Race To The King

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
  • Headphones
  • 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.

ultra runners

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:

messed up toenail

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!

First Run In 11 Days

Wednesday was my first run since the Magna Carta Marathon.

How did I let it get to this point?

Well, obviously I took a few days off after the race to recover. My legs were aching for a few days.

And then in the week I went to massage, which was good but kind of left my calves in a bit of a state. So that was another couple of days off, and that pretty much ended my ambition to get a recovery run in before going away for the weekend.

I went to York, my university town, which was great fun, especially catching up with old friends; nevertheless, it was also nearly three days of beers and meals out…and NO RUNNING.

My first day back at work should have been the day I got back out running but I was hit with such a tsunami of crap when I went back in that I couldn’t do much besides getting home and slumping in front of the television.

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It was a great evening for a leisurely run, being the hottest day of the year so far (which for England isn’t actually that hot – still perfectly ambient weather for running a short distance!) I was basically just “stretching my legs”, getting back into training. I stopped here and there to take a photo, and got held up at the canal. (The bridge comes apart when a boat comes through and you have to wait to be able to cross.)

Overall, that left me with a time of 34:31 for a 5k.

As you can see, my stats were all over the place as well:

KM 1:          7:09

KM 2:          6:13

KM 3:          8:05

KM 4:          5:46

KM 5:          7:18

I busted out my new headphones for this run. They are the same as my old headphones apart from the colour since I replaced like with like. The reason they needed replacing at all was that the other ones stopped working properly after the day we got soaked for over four hours on a 21 miler.

I took the opportunity to get the new ones in green, but as I ran I seemed to be having issues with the blue tooth connection: it was cutting out whenever I started going fast – not great!

running headphones

I finished up sweaty, with that pleasant post-run feeling.

Happy days – it’s been a while!

 

 

More Things I Like

Continuing in the same vein as my other “things I like” posts, here are some things that I have liked recently…

The Joe Rogan Experience #1027

Joe Rogan interviews Courtney Dauwalter, who won a 238 mile race by a considerable distance, and what’s more, she seems to have done it with more than a bit of the half arsed spirit about her, shunning diet plans and not really being able to give much explanation of how she managed it. Joe jokes throughout that her diet plan appears to be beer and nachos.

But the flip side is that she has some serious, serious grit. Think of the baddest bad-arse you know and then add some extra bad-arse on top of that. I won’t go into detail as it would ruin some of the surprises in the podcast but Joe pretty much nails it in his description of her as “savage”.

 

Breaking2

This is a National Geographic documentary that has made it onto YouTube. It covers the attempt made by Nike last year to see whether it was humanly possible to run in a marathon in less than two hours.

Taking the concept of marginal gains to a whole other level, we see the efforts of three of the greatest marathon runners in the world. Especially impressive is Kenyan runner, Eliud Kipchoge, who did manage a time of two hours and twenty five seconds. He trains well, he eats well, and he has good form. But the thing that got me was his complete air of stoicism as he runs. This was a timely reminder to someone like myself (who isn’t always as positive as I could be on the longer runs) that mindset is incredibly important in big events.

 

Worst Training Run Ever

We knew and accepted that we had to prepare for a marathon. We knew we had to get a long distance run in, and we have enjoyed the canal path that runs from Newbury to Reading before.

On this occasion, it was just unfortunate that it happened to rain on us THE ENTIRE TIME.

 

Here’s what it looked like:

If this looks grim to you, it’s because it was.

It was absolutely horrible.

We were even given every chance to bail as Lil’ Sis’ dropped us off at Newbury station and, seeing the downpour that was going on, offered to pick us up at any point along the route.

But we carried on…

…and on…

…and on…

…for the entire twenty one miles. The paths were so muddy we were forced to walk several sections, simply for our own safety. It was sometimes a case of putting your foot down and watching it slide away from under you.

It ended up taking us four hours and twenty minutes. We were also soaked to the skin and pretty cold by the time we finished.

Was all this just to get extra man points, extra grit, extra hardcore runner credentials?

Here’s the point where the post is supposed to take a turn and I tell you about some profound realisation that came to me whilst I was out in the elements. I then end on an inspirational quotation. But unfortunately that didn’t happen. We got the mileage done and considered ourselves lucky not to have come down with colds afterwards.

Don’t get me wrong, a run like this does help your training and does show you, once again, that you can always do more than you think you can. It builds character, but sometimes character building is a slow burn; it happens without any fireworks, and in a very low key way. It plays itself out against the grey, rain-drenched backdrop of the Newbury canal path.

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The Magna Carta Marathon

This was the first Magna Carta Marathon and we knew from early on that this was going to be a small scale event as we collected our race numbers, which were in the single digits.

By “we”, I mean me and my Running Buddy, to whom I was a bit of a let-down by wanting to walk parts of the course, having only prepared with a single twenty one mile run, and prior to that not running any distance farther than a half marathon this year.

This was taking half-arsing it to another level!

To be fair, this wasn’t a deliberate refusal to train, but I keep getting issues with my knees, hamstrings, ankles – basically every part of my legs – whenever I try to increase my mileage. This is something that has been gradually getting better since replacing my trainers, which I’m guessing were long overdue to be changed.

On top of my poor preparation for the race, I had a mini-meltdown before the event, because I forgot my music player. 26.2 miles seemed to become instantly longer without any tunes, and to make matters worse, this was a race that allowed – even encouraged – headphones. The director even told us during his health and safety talk, if you want to listen to music on this course, there’s no road running, so fill your boots.

Those were his exact words: fill your boots. I was not impressed with myself.

But there was semi-good news – my Lil’ Sis’ would be coming to support and she said she would bring her mp3 for me to listen to during the last loop. I say “semi-good” because our musical tastes aren’t exactly what you would call aligned but you take what you can get when you’re a muppet and FORGET YOUR MUSIC PLAYER!

The race was five loops along the side of the river in Egham, taking it’s name because it was the site where the Magna Carta was signed. The first two loops were only a couple of miles each and then there were three or four six mile loops, which obviously became increasingly more difficult.

Not everyone likes loops, as it can be quite depressing to be covering the same piece of ground for a third or fourth time, except being more exhausted each time you get there. However, for me, I find that they help me to calibrate my run, and pace myself.

At the aid stations, I discovered a thing called Tailwind, which the race director apparently swears by. I thought it tasted disgusting to be honest. It’s hard to say whether it helped me, but taking that, combined with generally hydrating at every aid station, meant I managed to avoid the headache I sometimes get after running really long distances.

We met a lady who was wearing a one hundred club T-shirt. (The one hundred club members have run at least one hundred official marathons.) She said that she had actually run 281 marathons, but unfortunately they only give you a T shirt after the first 100. She also told us that she would be running another marathon the very next day. (Yes, these people really do exist! She makes my Running Buddy look sane, and he can’t wait to enter a one hundred mile race next year – he has already asked me to be his pacer for the last thirty miles.)

Strangely, the lack of music didn’t affect me as badly as I thought it would and I returned a marathon PB of 5h17m50s, which is still really slow – a fact that can be easily explained away by the consideration that I was never really that good in the first place! On top of that, this was only my second actual marathon (third if you consider the one I dropped out of). I crossed the finish line in quite an upbeat mood and then it was off to the nearby Harvester for a pulled pork BBQ burger.

 

 

 

Some Of My Favourite Running Photos

Since starting this blog (and upgrading to a better phone that can my camera app and running app at the same time) I have been more conscious about taking photos when the light is good, or when something interesting pops up on my runs.

Here are a few that stand out for me:

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I took a photo of this glove on a stick because it scared the crap out of me for a split second.

I have an active imagination. Put that together with listening to Zombies, Run! and only seeing it in my peripheral vision, and of course I didn’t see a glove, but a severed hand on a stick!

IMAG0476

This photo really captures the sense of adventure when setting out on a really long run. It was taken during Race To The Stones 2017 and it just turned out right; to me it looks like a still from one of those artsy documentaries about ultra-running.

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This photo is the backdrop to my blog and it just shows what can be done on a phone camera if you are willing to get up early enough and catch a time of day when the light is perfect.

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This photo is taken in the same location as the one above, at a different time of day and incorporating the man-made, industrial side of the landscape. This appeals to me for some reason I can’t explain, but whatever it is, it would probably also explain why I’m so drawn to video games that take place in stark, post-apocalyptic settings.

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This photo is another case of being in the right place at the right time. The local football goals in the park took on a very different feel as shapes emerging out of the mist.

Bolt Round The Holt

A week ago, I woke up early on a Saturday morning and drove a considerable distance to support my lil’ sis’ in her first post-pregnancy race event.

What follows are her thoughts on the race…

Half-arsed runner: How did you feel about doing your first post-pregnancy event?

Lil’ Sis’: I felt anxious about whether I was really fit and ready to compete but also excited and eager to get back into races.

HAR: How did you train?

LS: I started training a few months ago after my six week post-natal check with the doctor. First of all, I just went out and ran to see what I could achieve. I managed a slightly slower pace than I did before Lucy was born and ran a mile. I started upping the runs to two a week and increased the distance by half a mile each week until I was running 5k. I managed three 5ks before the race started with some hill work.

HAR: It was a long way to go for a 5k. Why did you choose this particular event?

LS: I love this forest and have raced here on other occasions. One of them was a 5k whilst I was about five months pregnant and they were very supportive. The other was the same event last year. This was the last official race I did before finding out I was pregnant, and it seemed fitting to start my races again with it this year.

It was a challenging and rewarding course that I would recommend to others. AAT events are well organised too.

HAR: Were you happy with your time?

LS: At first, no. Upon reflection, yes.

I was two minutes slower than last year but this year had to walk/fight woodlands through the path for a good quarter of a mile because the track was so muddy that I was afraid of falling over! I know this cost me those valuable minutes that I would have needed to beat or equal my previous time. Having said that, I feel I am already back to my previous fitness levels and that feels amazing so soon after giving birth!