we weaved our way along the harbour path the field started to thin out. The temptation to pop into the Harvester pub for breakfast at about 4 miles was avoided and by 5 we were into our rhythm of just under 10 min miles.
The beauty of the course is that it’s fairly easy to spectate at as well as drive ahead and appear again. Gosport Road Runners were very well represented including my friend Hayley with her vocal support and tambourine. The aid stations were well stocked but we ran through the initial ones as we were carrying supplies. Thanks to Mike Harper who also gave us a shout.
The first shingle section passed without any issues but as we made our way around the coastline the wind off the sea had started to slightly pick up as well as the sun disappearing so I decided my egloves were staying on !! Paul dropped behind me slightly but we both know each other well enough that I was confident he’d catch me up later.
Once across Hayling bridge the 10 mile bleeper went on my watch, a third of the way !! By now a number of the marathon whippets had overtaken us and with the nature of the out and back course runners were heading towards us.
The 13 mile half way mark was quite congested with supporters and then, all of a sudden, it because really quiet with only the ultra runners carrying on. Now at this stage I was on my 3rd gel and had drunk well so I felt reasonably in charge. However, I was rudely awakened by the next shingle section !! My god that hurt. It was like running in toffee. Once again, however, seeing friends running in the opposite direction was inspiring.
The half way aid station had the ever lively Kiernan from On the Whistle to encourage us so I set off with renewed vigour. It’s also worth pointing out that at this point we were only a few hundred metres from the 29 mile point, it’s just that it was tantalisingly on the other side of the water. After a couple of motivational hellos with Cat, Ian and Del this then meant I’d left the shingle and was heading back towards the marathon runners. I have to say meeting familiar faces on a long run really does lift your spirits. Some banter with Allie and Crusaders men’s captain Paul Pickord certainly helped as they were taking drinks at their 13 and my 18 mile point.
With 20 miles approaching I’d got to the point were my lack of training miles was starting to show and I had to accept that dropping my pace was needed, however, there were a number of marathon entrants walking now, so this kept me going.
Once over the Hayling bridge I was counting down the single figure miles. With a large group of GRR supporters, including Terry, Nick & Kim from Absolute Running and Hayley with her tambourine cheering us on near Havant this helped over the next couple of miles. Paul caught me up and another host of marathon Crusaders did too. Ladies Crusaders captain Mel, Paula, Trevor and Rachel all appeared along with a gingerbread man 🙂 (Thanks for the photo Mel) This was at around the marathon point for me and it’s always great to know you are moving into ultra territory !!
Mel and Paula (to the right of the GB man) had also run Bovington marathon the previous day. By now steady rain had set in but luckily it wasn’t too heavy and it certainly didn’t dampen my spirits. We exchanged banter and as always Paul was leading the way. The final miles were a bit of a struggle for me but I insisted I was fine, when Mel asked. I ran / walked for a while and crossed the line in 5 & 3/4 hours.
As ever I was greeted by lots of the people mentioned above and if the car park ticket hadn’t for been imminent we’d have stayed later. This is what’s great about our running community, it doesn’t matter what position you have finished in, you are part of the community. I had a fantastic day with so many great running friends. Thanks to all the runners and supporters. Running maybe an individual sport but we are all part of one big happy family.
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Many thanks to Rob Piggott and his Believe & Achieve team for a great race.
P.S. Here’s a facebook message from a potential future winner !!
A 31 mile run in the middle of December … what can possibly go wrong 🙂
Starting on Southsea seafront the 50K takes in all of Langstone Harbour, then down the old Hayling Billy railway line and almost as far as the ferry. Once you’ve turned around all you have to do is retrace your steps !!
This blog is aimed at giving runners who don’t know the area an insight into what to expect. Naturally this will apply to both the Believe and Achieve marathon and the ultra, both of which still have “some” places available. Today I ran a 7 mile out and back section of the route starting from a small car park that’s where the course meets the A27 as my strava map shows below. What it also shows is that my watch ran out of battery at 8.5 miles !!! But it does relate well to the course map.
The first two miles of my run would be on tarmac and more importantly a cycle lane that connects Portsmouth to Havant. Even on race day this will be the case so please bear this in mind !! That said, I was impressed with the amount of cyclists that rang bells or shouted “coming through” as we all took in Farlington Marshes to our right.
As I got into my stride I pondered how the wind would effect todays run and of course what might lay in wait on the day. The horse shoe shape of Langstone Harbour means that the wind can come at you from different angles, only for a brief couple of hundred metres or a prolonged breeze so basically its best not to overthink it, you just have to go with the flow !!
Once off the shoreline the route briefly skirts the edge of Havant before a sharp right turn that takes you back towards the coast again.
The track narrows as you pass the sea defences and within another half a mile Hayling Bridges are in sight. A short section of shingle adds to the “seaside” feal of the course but it’s only 200 metres or so.
I’d point out the next section of the coastal path here as it does need some caution with it being quite rough with stones and larger bricks which stick out. This section doesn’t last for long thankfully but it also leads to a short muddy section with a style. Once through, that’s really the only technical section of the whole course.
I mentioned Hayling Bridges earlier, there’s the current road bridge and then there’s the remnants of the old Railway Bridge that hasn’t been operational for some decades now. What I did like was the signal that’s been erected as a reminder of days gone by. My photo below was slightly off the race route but worth a snap 🙂
The Hayling Billy railway line have compressed soil and stone which is ideal to run on and it’s also quite wide too. The harbour views extend across to Portsmouth with its Spinnaker Tower and out towards the Isle of White. Quite a few sections of the line have hedges that give cover from the elements (we will be running in December) and with the nature of the race being “out and back” we’ll see the quicker marathon runners heading towards us, which will be great for motivational banter !!
I didn’t go as far as the ultra turn around point today but I’ll blog about that in the coming weeks. Once I’d reached 7 miles I turned around and headed back. The line was well used by dog walkers, parents and children, even a horse rider so again these will be factors to take into consideration on the day.
Portsdown Hill stretches across the skyline on your return leg and it’s intriguing to look across the harbour to see where you’ll be in an hour or two’s time. Once over the bridge I had four miles left and I have to say the shingle section was harder work than I remembered what with the seaweed and drift wood that needed negotiating. However, it doesn’t last for long 🙂
All in all today was a solid 14 miles on my own just as a recce and reminder because I haven’t run around her for some time. I’m looking at getting a few of us together in the coming weeks so I’ll be able to add other local runners views to mine.
There were no hills today which makes a pleasant change and its always enjoyable running by the sea, it just seems to have a relaxing effect on you 🙂 It’s a varied route so there’s something for everyone.
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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.
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.
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 !!
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Those 3 steps were taken with care and it was all done. What does 53.5 miles feel like ???
This photo from pic2go sums it up !! Thanks for the photos 🙂
It’s only when you stop that you realise what you have achieved.
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.
The 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
Today was a new experience in a number of ways, the furthest I’d run, the longest time I’d been on my feet and my first White Star Running (WSR) event, in short, it was emotional !! The Rushmore Estate in Wiltshire was the location and with an 8.30am start this mean my alarm clock went off at 5.15am. WSR have had a growing reputation with their more relaxed approach, humour and really looking after runners which made for a great experience. Can you see me starting my watch, behind and to the left of, number 134 in my maroon Fareham Crusaders top ?
The race instructions from WSR set the tone for the day. Comments like “write your mobile number on the back of your race number in case you get kidnapped by the locals” and “anyone caught littering will be carted through Tollard Royal in chains” this meant I was really looking forward to my visit to the Wiltshire chalk downs. The weather forecast was for light rain showers later in the day so I packed my Ron Hill jacket and my favourite race nutrition, SIS gels, cliff bar and Jelly Belly jelly beans.
Preparation wise I’d been to see Sharon at Rural Retreats for a sports massage and printed off the maps but 36 miles worth of maps don’t mean a great deal when you’ve never been there before !! As it turned out I was never in any doubt where I needed to run so that’s quite an achievement over such a long distance and hats off to the WSR organisation.
The rural setting meant parking in a field and porta loos for the 100 + runners as well as an onsite ice cream van, fish & chip van and cider shack !!
As we got into the run it was noticeable that there weren’t any mile markers but instead boards with motivational saying, quite a good idea seeing as most of us have garmins. The nature of running around a countryside estate meant the course went from open fields one minute to 1 metre wide rights of way through yellow rapeseed fields the next.
I haven’t found the total elevation for the route yet but it must have been 3,500 ft + as the up hills really did seem to outweigh the downs or maybe that was just my mind playing tricks on me. As with all off road races there was lots of chatting while running through the first few miles as we all got into our rhythm. My race number being 118 was certainly a comment that came up a few times 🙂 With 3 feed stations in the first 10 miles we were certainly being looked after and the views would have been suitable for landscape oil paintings.
The section between 12 and 15 miles was quite tricky in that it was narrow tracks of slippy mud with over grown hedgerows and to add to that it had started raining. At points like this it’s safer to walk and just laugh at how ridiculous the whole situation is. Not knowing any points of reference it’s hard to explain the course but as 20 miles approached the boost of flat coke at a feed station was really great.
We shared the day with various park uses on the Wiltshire Downs including these trail bikes !! Reaching 20 miles and knowing you still have 16 left could be daunting but I decided I was over half way and with the sun coming out again life was improving. We next headed along a dove which would have been used to drive cattle to market in years gone by. I also chatted to a local lady runner who gave me an idea of what was left which was very useful so “thank you” to her.
WSR are famous for their “Love Station” which is placed at a point where you will really need it. Our’s was at 29.5 miles and at the end of the drove, which had been slightly uphill for some 6 miles or so. Alcohol and lots of food, as well as the offer or a huge, were very tempting but the organisers had cleverly placed it at the top of a hill so I decided to press on and get some well earned “easier” downhill miles under my belt.
The rain had started again by now as we tackled another section of unrunable mud before passing through a farm with some inquisitive cows who must have wondered why their quiet day was being interrupted. Pressing on down some country lanes the hardest hill was coming up at about 32 miles. A one metre wide track of mud that ran up hill through some beautiful woods but my god it was hard work and I was starting to feel a bit dizzy so the final feed station at 33 miles with the sight of a downhill run towards the finish line flags was exactly what we needed.
A cheeky 400 metres up hill to the finish line summed up the nature of the race and that was that. I had tried to even out my effort and walked when I thought I needed to, this resulted in me coming 81st out of 106 so 75% through the field which seeing as I’m still learning about Ultra running I was happy with. How tough was it ? My time was 7.59.31 which is easily my longest effort to date. A great day, T Shirt and medal, thanks to White Star Running. I learned a lot about myself today and if I can offer one piece if advice it would be that we are all capable of more than we think 🙂 Happy running.