Like any normal person coming to the end of a difficult working week, I got up at 5am on Saturday morning in order to run/walk 53 miles.
Although we had our race packs through the post already, we had to get to the start line, at the Southern end of the South downs National Park, near Chichester, for 08:15. I didn’t have time for my normal bowl of porridge before leaving in the morning so I bought a sausage sandwich before the race. I was working on the theory that “there’s no such thing as a bad calorie” in an ultra, but even so, I think I must have a fairly strong stomach to be able to pull off such a poor fuelling decision (not that it didn’t cause me a bit of discomfort).
Unlike the Exeter marathon, where I got seriously sunburnt, I made sure I applied that factor 30 from early on. I also had my pack prepared from the night before. (I say “pack”; I actually prepared three bags, one for on-the-run, one to leave with my supporters with stuff for the halfway point, and change of clothes for the finish line just in case I got absolutely drenched.) The bag I ran with was my usual running pack with a one litre water bladder, and room for a bit more if you stuff it full. I took:
- Small sun-cream
- Blister plasters
- Packet of jelly babies (I find energy gels disgusting)
- Hand wipes
- Head torch
- Mobile phone
I also used Decathlon brand body-glide to prepare those prone-to-chafing areas. (Let’s not get into that!)
We were well prepared and the atmosphere starting the race was very happy.
Race To The King bills itself as a double marathon but is actually a bit longer than 52.4 miles. “Basecamp” is at the 23 mile point, and it sees the participants split off into three groups: the non-stoppers, for whom the basecamp is just a check-point and an aid station to pass through, the two-day participants, who camp overnight and do the remainder of the race on the Sunday, and the people who entered for day one only (these guys were finished and jubilant).
By the time Running Buddy and I got to basecamp, the heat of the day was already taking it’s toll on us. I was finding it hard to swallow any solid food, and I was getting tired of sipping warm water. I guzzled down a cold can of flat soft drink and slumped in a camp chair.
It took a lot of motivation to get going again, and when we did there were more hills to overcome, with the heat of the day not yet letting up.
Running Buddy was having blister issues which meant we sat down on a bench for a bit in the woods so that he could tape his foot up. I secretly felt happy not to be the one holding us up for a change.
As we got to one of the later pit stops (I can’t remember which one) I became sick of sweet snacks. I’d been gorging on sugary items to fuel my run all day and I couldn’t deal with anymore. I tried eating a peanut butter sandwich as I knew I needed to take some calories on board but the issue of not being able to swallow had actually grown worse. I spent twenty minutes eating the damn thing between gulps of water, and then set off again, annoyed at the lost time.
Fortunately for me, that was the time at which it started to cool down as afternoon gave way to evening.
At the very next pit stop, I took a bag of ready salted crisps and they tasted amazing. Seriously, crisps have never tasted better before or since. And that was when the penny dropped; it wasn’t enough to just keep taking on water – I needed salt as well, and had badly underestimated this very obvious fact.
At the next three pit stops, I helped myself to one of the cup-a-soups on offer, knowing it would replenish my salt levels.
And so in the evening, I got a second wind, despite the fact that I was now mostly on my own, as Running Buddy had gone on ahead during one of my longer rests (the peanut butter sandwich I think) and the participants were thinning out now.
It took me late into the night to finish with a very poor time, but I did finish and that was enough for me: 36km further than I had ever run before!
As I limped through the streets of Winchester just after midnight, knowing that I would make it, I felt very tired, but I also had a massive sense of achievement. I had now run a double marathon and whatever happened afterwards, no-one could take that away from me.
There was of course, one more souvenir to be had from the day, besides my medal, and that was my very first lost toenail.
Here it is the day after the race:
It doesn’t look so bad there, but a few days later it came off. Running Buddy seemed very pleased about it when he told me: “You’ll lose that you will”.
I didn’t mind too much- took a kind of perverse pride in it in fact – after all, now I really was a proper ultra-runner!