What a weekend I’ve had!
Saturday was Race To The King – this years ‘A’ race for me. I had to do better than Race To The Stones last year. That race was my wake up call. A true learning into the world of long distance running.
The original plan was to start the 500 mile journey at about 4am on Friday. This meant I could pack Thursday after work and take my time. Then Joe threw a spanner in the works and suggested/decided we were leaving as soon as I finished on Thursday. Now. I may have had a list but I hadn’t checked it so this made me a little stressed (and naturally I spent all day moaning about it because that helps).
We rented the campervan we had used in Skye giving us ample room so I launched everything I could think of in it. Dropped the kids at my parents and started down the road.
Usually the kids would come with us but I was in such a state after The Stones Lucie was a little unnerved so we decided against it.
We drove a few hundred miles then kipped in the camper before setting off again. I had picked out a camp site for the night but hadn’t had a reply from them so I spent much of the journey on the phone talking to their answer machine. I knew they had to answer at some point though so I wasn’t worried.
Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race before now but noticed on the gps we were heading close to where his side of the family were. A couple of messages later and we took a slight detour to go and have lunch with them. Nothing quite beats seeing the youngest member of the tribe, a cousin on her birthday or a grandad who was on top form with his jokes. My face hurt from laughing so much.
It really was a flying visit though so after stocking up on chocolate biscuits (thanks aunty) we headed onwards to refuel the camper. At this point I eventually got through to the campsite. ‘Ah sorry we are full, there’s an event on’ they tell me. Oh no. ‘I can give you a number for another one though, it’s only 5 minutes up the road’. Phew. He gives me the number and the post code, a very helpful guy. I look at the post code. Hmm. I check the area code. Cambridge. I’m pretty sure Cambridge isn’t that close to Arundel. I google it. Shit. I’ve been phoning the wrong god damn campsite all day!! I quickly find the right one and beg for their last pitch. They agree to let it to us as long as it’s one night only. On to the campsite. The right one this time.
As we pulled in to our spot it was abundantly clear by the numerous tanned-to-an-inch-of-their (not very long left now) life’s other campers that not many younger folk stay there. Not that that bothered us – we weren’t exactly there for an all-night rave. Would have liked less staring though. God how they stared!
Early night before an early start though so it was roof up and curtains closed after our pasta and non-alcoholic apple and mango wine. (Not buckfast as someone thought ha ha)
In the morning I had what turned out to be the most luxurious shower of the weekend (I actually had to shower at a service station!) It was already warm so I chose vest and shorts and got the rest of my gear together. I had as much of the porridge and banana as I could stomach and then we were off on the short drive to the start. Once there I made a bee line for the info tent. Last year I didn’t know about the temporary tattoos so this time around I was making sure I got them. I slapped the elevation one on my forearm whilst Joe kept slapping me with sun cream despite my protests of ‘its only 7:30am! I don’t need it yet’.
Then it was over to the start line. The pen was already that full it was overflowing. I had no intention of trying to squeeze in so I ended up being one of the very last from my wave to go over the official start line. Unfortunately that made for a very slow first few miles. However. What’s missing from my story so far?
There were no tears. Yes I was nervous but I hadn’t given myself enough time to get really worked up at the start. We had parked, walked in, tattoo’s and sun creamed up then I was off. No messing, no waiting.
Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race so he didn’t know where he was going to see me or where he could get to me. I had given him all the postcodes but with my lack of geographic anything I could have given him a postcode from the highlands! (I did spot the mistake with the camp site though!). The only thing I knew was he that he was going to see me at check point 2. The rest he was playing by ear.
The chat around me from the start was fantastic. I fell in step just behind 3 guys who were chatting away about anything and everything. One of them mentioned he had started cycling to work. Nice, me too. He had worked out it was saving him £8 in petrol but he was eating more than £8 in food because of it. This had me laughing out loud. But he made a fair point.
Check point 1 and I had to put a blister plaster on. I could feel that burning starting already. And definitely not in a good way. What I haven’t mentioned is that my big toe nail fell off a few days before the race. Not what you need before a double marathon! So I knew I was going to have issues. I gave Joe a quick phone to see how he was getting on. He told me to get plastered up and eat something. ‘I’m eating my trail mix, I’m good.’ I told him. He proceeded to tell me I needed more calories than that and to eat something better. I proceeded out of the checkpoint and didn’t listen.
A mile later and I was getting light headed. Should have eaten something better than trail mix. Damn it.
Mile 10 and the hill was vertical. Why are all hills so steep? You never get a nice tumbling hill. It’s always a vertical climb. And this was only 10 miles in. Sake. Up to the top and it kind of evened out a little. That’s to say it was more smaller hills than vertical climbs. The terrain was really difficult and I lost count of how many people I saw trip and fall and roll their ankles. This was not a speedy run.
My calves were feeling tight already so I made a mental note to put the compression sleeves on at the next check point. Joe text to say he was already there. As I came down the hill towards it all I could see was the ruddy great hill behind it I would need to go up. Fantastic. Then ‘crack’. Suddenly my heart skipped a beat and I was falling to the side. Too busy looking at the hill in front of me I had misplaced my footing and rolled my ankle.
‘It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, doesn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt, does not hurt’.
I’m pretty sure that’s every runners mantra when they fall or hurt them selves. Tell yourself it didn’t happen! Thankfully, that seemed to work, and I was able to carry on running. I did then have a huge debate with myself about whether I had ‘heard’ a crack or ‘felt’ a crack and if I had felt it does that mean you subconsciously hear it too?
This ladies and gentleman, is what now goes through my brain on long runs. Crazy maths has now been replaced with just plain crazy thoughts.
When I got in to the check point I sat down to put my sleeves on and Joe started slapping me with the sun cream again. I protested at first but then he put it on my ears and since they were already burnt it hurt! Thing number 2 he was right about. Unusually for me I grabbed a caramel wafer bar. This was risky. Very risky! They have chocolate on them and Ella and chocolate do not go! No sir-ee. And out on a 54 mile run is most definitely not somewhere I want to be when I have a serious case of the runs! (Let’s not sugar coat this, facts are facts). Still. It’s what I seemed to be craving so I rolled the dice and took the chance. Hell my ankle had rolled and I was fine so maybe this will be 2 out of 2.
As soon as I got the sleeves on I was up and off again. Putting tight compression on elephant legs that are already sweating is not an easy job let me tell you! Mental note – buy the next size up – or, better still – put them on at the start.
Up the hill I went, all the time waiting for that ‘uh oh’ moment from the chocolate. It was bound to happen at some point so I kept scanning for bushes or rocks. Quite a good distraction as I was at the top sooner than I thought I would be. The last section I walked with a guy who was struggling with a stitch. He had been running with another bloke but was worried he was holding him back. He was in good humour though and gave very convincing cries of ‘go on without me. I will be ok. Think of me at the finish line. Name your first born after me’. By this time his friend was well out of ear shot but he was certainly entertaining me.
Naturally, when we got to the top, we then had to run down. It was now my turn to provide the entertainment as I involuntarily started humming and singing my way down. I’ve come to realise when I’m nervous as hell, this is what I do to calm down. I don’t go full belt karaoke style – that’s saved for car journeys – but I sing a little tune to keep me steady. It’s usually met with some very weird looks and raised eyebrows. Plus the occasional ‘are you ok?’ Ha ha.
And then back up we went. A steep mother of a hill at mile 20 is most definitely not what you want but this wasn’t even half way. Man up Ella you’ve not even ran a marathon yet! When I got the top I saw what you usually see at the top of corbetts and Munro’s. Have I just ran/walked up a bloody Corbett? Are you joking me?! Do you get corbetts in England? Or are they a scottish thing? Am I in England or Scotland? Or is this Wales? Definitely need to do the 3 peak challenge soon.
I’m telling you. Crazy thoughts.
Once the hill had been sumitted (yes, sumitted, it was huge, it had a sumit) it was on to base camp. The plan was to be out of there by 1pm and I was well on track. Base camp wasn’t half way so I was very conscious not to treat it as if it were. I filled up my water, grabbed another chocolate bar (what are you doing???) and phoned Joe.
He wasn’t there yet. Hadn’t expected me to get there quite so soon. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little smug. He said he was just about to park up and get changed as he had planned to run a little with me. I took a few photos and waited around a little.
10 minutes later I phoned him again. I wanted to get going. I knew the major mistake I had made at the Stones was the amount of time spent at the pit stops. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. He was just at the camper so he told me to carry on and he would catch up with me.
I was out of basecamp on track.
Within seconds he caught up with me. Handed me a few things and seemed genuinely impressed I was doing ok. He didn’t run too far with me as he had to double back to get the camper but it was nice nonetheless.
Pit stop 4 was just after – you guessed it – another great big ruddy hill. This one was weirdly entertaining. I had fallen in step with a guy who was also running solo but was quite a character. He said that once we were up this hill it was pretty much flat or down hill the rest of the way. I looked at him. Then I looked at the tattoo on my arm. Then I looked at him again. And pointed to my arm. ‘Erm, I don’t think it is’ I said to him.
‘Yeah it is’. He said. Followed by ‘do you know where we are? I think we are on Butser Hill but I’m not sure?’. He then asked a couple of people walking down the hill. They laughed. Rather worryingly. ‘Oh no sir, it’s not downhill to Winchester. Or at all.’
‘Lie to me’ he begged them – genuinely begged them. It was hilarious. His comedy honestly got me up that hill.
At the pit stop I refilled with water and carried on. And no. It did not feel downhill after that.
At pit stop 5 Joe met me again. It was time for more blister plasters. Now I apologise if you’re squeamish but truth of the matter is my feet were in pretty bad shape before the run so 37 miles in they weren’t going to be a bed of roses! I had blisters escaping out of the plasters that were already there and many, many more making an appearance. I pretty much looked like I had 10 toes on each foot. I decided the best course of action was to DNF right there and then. You can’t run with feet like that. That’s just stupid.
Ha, yeah right! I slapped on more plasters, wedged my feet back in to my trainers and carried on. Ignorance is bliss. Albeit a little painful.
I also had another chocolate bar. I mean what more could happen right?
More hills. More heat. Another very, very, very close encounter with the ground and the fastest I had moved the entire run (don’t you just love that scary quick movement forward when you trip?) and I get to checkpoint 6. It’s at this point I’m thinking my goal of finishing in the daylight might actually be achieved. I need to keep going though. Usually by now I’ve developed an old woman’s hobble that gets worse with every walk break. Thankfully that hasn’t appeared.
Joe tells me he won’t see me at the next checkpoint as he’s going straight to the finish to park then going to double back and run the last bit with me.
Pit stop 7 and the only thing I do is stop to take a photo and carry on. I’m getting to that finish before the sun sets. I make a comment about the sound of the crickets to other runners around me. ‘They’re bloody loud aren’t they?’ I say. ‘Eh, that’s not crickets love, that’s an electric fence. Don’t you go touching it now.’
I’m honestly just there to provide entertainment at these things.
It’s not easy but I’m running so much more than I expected I would be. I’m wearing my garmin but I’ve not been obsessed with it and I think that’s helping. I’ve also been trying to track Kev and Gillian – the couple who gave me a lift to Glen Lyon. They are doing the West Highland Way which is 95-98 miles! Only in the world of ultras can you be ‘one upped’ on a 53.5 miler ha ha.
Joe is surprised at how quickly I get through the last pit stop. He thought the race would take me between 13 and 14 hours, maybe longer. I have slowed quite a bit but I’m still on a for a good time – at least for someone like me. I see him soon after and he falls in step with me quite easily. I had been worried that I would be really irritable by this point and get annoyed with him but it’s going great. He chats away to everyone around including the supporters at the side who had run past to come and meet me. In the last couple of miles I keep asking him ‘how far now? How far now?’.
Eventually I see the 1 mile to go sign – utter relief. He speeds off at the last little bit so he can catch me crossing the line.
A guy goes past me. I don’t care. Then we turn the corner and the finish is right there. Stuff it.
Sorry mister but I’ve somehow got a little left in these legs so I’m speeding up to the finish! I go past him and whisper ‘sorry’. It’s not exactly a sprint finish but it’s not a walk! Not a stumble!
Oh but it might be! What the hell are these?? Bloody STEPS right before the finish – what the actual hell!! I’m pulling a face before I can remind myself there’s a photographer there. Oh yeah. He got a right good one! I expect to see that on a wall of fame.
I’m done! It’s daylight! It’s still bloody daylight! 12hrs and 23 minutes. Yes sir I most definitely WILL take that! 8pm finish! Get in!!
A quick bite to eat and we then hobble over to the King Alfred statue. I can’t not get a photo of that. I will show it to Albert on the Inch back home on my next run ha ha.
I upload my data and start to get messages through. I get a really nice one from Sarah who I ran with at the stones last year which is just absolutely lovely. What a difference from then though! No hallucinations, no freezing cold, no 25 minute miles because I can barely walk. Amazing.
This weekend was a blast from start to finish. Getting that extra boost from seeing family the day before, Joe being an absolute star supporting me through out, chocolate not giving me any ‘issues’ but giving me calories when I needed it and the fabulous people I met en route through out. I can’t wait to complete the trilogy next year at the tower.