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!

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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.

 

Ultra Training

I have been trying to follow the official training plan for Race to the King, but as always with training plans, I haven’t followed it as assiduously as I could have done. This is for a mixture of different reasons: fear of injury in the early weeks, as I was really struggling with tight calves, dodgy knees and ankles; trying to factor in training for the Three Peaks Challenge as well; the roads being far too slippery over the Arctic blast that we’ve been experiencing in the UK for the last five days or so; and laziness. (That last one is always there to some degree, and can strike at any time!)

This week called for two three milers and one six miler – quite a light week as the plan goes, but even so, I have failed to include that second three miler.

Things started well, with me determined not to let the snow get in my way, and I put in a run on Tuesday evening, braving the cold and taking care not to fall on the icy fields.

I was feeling pleased with myself – despite the weather, I was on fire!

Then I was allowed to work from home for two days as it snowed even more. Trains became delayed for hours on end and there were hardly any cars on the road. British people get very excited with the kind of weather that is commonplace in other parts of the world, and it was the main item heading up the news everyday. We even invented a dramatic name for it: The Beast from the East

Even though Berkshire was by no means the worst hit, we still saw our own little piece of the action. And I got into the general holiday spirit a lot of people seem to have been embracing this week. The word I’ve heard most from people recently is “hibernation”.

Basically, I got lazy. Yes, it had become unsafe to run outside, but if I really wanted to put the session in, I could have walked slowly to the gym and ran on the treadmill in the warmth.

So all in all, a mediocre start for Block One of the training plan, with three sessions missed and some mileages shortened. Two runs have also been replaced with walks. Does anyone know if it’s more beneficial to do a ten or fourteen mile walk than it is to do a seven mile run?

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I let my fiance’s niece draw a heart and write “love” in the space at the bottom – that wasn’t me!

 

 

Successes in 2017

I said I would post more often, and not leave it another several weeks again.  But then it was all work-stress, preparation for Christmas, getting sick, etc. etc.

I haven’t even run in my new minimalist shoes. (I know!) When you’re busy, it’s just easier to stick with what you know, I suppose, and what I know is shuffling along in the same old shoes, with the same old gait.

At least it’s better than not running at all though.

One thing I did do is pick all my medals up from a pile on the floor (where they had been languishing) and start to show them the respect they deserve by displaying them properly. The medals you see in the photo represent competitive races I’ve completed, and in one case, a race I dropped out of.

Training often encourages a tendency to always be looking forward to the next thing, which is good, and at the moment would be the Farnborough Winter Half Marathon for me.

But sometimes it’s  good to take the time to celebrate previous achievements.

This rack of medals represents how far my running has come in 2017, since I began training for the Reading Half Marathon, as most of the medals were acquired this year.

Left to right, we have:

  • Dash in the Dark – this was a really well organised, 10k, around the woods, with a lot of neon bling on display from the competitors and the organisers. (I did sport a few glow sticks myself). I really enjoyed this event and there was something really special about following the trail of glow sticks around a moonlit woods. This medal was particularly cool because it lets you know that you entered the event during its very first year. (Long may it continue…)
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(Yes, that is tinsel around the medal rack.)
  • The Rutherford Appleton 10k (last year’s event)
  • The Hurt (2015 event)
  • The Henley 10k (2015 event – this was held on the same day in October as the Rutherford 10k, which I entered instead in 2016 and 2017)
  • Windsor 15k (the red and white medal) – this was three loops of Dorney Lake, a man-made lake, built for rowing. It wasn’t particularly scenic but I quite like events that do circuits because it helps me to pace myself effectively. It was also an unusual distance and slotted in quite nicely as an intermediate step before the Reading Half. The 15k distance wasn’t the only event being held on the day, although all of the distances focused on doing loops around the lake (you guessed it – each loop itself was roughly 5k)
  • The Brixton 10k – this was a great event – two loops around the park in London. Lil’ sis’ and I signed up at the last minute so that we could visit our brother in Herne Hill for the weekend without sacrificing a weekend training run. I have to admit, it’s one of the most colourful medals I’ve been awarded though.

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Finishing Race to the Stones – the 100k Ultra Marathon

In some of my posts I have referred to “my running buddy”. We often do long distance training runs together, and sign up for many of the same races. In this post, I interview him about what it was like to compete in the 100k (62 mile) Race to the Stones, if only to prove that he really does exist, and isn’t some Tyler Durden style hallucination, although when it comes to running he is equally as bad-arse as the founder of fight club. (And yes, he has the same T-shirt as me but that doesn’t mean he is me – I’m far too lazy to run 100k.)

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Why do you hate your feet so much?

Most runners have a love-hate relationship with their feet. They love what they can do for them, but they treat them with abuse. But not looking after your feet is like having a car you never bother to service. It will catch-up with you in the end.

(As background to this question, Running Buddy’s feet are covered in blisters and one is the size of two fifty pence pieces. He has also just informed me that he lost two of his toenails. We thought we would spare you the photos.)

Part of the reason that you have such large blisters was the rainfall early on in the race? We have now raced in extreme (for the UK anyway) heat and pouring rain? Which do you prefer?

The rain is better if you’re prepared for it but the heat just drains you! If you’re running a long way and there’s even the slightest chance of rain, you need to have a spare pair of dry socks with you. I think this is one of the areas in which our lack of ultra-running experience showed.

I ran the 50k version of Race to the Stones as this was my first attempt at such a long distance and I thought I would see how I handled that, but what you did could technically be described as running two ultra-marathons, back-to-back. What’s wrong with you?

How do I answer a question like that?

It’s like that part in the Barkley Marathon documentary when the guy says it’s not really a challenge unless there’s some chance that you might not finish, that you might, in fact, fail. You’ve got to test yourself in a way that’s relative to whatever level you’re at.

How did you feel when you left me at Basecamp*?

*Basecamp was at 51k and marked the finish of my run, but only the halfway point for Mr Buddy.

I felt good actually – ready to get some more miles in and not dwell on the fact that it was only halfway.

You keep saying you slowed me down but the split was actually eight hours for the first 50k and nine hours for the second.

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What would be your advice to someone contemplating their first ultra?

Bring clean, spare socks and stuff your face continuously! Eat whatever you can get your hands on and in your stomach at each and every pit stop. And don’t leave eating until later on: after the ninth pit-stop, I saw a woman trying to eat and then just throwing up in a bush afterwards.

So you were trying to replenish all those calories so you wouldn’t hit a wall. How many calories did you burn overall?

According to my Garmin, it was well over 9000, nearer to 10,000.

The Race to the Stones follows an ancient English path. What were you favourite parts of the course?

All of it, the general scenery – I didn’t end up seeing many of the landmarks. The field of gold was good; everyone was fresh and enjoying it.

How many days do you think it will take you to get back to normal?

Actually, I’m contemplating going for a run tomorrow. (This was the Tuesday after the Saturday event.) The only restriction is the state of my feet at the moment.

Do you want to do the Ring O’ Fire in September?

For the last two days, I’ve been thinking, “I’ll never do another ultra again”, but now I’m thinking that 100 miles has to be the next target.

I will need to work out a way not to get horrible blisters though.

Do you have anything else to add?

Yeah, Race to the Stones was a great event, really well-organised, and the pit stops were amazing.

The atmosphere was great too. There was a real sense of camaraderie and no-one judging anyone else.

Ultra-marathon completed – what next?

Race to the Stones was the biggest event I had booked this year, and now it’s over.

Apart from breathing a huge sigh of relief (for the first time this year I am not coming out of one event and straight into the training plan for another) I feel that my recovery period is an excellent time to start considering where I want to take things next.

The swelling in my ankles tells me that I need to pay more attention to warm-ups, stretching out and general conditioning exercises – basically all the stuff that should help to prevent injuries. I have said in another post that I feel as if I’m living on borrowed time with regard to not having suffered a serious injury yet. It is luck, not competence, that has kept me injury free so far!

Aside from that, I want my fitness to go beyond running. But that means learning more stuff: routines, methods, that sort of thing. It’s so much easier just to pull on the trainers and head out the door for a quick 5k. Not to mention being overwhelmed with choice. Do I do weight training, cycling, swimming, yoga, HIIT classes?

In the wider world of exercise, I am not only half-arsed, but a complete novice, someone who has occasionally followed gym routines in the past.

Oh well, it’s time to take a deep breath and launch operation “all-round fitness”.

I hope I can learn some useful insights and share them with you along the way.

(A post on Race to the Stones is coming soon, and will cover the race from the perspective of doing it as a 50k and a 100k event.)

Three things I like…

The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young

(We watched this on Netflix but it is also available elsewhere.)

This is the documentary of one of the craziest races in the world. The “official” race is five loops of a twenty mile trail (competitors often quote a very different mileage). The entry fee is less than $2 and when you are successful in your application (having passed an entry exam), you receive a letter of condolence. Seriously, it is really entertaining and inspirational. You should watch it!

Haruki Murakami – What I talk about when I talk about running

This is a gentle, understated book that offers real insight into a lifetime of discipline as a long distance runner. I love both running and writing, and fully understand Murakami’s view that they somehow go hand in hand as complementary activities.

The Guardian Long Reads – The Sugar Conspiracy

I listened to this as a podcast on Spotify but it is also available as an article on The Guardian’s website.

This is not only about nutrition, but also the dogma and entrenched cronyism that can sometimes hold back the scientific community and put the brakes on human understanding. You will probably be quite shocked.

I would recommend the Guardian Long Reads podcast in general. These are really in-depth looks at several topics relevant to the modern world.

 

(I didn’t want to fall foul of Copyright law, which I know absolutely NOTHING about, so I have included an irrelevant, but hopefully not altogether unpleasant, picture of one of my runs to accompany this post.)