On Sunday, I ran Day 2 of Race to the King Ultramarathon – 27 miles across the South Downs Way. It was my final long run as training for Race To The Stones non-stop, and a good way to see how Threshold Events worked ahead of the big day(s).
My knee has been hurting for a while (runners knee, my old foe) and I knew this would be my slowest marathon – as I’d have to walk a lot of it. I’d hoped to run the first half and walk the rest, so I could at least finish without being in too much pain! The hills looked a bit brutal but I was sure I could manage (with my trusty Rocktape holding me together).
The night before I went to bed early. The start line was a 2 hour drive away so I knew I’d need to be up at around 3am to get everything ready. Unfortunately the weather decided I didn’t actually need much sleep, so at around 10pm I was woken up by a crash of thunder right over the house. The lightning storm went on for a while, I woke up at least half a dozen times, and by the time my alarm went off I seriously considered just going back to sleep! But nope, I was up, dressed, eating peanut butter bagels and drinking coffee. Pre-race meal done.
We got there early, around 6am, my long-suffering other half in the driving seat. Registration, number on, wristband on. Ready to go!
It was a bit surreal starting off on my own – everyone doing the 2 days was getting their kit ready, and I couldn’t see anyone else with the 1 day wrist band, but it was a pleasant start. I started off walking, but the ground was soft and I attempted a run – not too bad! I got into my stride and was really enjoying the run, when at around the 1 hour mark I came up on the first hill – and boy, was it a biggie. People kept telling each other to keep going, that there was a pit stop at the top… and then after about 5 minutes everyone stopped running and accepted it was a hill meant to be walked! The view was incredible, and the climb exhilirating. I sent people pictures halfway up and was enjoying myself immensely.
The pit stop at the top was amazing. Huge amounts of food, water, congratulations – and portaloos (of which I am eternally grateful). I didn’t stop long as I was keen to keep moving, and only took a little swig of juice. This was a bit of a mistake.
It was almost 10km to the next pit stop and I was already starting to feel tired. Not yet halfway, I was feeling a bit dizzy and unsettled, so when I reached the next stop I decided to have a sit down and some actual food. Luckily there was lots to choose from (and mars bars!), although I didn’t eat any of the cake they kept offering me! I briefly sat down and messaged friends and my partner Nick to let them know how I was getting on. I scoffed my food down, and carried on – but again, I had nothing to drink.
I hadn’t gone far when I had to stop. The next section seemed almost all downhill, and my knee did not appreciate downhill! I tried to manage, but it wasn’t long before I was hobbling along, dragging my leg behind me to try and keep the knee straight. A few concerned runners and walkers passed me and asked if I needed help – I explained I was fine, just my knee didn’t like me! I met some very kind people who chatted with me for a while before striding on ahead, but I was honestly feeling terrible – dizzy and dehydrated. The path became narrow, muddy and chalky, so I slipped and slid my way down.
It seemed like forever and the peniultimate pit stop was there. I really don’t remember this pit stop – I was feeling tired and a little despondant that even my walking pace had slowed to a crawl, and time was dragging for me. I couldn’t use the loo so I figured it was definitely dehydration making me feel so wobbly, so I drank lots of juice and cola, and took a minute to fix my hair (always important). Once again everyone at the pit stop was kind, friendly, chatty, the support was amazing. Soon a man came running up the path and told us it was only 5km to the final pit stop – and it was fairly flat. Music to my ears! It was also incredibly muddy! I was grateful to have something to concentrate on, and tried to splash through every puddle I saw. I was already feeling a little better with the lack of downhill sections (and all the juice I’d drank). Some non-RTTK runners were nearby, enjoying the scenery and chatting to me as we went along. I ate 3 dextro tablets and drank more horrible warm water from my hydration pack. I must remember that although lemon hydration tablets taste good when cold, when warmed by your back they taste more like lemsip. Barf.
The final pit stop welcomed you in with happy Team Save The Children Volunteers, waving pom poms and cheering everyone on. I gave them a wave and shared a joke, before dragging myself over to the food. I ate two packs of jelly tots and suddenly felt a massive sugar rush. The first aider came over to chat, and I saw a friendly walker who had asked me how I was earlier, he laughed and told me I looked a lot brighter than I had before! I said it must be the jelly tots, we all decided sweets make everything better.
The next section was the longest, heading on to the finish line and to finally see my other half again. I was walking slowly and knew I needed to speed up but it was hard going, my knee hurt and my hip on the other side had started to ache (from over compensating, I assumed!) I also found my trail trainers tough on my toes, I think downhill had been the worst and I was suffering. There was a couple ahead of me, who were alternating walking and running, and they kept me going for a while – every now and then they would hold hands and it made me smile and miss my other half, so I tried to walk fast enough to keep them in sight (not creepy, honest!).
Some of this section was quite hard. I loved the woodland, and the views from the hills were beautiful, but going through some of the farmland and along the paths was very quiet and closed in. I had to remind myself to look up and appreciate the sights! At one point I lost the couple ahead of me and was frightened that I was lost, but eventually I came across a Threshold guy (with his own little tent!) who told me I was about 3 miles off the finish line and to keep going. So I did – at points here I was miserable, I’ll admit that. My knee hurt, my hip hurt, I wanted a painkiller or something to keep me going. Someone had advised me to bring my favourite chocolate bar with me as a reward for when it got tough -but I’d completely forgotten, and as much as my energy bars were helpful they didn’t have quite the same effect as a massive bar of galaxy!
But I got into Winchester, and a slight maze through tourists. A couple of runners passed me, and a runner in a bright pink gorilla suit! I wanted to stop but I saw my friendly walker guy and decided (sorry!) that I wanted to beat him, as a little target to myself. So I sped up and kept moving. Towards the end I spotted a lady in a Run Mummy Run vest and buff and kind of made a beeline for her, she probably wondered what I was doing but she was so kind and told me how far off I was, where to go, and to watch out for tourists with no sense of direction. So i kept moving. Towards the end I walked past a little lad and his family, his Mum (I assume?) clapped for me and encouraged her little boy to clap too. He did and it was the absolute cutest thing, I couldn’t stop grinning.
I kept on moving and finally saw another Threshold guy. Everyone had been telling me non-stop that I was ‘nearly there’, so when I reached him I jokingly asked ‘So, am I nearly there yet?’. He laughed and pointed round the corner… to the finish line. He told me I was literally feet away and I should probably go for it. ‘Shall I run? I’m gonna run!’ I said, and sped off.
It felt like a sprint – but I’ve seen the finish line photos and it was probably more of a
limp. I couldn’t see very well and kept looking for Nick, but I couldn’t see him until I came level. I was trying to concentrate on not smiling with my teeth (I have awful teeth) and keeping my feet up, but when I spotted him I totally forgot and started grinning like a cheshire cat!
Then it was the finish line, and some awkward steps. Someone gave me a medal, I had a photo taken, then Nick. Hugs, confusion, wondering if I was done. I took a photo booth photo, a picture for Save The Children, I chatted to a few people.
I wasn’t thinking too clearly but I saw a tent with T-shirts so I went and collected mine, chatted about my blog and how amazing the race was, and then wandered off vaguely. Nick kept laughing as I think I was a little disoriented, I went to use the loos and get changed but I couldn’t quite remember what else to do. They had a chill-out area around the back and lots of hot and cold food on offer – I decided on tea and a pastry as I felt a little sick. We sat, I told Nick about the race, and then we headed home.
So it was hard work. It was painful. Sometimes I felt a bit drained, a bit low, and (my own fault for not drinking enough!) a bit disoriented.
But it was amazing. The organisation, the people, the atmosphere? Completely carried me home. The Threshold Team were brilliant, cheerful and helpful and kind. Team Save the Children were supportive and dedicated and funny. The other runners and walkers were caring and brave, cheering each other on and checking I was OK. To a fault, every single person I met was kind and courteous. No-one was rushing, or racing, or worried about getting ahead. It was a feeling of community, something so different from the usual ‘races’. This wasn’t a race. It was an experience.
Now, as I nurse my very sore knee and rest it up for Race to the Stones, I am more excited than ever. It’s going to be incredible. I can’t wait!