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It’s taken me a couple of weeks (OK nearly three) to get round to writing this post, and I think, if I am honest it’s because I feel a little bit underwhelmed by the experience I had at Race to the King…it all feels a bit meh!
In a way I suppose that’s a good thing to share with you, but you know how it is when life is busy and you want to fit in an extra nap. It’s just tough to spend time on the meh stuff.
I knew when I signed up for RTTK2017 that it was a much more commercially focused race that I normally partake in, but the Boyf had called dibs on the Centurion 50s (it was only fair as he had plans for the Grand Slam). I wanted to make sure I did a 50 mile point to point this year and RTTK2017 fitted the bill. It was 53 miles, on the South Downs (a good mix of hills and views) and they promised plentiful aid stations with toilets at all of them.
To be honest that last point was probably the selling point for me. Given my stomach can be a bit temperamental on long runs I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a loo available every 10km or so just in case my Imodium wasn’t holding back the floods.
So I was signed up, training had gone well and I had managed to squeeze some hardcore heat training in the week before the race, making the most of the first wave of the British Summer. I was however quite glad that it looked like it was going to be a bit cooler on race day. I was in for the full distance in 1 day, which meant I had 24 hours to get from near Arundel to Winchester. I was not planning on it taking that long, but I was absolutely going to use the time if I had to. Honest goals were 12-13 hours would be amazing, sub-15 I would be more than happy with. The main thing was to keep my pace slow and steady, try and keep my heart rate down and avoid over-heating. Having ruined races by not monitoring that lot in the past I wanted to make sure I got this race finished rather than focusing on a set finish time. Knowing that there were walkers in the race that would be using the full time also meant I didn’t have to worry about aid station cut-offs as all being well I would be through long in advance of any closures.
Number pick-up on the day was fairly well organised, and loos were plentiful with minimal queues, so I was able to take care of that side of things a couple of times before the 8:30am start (of course they set us off early, which I didn’t realise, so thankfully I wasn’t relying on the nice round number as an anchor point when it came to the final few kilometres!). What was frustrating was that the aid station locations weren’t being shared ahead of race day and even on the day you didn’t really have fixed locations you could work to (this is to avoid overcrowding with supportive families out to cheer people on). This of course makes it a bit trickier if you actually want to have crew/essential support to save you carrying an entire race’s worth of Tailwind on you as you want to keep as light as possible). We worked around that though by using the amazing wealth of information on the Centurion website and making our own crew plan!
I set off, the Boyf hopped in the car and the race was go. The first few kilometres was pretty slow, mostly single track and a lot of people, so this made sure I kept my pace easy. It also meant I could follow my run:walk strategy and not be forced into an early sprint. People were chatting in little groups of pre-organised friends but there was the usual amount of anti-social behaviour….you may frown upon earphone usage but it is seriously better than people playing music out loud!! Knobs!
The views throughout the race were great and I took the opportunity to take plenty of photos along the way. I used this as a good way to catch my breath at the top of the hills and also to keep my pace steady.
I was aiming to keep a run:walk strategy throughout the race and also spend minimal time at the aid stops/crew catch-ups with the Boyf. I did however stop to grab a couple of Tunnocks Tea Cakes at Aid station 1….not for me but I knew they’d be well received as a “crew treat”, and so I stuffed them in my pack and hoped they wouldn’t get too crushed before I saw him. They survived and were indeed well received.
I wasn’t relying on the aid stops for food, my plan was to stick with Tailwind, and just top up water at each stop. I did break this rule which possibly contributed to some of the issues I had later in the race, so it was a worthy reminder that Tailwind works best for me if I don’t eat peanut butter snack packs, Cookie Dough milk shakes or Calippo shots!
All in all things went well for me, and I reached the marathon point in good shape, with my major wobble occurring at about 38 miles. I’d just hiked a hill and as I was coming up to the aid station just had a bit of a panic attack. I get this sometimes, my body seems to get a bit stuck and I find I can’t swallow, it’s like my swallow gets stuck which means for a split second I can’t breathe either. It’s only momentary but it can be scary as it seems a lot longer. I have read that this can be a result of a lack of magnesium (and it was quite a warm day so I was no doubt sweating that out a bit!), but it could also be something called VCD. Ultimately though it’s something that I can normally get past by taking an anti-histamine (possibly a placebo improvement) and make sure I am boosting my electrolytes.
The Boyf looked after me, got me my magic cool rag to reduce my temperature, unzipped my top to reduce any over-heating and neck restriction (you often overlook the simple steps when ultra-running and need your crew to watch for silly stuff like this) and sent me packing!
Then there was the chafing discovery! I’d stopped for a quick bush-wee and noticed some nice sore patches on my thighs under my short pockets! I whacked on some Lanacane and texted ahead to the uber-crew to make sure he got some bandage tape ready for me for the next time we’d meet up.
Every race you’ll find an area of your body that you haven’t greased but should have. The bits that haven’t chafed in training but on the day either because of distance or the amount of gritty sweatiness on your skin. Every race you expand the application of various greasy to your body but there’s always a bit that sneaks through (I had some nice back chafing too but didn’t discover that until I dunked in the bath post-race…OUCH!!).
I’d hoped that I would be able to reach the finish in Winchester before having to use my head-torch, but in the end it wasn’t to be. The dusk came in and there was a wooded section where I had to use my torch before switching off again for a bit, and then it was on for the final few kilometres into town.
It was at this stage I just wanted to get finished! You’re so close but still not there, it’s the “only a parkrun to go zone”. You know that on a good day you can be done in 30 minutes, but now you already have 50 miles in your legs and you probably aren’t in parkrun PB shape. I also knew that if I pushed it I could get in in under 14 hours….time to get a shift on!
As I came through the streets of Winchester I was starting to focus on over-taking people ahead of me. Most people were just walking now, but because I had paced htings steadily I was still able to run for a few minutes at a time. I kept chipping away and knew I was getting close so finally broke into a pre-sprint for the finish. It was at this point the Boyf spotted me and let meknow that I really was there, and the actual finish was just around the corner. A final runner or two in my sights and I really kicked the sprint in.
It was dark, I was flying at high-speed towards the finish and all of a sudden people were shouting warnings at me “steps, steps, there’s steps”………….SERIOUSLY?? Who places a timing chipped, finish mat AFTER steps?!
Well it obviously seemed like a good idea to someone! So I had to partially slam my brakes on, adjust my pacing and them leap down two steps before crossing the mat. Thankfully I had eased up and didn’t trip and fall by hitting the steps at the wrong point in my stride as I would have been in a broken mess on the paving slabs and might not have actually made it to the mat at all. Admittedly it made for a nice finish picture but in all honesty I think they could have given it a bit more thought on the health & safety assessment!
When you consider you are either going to have people sprinting fast, or in such a broken state after 54 miles that they will struggle to get down the steps it certainly felt like the location was chosen by a non-runner. Such a shame as this final experience meant I was more angry that my safety had been put at risk, than I was that I had successfully finished the race.
I wasn’t in the mood for eating anything despite the fact they did have some hot food laid on for us. So it was back to the hotel for a bath (aaargh chafing!) and sleep. Not that I slept much. Despite a soaking in Epsom Salts the chafing on both hips meant that I couldn’t get comfortable, and then the muscle aches kicked in as well. Not fun!
I gave up trying about 5am and finally hungry we packed up and hit McDonald’s to start the refuelling process! The perfect way to start the day and I loved it! Hash brown, double sausage and egg McMuffin and one of their new cheese and ham toasty things! I couldn’t have picked a tastier breakfast if I had tried.
Reflecting back on the race it served its purpose. I did my first proper point-to-point ultra and finished the 54.5 mile course in 13:56:44. I was still able to run at the end and I hadn’t been completely crippled with stomach issues, although I did need a few more wee stops in the last section that I would have liked.
Could I have gone quicker? Definitely, yes. Would I have enjoyed it as much? Probably not. There’s a fine balance for me in running and actually I prefer to enjoy the experience rather than push for a faster time. I have work to do before next year’s challenges so that I can make sure that I can run quickly enough to comfortably stay within any checkpoint cut-offs, but it definitely feels doable now.
I can see how my TrainAsONE plan is building my running fitness and keeping me on track with the running side of things, and I can definitely see how my focus on eating well and building strength and fitness with The FASTer Way To Fat Loss* is paying off. The difference between the race I had at the Moonlight Challenge in March and this race is huge. I am fitter, stronger and more prepared and I am going to keep working on all of this so that I can continue to enjoy long runs!