Race to the Stones 2017

Of all my races for this year, this was the one race I most had my doubts about. For a while I’ve been keen on one day doing the Marathon des Sables, and I thought doing some longer races would help see if I could cope with that. My original intention had been to enter Race to the King and Race to the Stones, both as two day events. When it came to booking I decided to book Race to the King first, and changed my mind to do it all in one go – it’d be the bigger challenge. When I told my Dad about the race he called me stupid, so I almost didn’t enter Race to the Stones – this being the longer of the two races.

For Race to the Stones it’s a 100km run along the The Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road, from  Lewknor to Avebury – the site of the historic Avebury Rings. This neolithic henge was constructed in the 3rd millennium BC, but suffered a lot of damage over the years. Most of what can be seen today is a reconstruction created by archaeologists.

I’ve been to the rings before when sightseeing in the area, and have also seen the White Horse at Uffington which would be passed on this route as well. I knew they were a long way apart, and that wasn’t even the full distance. This would be long.

Thinking about it, 100 km is a little over 62 miles. Over the space of an entire week I’d never run more than this until a few weeks before Race to the King. Even during an advent run streak I’d not quite got to this. Though maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded – it’d be the same as doing a 7 day run streak of 9 miles a day. I could probably do that, so maybe that was the way to think about – 7 runs, just with them all happening on the same day, one after another. It might even turn out to be fun, though whilst running Race to the King I was regretting entering RTTS. I thought maybe it’s too much. By the time a full day had passed since the race I was actually looking forward to Race to the Stones – a complete turnaround. How soon the legs forget.

Towards the end of RTTK I’d started to forget about the end distance and was instead concentrating on the distance between pit stops. That had helped considerably so my plan was to do the same for this one.

For this race my only goal was to finish as that would be a challenge enough, though before training began I had in the back of my mind that twelve hours would be a reasonable time if I could manage it. I figured that I could run the first 26 miles in around 4 hours it’d still be a much slower than normal pace – this would then leave another 36 miles to cover in 8 hours. That would be 4.5 miles an hour pace – compared to my (almost) 4 miles an hour walking pace. It may be naivety, but it sounded like it might be doable. Of course though, you can never predict what is going to happen on the day. After RTTK I realised this was very unlikely if the hills were anything alike – three to four miles per hour would be more like it. In fact, chances of covering the first 26.2 miles in 4 hours also seemed incredibly unlikely.

It would be more likely I’d be out there for at least fourteen hours so planned ahead and figured out where the nearest pizza place was, made a note of their postcode for use with my satnav, and then what time I’d need to finish by to make it there.

Training

The training for this one consisted mostly of the training for Race to the King – I only had a few weeks in between the events. This year I don’t think any training has gone according to plan as I’ve seemingly stumbled from race to race since I got back from Nepal in November 2016. To start the year off I built up to a marathon in Manchester and somehow, despite reduced training, managed to get a slight PB. Perhaps that wasn’t too bad a start, even if it hadn’t gone according to plan. Though I then had two weeks off running whilst I was travelling around a number of National Parks in the US. By the time I got back I had just two weeks until the Milton Keynes Marathon which I’d intended would be the start of ultra marathon training.

To start with I felt this went well – I did a 5K race on the Sunday and then ran back to my car afterwards (which was another 5K). On the Monday I then completed the aforementioned marathon. Every day that week up to and including the following Sunday I managed to complete at least a four mile run, and in a number of cases more than that. My legs were hopefully getting used to being tired at the end of this eight day run streak.

The following week I broke the run streak and switched to double run days – they weren’t all double run days though, but I felt that this switch in training would also help with training for Endure 24. On the Saturday that week I decided to do parkrun again for the first time since October 2015 – even though this was a parkrun PB I decided to follow it up with more running. By the end of the day I’d done four runs, though I had hoped to do a fifth. Sunday was a similar scenario – I’d intended to go out and run 26 miles, but after a tiring week I’d dropped this down to 20. This never actually happened though as I only managed 10.5 miles. I was getting in the runs, but I wasn’t getting in the mileage – it wasn’t going according to plan at all.

It’s okay though, we have to adapt our training to circumstances – it’s not advisable to be completely rigid. As this wasn’t my only big race of the summer it meant that by the time race day arrived I’d know roughly what sort of level I was at – Endure 24 and Race to the King would see to that. In fact, they’d act as training for this – what is likely to be the longest race I’ll ever do. Never say never though.

At Endure 24 I ran a fairly quick 5 miles on the Saturday and then did six back to back laps on the Sunday which should have been 30 miles – if the course had been measured correctly. Instead this was actually about 29 miles, and I’d walked most of the last 9 miles of it. This didn’t help with my confidence going into Race to the King at all.

When the time came for Race to the King I wasn’t sure if I could finish that or not, even though I figured there was time to walk most of it if I had to. The hills had been incredibly tough, and I’d heard that Stones would be a tougher one. I may not have run much of this 54 mile race, but I did at least finish it, so that was another step closer to being ready for Stones. In the weeks in between I barely ran, and didn’t do anything longer than 10 km. I did do a 5K race before work one Friday, and found I hadn’t really lost that much speed at all. I just needed to hope my endurance would be okay on the day.

Kit List

When I did Canalathon, my only previous “official” ultra marathon, there was a mandatory kit list that I had to comply with. I didn’t use everything I took with me, but I understood why it was necessary. With an ultra marathon you don’t know how long you’ll be out in the elements for, or what you’ll encounter, and it’s very likely you’ll be out longer than you expect. You have to be prepared for survival. For Race to the Stones I figured I’d be out for at least fourteen hours – that’s a lot of time to encounter issues, or for the weather to change drastically. I knew as much from my previous ultras. So after some deliberation, I came up with my own kit list:

  • Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,Salomon Agile 7
  • Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • #UKRunChat #oneteam technical t-shirt,
  • Nike running shorts,
  • More Miles running socks,
  • running cap,
  • Flipbelt,
  • buff,
  • waterproof poncho,
  • Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • SPF 50 sunscreen,
  • 2 x Compeed plasters,
  • 2 x large plasters (in case my backpack rubs),
  • a small mixed bag of cashew nuts and pretzels,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

This was a list that had mostly been tried and tested first at Canalathon, and then again in full at Race to the King. I felt this would be everything I’d need to get me from pit stop to pit stop. I’d reduced the number of Garmins down to one as well as I felt that would be extra motivation to keep pushing on to finish before the power runs out.

Pre-race Day

As I’d be racing on the Saturday it meant driving down to Avebury on the Friday. It’s a long drive, but it was better to be doing it the day before than on the morning of the race. This is even more true when long delays could be expected getting passed Silverstone due to it also being the weekend of the British Grand Prix. My planning for this day had even gone as far as to have the postcode of a Prezzo in Marlborough I could go to for pasta in the evening.

For this race I was checked in to an AirBNB place in Avebury Trusloe – not far from the rings. It’s the first time I’ve used this company so it was a completely new experience for me. The place was really nice though and had even left some milk in the fridge for me to use. The stones were only a twelve minute walk away so I decided it’d be good to get some photographs of them in daylight – next time I’d see them it’d almost certainly be dark.

There were more stones than I remembered seeing before in Avebury, but last time it was raining so I likely missed some of them. After the walk back I then drove to Marlborough for some spaghetti bolognese – the typical carb-loading meal. Parking here was free after 18:00, and I got lucky to get the last spare table they had before 20:00. I’d be able to get an early night.

Sleep isn’t always easy before a big event though – at 01:00 I looked at the clock, closed my eyes for a while and after what seemed like hours when I next looked only fifteen minutes had passed.

Race Day

I’d booked parking at the finish, and a shuttle to the start so had to be parked up before 06:00. This meant a 04:15 start to give me enough time to have breakfast, get ready, and to get to the finish. With rain being forecast I removed the sunscreen from my backpack as I didn’t want to carry unnecessary weight.

For breakfast I had crunchy nut cornflakes and tea – what I’d usually have before a race, but also decided to have half a banana. The car park for the shuttle was that close I should probably have walked it, but I chose to save my legs and paid the £10 parking. The shuttle then took two hours to get to the start – a journey I thought only took ninety minutes. During the early part of the coach ride I was talking to the person next to me who had run Marathon des Sables twice, and was preparing for his third time. He was also encouraging me to try the race soon.

The longer than expected journey meant that I missed out on the group photo at the start, but had enough time to collect my number, attach it, and get to the start. I saw the 8:15 wave go, and then saw @outrunninghills – we stood at the front of Wave E (8:30) all ready to go.

When we set off I was leading the wave, but soon lost sight of them. For the next six or seven minutes I was on my own – I could see nobody behind me. Nobody in front. Just as I reached the first mile I caught up with the last of the walkers from Wave D. Calling them walkers makes it sound like The Walking Dead… which by the end of the race would probably be appropriate. For the next mile I overtook more and more people, and accidentally did this mostly downhill mile at a sub-7:00min/mile pace. Not something you want to be doing during a 100 km ultra marathon.

At around four miles I must have overtook SophiaS1 (from Fitocracy), as she caught up with me and we talked briefly before I carried on running ahead. When I reached another hill, one which I walked up, I caught up with @shellmoby. I was walking up the hill too quickly though so didn’t get to talk for long, but wished her well and carried on.

When I reached the bit that people refer to as the “field of dreams” it was back down to single file. This was slow progress though as people were stopping for selfies which was holding up the people behind. Taking a selfie is fine but it might have been an idea to have done it at the start of the field, at the end of it, or to have stepped off the beaten track momentarily for it. Instead this bottleneck caused a queue.

The first pit stop was a little over 10K into the race, and at first I thought we had to go through it. When I found out I didn’t need to I ducked back and carried on running. Up until this point I’d not been overtaken, I’d only been overtaking. I knew it wouldn’t last, nor that it actually mattered, but it was a great source of motivation to keep on going whilst I could. I tried to drink from my hydration pouch as I was ready for water, but found the water wasn’t flowing at all.

During a walking break I took my backpack off, uncoiled the tube for the hydration pouch and put my backpack back on again. Fortunately that was enough to get the water flowing, and I could stay hydrated on this humid day. Though with the rain that was to come I could probably have just run with my mouth open.

At about 14.2 miles was the second of the pit stops – for this one I ran in, grabbed a cup of orange juice and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Rather than wasting too much time I grabbed a handful out of the packet, binned the rest, and kept on going. One of the things that really affected my time in Race to the King was wasting time in pit stops at points when I didn’t really need to. I’d not walked that much up to this point, but I had enough to mean that around this time I hit the two hour mark. If all went according to plan I’d be on my feet for another twelve hours. Half a day. That’s a long time.

I can’t remember when, but early on in the race we were treated to a fine mist of rain that was for a time refreshing. It kept me cool, and allowed me to push on for longer despite getting warm. At some point, it had stopped, but sometime after the second pit stop it returned as a more constant rain that instead started of being refreshing was causing the race to become more effort. I didn’t want to stop and get my waterproof poncho out so I kept on going, getting quite wet in the process.

Running was becoming less frequent, but I was making sure that some of every mile involved running. It had become something a little faster than what the Rifleman Light Division would have done during their march to Talevera during the peninsula war. Their method of marching was to march quickly, and then light jog, and then back to marching. It’s what allowed them to cover 250 miles in just 6 days. I figured using a similar sort of method would keep me going.

Through Streatly I found it was beginning to feel like a miserable race. Unlike Race to the King this one hadn’t been as scenic so far, and was going through towns and country roads with quite some frequency. There’d even been a few points where I’d had to stop for cars that were messing around trying to half pass runners and then changing their mind and causing an obstruction instead.

For quite some time, almost from the start, it seemed like this race was lacking in the camaraderie of Race to the King. I hadn’t seen many people talking, people were walking or running alone, they weren’t helping others. It felt like a typical road race… just far more tiring. After 20 miles I started to notice that wasn’t entirely the case, and as the race went on this image completely disappeared – possibly around the time the rain eventually subsided.

After 21 miles The Ridgeway was back to being traffic free and was soon broken up by the third pit stop. At this point my iPhone started playing “Running” by James Bay. When it go to the verse:

I’ll keep running,

To the place where I belong

I laughed and turned the music off – and didn’t use it again this race. At this one I grabbed a cup of tea, decided it was too warm and didn’t want to wait for it to cool down so reluctantly discarded it to carry on running. Or at least, to carry on moving.

Eventually I caught up with @runningmiker and for a while we walked and talked. He was having a hard time with piriformis and was needing to take painkillers. Eventually we went our separate ways – both having our own plans about how to cover the remaining miles.

When pit stop 4 arrived I’d been hopeful I could carry on going through, I didn’t really want to have any long breaks in the first half – but at 27 miles it was now passed the marathon point and the next stop would be base camp. I decided I needed to stop for a bit. I grabbed a drink, and took my phone out to to go on Twitter for a while. I was careful not to sit down for too long though as I didn’t want it to become too difficult to get going again.

For every other pit stop I’d run into it but when pit stop 5 arrived, the half way point, I walked to it then when I realised I needed to cross the “finish” line and get snapped by the photographer I started to run at the last minute. Here I was told that I could go towards the tents and get some hot food, or loop back around and get a cold snack and a drink to carry on. What I hadn’t been told was this was where the Ministry of Cake was… otherwise I might just have stayed that little bit longer.

At this stop I sat on the grass for a while and spoke to a lady that had arrived at around the same time as me. I’d seen her at the previous pit stop too and she’d commented that she’d been needing to stretch. I saw her at pit stop 8 as well later, and at that point she’d said that she’d even had to stretch between pit stops (understandable – the distance between 7 and 8 was to be one of the longest on this course).

I walked from there, and started to have another go at “riflemans” pace. It didn’t go that well though as I was now very tired. At some point after this the route passed the Uffington white horse… though I never saw it. I’m not sure if it was because it couldn’t be seen, or because I was concentrating that much on the path in front of me. I did notice though that my clothes had dried off from the rain, mostly, though were now starting to be saturated with sweat instead.

The miles had long since started to blur together and nothing really stood out. The only bit I found particularly memorable was the point where the course takes an unexpected turn through a golf course (I think that was in the first half).

Pit stop 6 was only 5 miles after the half way mark and I realised I was quite hungry. I’d not used any of the food I’d got in my backpack, and so far all I’d eaten was a handful of crisps and a “Titan” chocolate bar. I decided, as I had before unintentionally longer-than-planned stops at 4 and 5, to have a proper break at pit stop 6. Here I took the time to make some tea, and then sat down on the floor eating a peanut butter sandwich whilst waiting for the tea to cool down.

After a ten minute break I got going again and found it difficult to get going. My walking pace was no longer a “march” but was around 17min/mile – far slower than I’d normally walk. I forced myself up to a run for several strides and that loosened my legs up enough to get walking at 13-15min/mile pace again.

I found myself thinking about Race to the King. That one had bigger hills, though this one seemed to have more of them – just not as severe. I was also thinking of things like calculating paces and times, and my estimate of finishing in 14 hours no longer seemed likely. I was thinking I’d lost about 2 hours of time somewhere plus whatever I was yet to spend in future pit stops. It annoyed me a little as finishing in 16 hours would mean even more nighttime running; but the main thing here was to finish.

At pit stop 7 I sat in a chair with a Nutella sandwich and another cup of tea. Once again I was wasting a lot of time – but over the past 8 hours I’d covered 41 miles. It seemed like I was going really slow, and I thought another 21 miles could easily take me 5+ hours depending on stops. I realised at this point my earlier calculation had been wrong and made an effort to keep on going, running when I could, and trying to make sure any slower miles I’d walked were compensated by a quicker mile from running. I heard that someone had tripped over at an earlier pit stop and wanted to carry on even though they now needed stitches in their head – sadly they were made to pull out. Understandable really.

This next stretch seemed to last forever though even though it was only about 8 miles. Halfway between pit stop 7 and 8 I had to stop for the first time between pit stops to get a stone out of my shoe whilst leaning against a fence. When I did it I thought my leg was about to get cramp so I quickly relaxed it and all was good. Just to be on the safe side I then walked most of the remaining distance to the next pit stop. This one couldn’t come quick enough. A long section of this, or at least what seemed to be, was on a busy road and the cars were not giving the runners distance meaning myself and two others were having to periodically hop onto the tight grass verge.

Pit stop 8 was a welcome sight. I had a bar of Cadbury’s dairy milk, and a drink and sat on the floor after finding that my legs didn’t like being bent on a chair. I sat and looked on Twitter again, and commented that even though it was less than half a marathon to go it felt like it was too far. I was tired and it felt like 12 miles could have been 1,000. When I tried to stand up my right leg got cramp and it was painful trying to relax it. Eventually I did though, and I managed to stand and hobble away from the pit stop.

For a while after leaving the pit stop it was very slow going, but keeping moving was easing my leg. Eventually I was able to run on it again which got me back to walking at a march. I wasn’t going to give up yet, I needed to finish what I’d started. The support on Twitter from the #ukrunchat community had been incredible and I didn’t want to let them down.

Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.

― Dean Karnazes

I got through 53 miles in just over 11 hours so thought I’d beaten my Race to the King time… though I’d forgotten that on that race I’d covered 54 miles and so in fact hadn’t. At least I didn’t realise that at the time though so was able to use that as a positive to keep on going.

Pit stop 9… the final pit stop before the finish with under 8 miles to go. Here I got a drink of coke and just sat and drank it slowly whilst replying to some tweets. I really couldn’t reply to them all as it was becoming difficult to concentrate. One of the people manning the pit stop commented that if I could do the remainder in under two hours that I’d be finishing without a headtorch. I hadn’t expected that – my assumption had always been that I’d be using it for some of the race since the sunset was around 21:20.

I was exhausted now, but tried to get back to running whenever I could. For the first few miles after the pit stop I couldn’t manage anything more than a walk – even when going through fields that were reasonably flat. After mile 59 the down hills became more frequent and I was able to get some long stretches of running in – it had been enough for me to catch up with @runningmiker again as I ran passed. The terrain was uneven, but I had no intention of slowing down whilst my legs were still moving.

With only two miles to go the end was almost in sight, but then the route goes passed the gate to the finish and disappears down a country road. I wasn’t sure of this initially as I could see the signs pointing in both directions so stopped briefly to look, but when I realised the sign on the gate said “1km to go” it must be the wrong way so carried on into the tree covered road ahead.

At this point the sun had been set for a while, and twilight was starting to fade. There was still enough light to see but it seemed possible that it may fade before I finished. The lady I’d spoken to at a few of the pit stops passed me in the opposite direction as she was returning to the gate following a brief loop. She yelled that it was just 600 metres to go until the return journey.

I eventually recognised the village in Avebury and was then directed off the road and through the Avebury rings. For the first time since the base camp there was a photographer waiting there for runners. He had a light shining on the grass with a remote flash set-up. He was shouting directions of where I needed to run, and then told me to slow down so he could take a picture. I slowed to half a jog, but apparently it was not enough as he told me to slow even more so I was barely doing more than walking. He’d had difficulties focusing his camera in the fading light.

Going through another gate I was back onto the road and heading towards the gate I’d seen earlier. Not long left, and perhaps not too many more walking breaks to go. The grass through the gate was uneven and uphill so I decided to walk all of that, and once I’d turned at the top I realised that other than some light from a farm building ahead it was now dark. I should probably have used my headtorch at that point – and would have had I any further to run. Instead I started to pick up pace down the long straight once I realised that the lights in front were the finish.

By the time I reached the farm I reached a sprint and was relieved to have finished the Race to the Stones. I don’t think the photographer was quite expecting people to finish fast as she had to run backwards to take my picture as I finished. One quick high five to the crowd there, and I was given my medal. I was done – and it was another 4 UTMB points. Never again would I need to cover 100 km on foot in a single day.

I was handed a voucher for free food and was told to go over to the van to collect it. I think I may have misheard though as it turned out to be a stall behind the van. They had a good selection of warm and cold food so I decided to get a hotdog, some pizza, and a doughnut. Rather than hanging around though I went back to my car and took it back to the AirBNB to microwave it and relax.

It seems that 961 finished the 100 km non-stop event, with almost 100 more not having made it to the finish. It was a tough event, and it could easily have caused many more DNFs over that distance. I was glad to have finished, and I’d done so in position 264 – somehow in the first 27.5% of the finishers. I’d lost 77 places in the second half as well!

After Race to the King I felt I could finish this race no matter the time, and at points during this day I did wonder if I would actually finish. I did though, and I managed to beat my predicted time too – I finished with a time of 13:24:26. Threshold Sports say “More is in you”, but I think after that run there’s nothing left in me.

None of that really matters though, as I can now say I’ve ticked off my first goal for 2017 – I’ve finished a 100 km event.

Post-race Day

With the AirBNB not having a bath it meant that my legs couldn’t recover quite as quickly as they normally would. This meant a very sleepless night, and a brief moment of further cramp in my leg. I decided on an early start though and went walking around the nearby Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow so I’d at least have some more photos from the weekend. I had to go back to the finish line as well though as I realised I’d forgotten to pick up the finishers t-shirt I’d bought.

Sunrise City 5K – Leicester 2017

downloadI hadn’t planned on racing in between Race to the King and Race to the Stones. I didn’t know what recovery would be like so I didn’t want to commit to anything. When I was told about an early morning race on a Friday between them I was a little unsure at first – I’d need to get into town, park, get to the start, race, get back to my car, get home, and then get ready for work as normal. Even with an 05:30 start it could be a close one.

This race was without race numbers – the stewards would identify all runners by them wearing the purpose Sunrise City t-shirt. It was compulsory for them to be worn so must be collected before the race. They gave the chance for tees to be collected on the Thursday between 10am and 4pm, but for anyone that works, especially outside of the city – this is impossible. This meant I’d need to collect my tee before the race on the Friday, but then I’d have a spare tee with me after changing – and they state there’s no baggage drop either. What are we supposed to do with spare tees?!

When I realised this I tried to contact them, but the contact page on their website was throwing a “404 Not Found” error. I tried again later in the day and it finally worked – so sent my query via both Twitter and their contact form. They didn’t answer though – perhaps because they had no answer. So I decided I wouldn’t be doing another of their events in future. Harsh decision, and I know this race is only a bit of fun as it’s not timed, but they could have had the courtesy to at least reply to the email or the tweet. Maybe the event would change my mind.

To get to the race in time I got up at 04:00 and headed to Victoria Park for the start. At registration I got my tee and although they said they shouldn’t – they agreed to hold on to the tee I was wearing until the finish. Not long before the start I saw @jen_f16 – another #ukrunchat runner and spoke briefly. When it was time to start I found myself at the very front for the first time ever.

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Before the race! The guy standing next to me is the one who won it

As the race started I set off a little quicker than I normally would, keeping me at the front of the race for the first 100 metres, and forcing the lead cyclist to peddle faster before slowing to my intended pace. I was overtaken pretty quickly and from then on he led the race behind the cyclist as we went down New Walk. After about half a mile I glanced behind me and could see another runner not that far behind me so I decided to push harder whilst it was downhill instead of taking it “easy” like I’d planned. I was very thirsty though, and a little hungry – perhaps a fasted run wasn’t the best of ideas.

For the road crossings down New Walk they had marshals to stop the traffic so runners could cross, and at the bottom of New Walk there was also one to direct runners to the right. This then goes through roadworks and fortunately a marshal pointed me in the right direction through them as I hadn’t spotted the arrow. As I got through them and approached the Turkey Cafe I found the person who was leading the race was now in front of the cyclist so I stayed behind the cyclist for the remainder of the race.

As I ran passed the Highcross Shopping Centre I realised that the person who was in third place was dropping further back, so decided I could ease off a little and maybe take some of the corners wide. I took the corner near the old fashioned sweet shop very wide just because I was following the cyclist. I was feeling good about the race, and it was nice for the marshals to be cheering too. In fact, the marshal support for this run was really good.

For the pedestrianised road that led back to New Walk I saw runners going in the opposite direction – some of which were being heckled by people that were either still drunk from a long night, or already drunk from an early start. For New Walk I was prepared to slow down and take it easy.

As I got to the top of New Walk I walked for about five seconds and the person behind overtook. I thought I’d be able to overtake again on the finishing straight but that didn’t quite go according to plan. Where the road bends passed the entrance to the park a marshal stopped the traffic for us, but a white car went passed the first car in the queue and drove straight passed the marshal – unwilling to wait for a few seconds. I had to stop completely as the car passed and I never managed to get back up to speed before I finished.

I finished third and was handed a medal pretty much straight away, and then directed over to the water table. I shook hands with the first and second place finishers, and grabbed a bottle of water. I picked up my discarded t-shirt from earlier, and then realised I’d forgotten to stop my running watch. I’d got no idea what I actually finished in, but estimating it based upon the pace graph in Strava it looks like it’d be around 19:03. Not too bad for a fasted run before work I guess.

The race turned out to be better than I expected, and actually quite fun – perhaps I might just do this one again in future as it’s nice to go through Leicester whilst the streets are mostly empty. It also made me realise that perhaps I might just be capable of a sub-19 time at Parkrun in the near future. Since this one, although not quite 5K in distance by my watch, was done with a brief stop and I almost made it to my 5K goal time.

The medal isn’t too bad either – it may have been badly scratched but it’s one which has a disk that spins around to change between night and day – a very cool idea. From there I got back to my car as quickly as possible so I could get home to shower and have breakfast before my cycle commute into work.

Race to the King 2017

Race to the King and Race to the Stones are two events I’ve heard a lot about and from what I’d seen they appeared to be quite scenic. It was fairly early on I started considering doing at least one of these events, though I’d been in awe of those I’d seen complete Race to the Stones in 2015. Both of these events have a number of options:

  • the full distance in one go,
  • the full distance split into two days,
  • or half the distance on either Saturday or Sunday.

For me, I thought the only option was to do half the distance – I couldn’t possibly do any more than that. When I started to consider one day running the Marathon des Sables my view on these races changed. I thought instead that if I was to do either of these that the better option would be to do the full distance split into two days – the perfect introduction into multi-stage events. I still wasn’t sure though if I had an ultra marathon in me – they’re crazy long distances, and I’d not been a runner long.

In the case of Race to the King, a race introduced in 2016, it is a run to Winchester – the former capital of Britain since the time of the Roman conquest. After the Romans left, it became the seat of power for the Kingdom of Wessex – one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Alfred, King of Wessex, envisioned a unified England and after fighting back against the Vikings it became the first capital of his new England. This race is so-called because it is a run to a statue of Alfred in Winchester.

After I completed Canalathon in 2016 I decided that one or both of these events would be a good ultra marathon for 2017. By the time the 2016 events had come and gone, I saw enough from people’s race report blog posts to know that I wanted to do both, and I wanted to do the full distance for both. Perhaps running Race to the King would be good training for Race to the Stones – and that’s how it began. When it came to book the events I was completely certain I’d try to do the full distance in one go, but was that unsure whether I was capable of it that I booked Race to the King first with the intention of booking Race to the Stones within a week or two (that would give me enough time to contemplate if I was doing the right thing).

With both of these races I found that if I wanted to drive that my best option would be to stay overnight on both the Friday and Saturday near to the finish. For Race to the King, a race going along the South Downs Way from Arundel, I booked a hotel just off the M3. I then prepaid £25 to get a shuttle bus from the park and ride to the start. After re-reading the paperwork, and an email to the organisers (which took 4 working days to respond to) I found that the parking at the park and ride was an additional £10 on top of that. This race was getting expensive very fast, and it didn’t help that everything was doubled due to having to pay the same for RTTS.

  • Event entry – £119
  • Parking – £10
  • Shuttle to the start – £25

On top of this it was £130 for a hotel for two nights, and about £50 in petrol for travelling. This would be on top of any other costs such as eating out before and after the race. It certainly isn’t a cheap race to do if you’re not local, though it does include free event photography and there’s plenty you can eat on the route.

I later contacted them again by email and by Twitter and found that generally they don’t respond to queries via Twitter – they use it for marketing purposes only. I did however receive a reply to my email the same day which was a relief as the week before the race they issued the parking permits and I found they had car registrations printed on them. I’d just changed my car so now had a different car registration, but was told I could just cross it out and write in the new one. Lucky!

At least once this was sorted I’d only have the training to worry about – right?

Training

This year I don’t think any training has gone according to plan as I’ve seemingly stumbled from race to race since I got back from Nepal in November 2016. To start the year off I built up to a marathon in Manchester and somehow, despite reduced training, managed to get a slight PB. Perhaps that wasn’t too bad a start, even if it hadn’t gone according to plan. Though I then had two weeks off running whilst I was travelling around a number of National Parks in the US. By the time I got back I had just two weeks until the Milton Keynes Marathon which I’d intended would be the start of ultra marathon training.

To start with I felt this went well – I did a 5K race on the Sunday and then ran back to my car afterwards (which was another 5K). On the Monday I then completed the aforementioned marathon. Every day that week up to and including the following Sunday I managed to complete at least a four mile run, and in a number of cases more than that. My legs were hopefully getting used to being tired at the end of this eight day run streak.

The following week I broke the run streak and switched to double run days – they weren’t all double run days though, but I felt that this switch in training would also help with training for Endure 24. On the Saturday that week I decided to do parkrun again for the first time since October 2015 – even though this was a parkrun PB I decided to follow it up with more running. By the end of the day I’d done four runs, though I had hoped to do a fifth. Sunday was a similar scenario – I’d intended to go out and run 26 miles, but after a tiring week I’d dropped this down to 20. This never actually happened though as I only managed 10.5 miles. I was getting in the runs, but I wasn’t getting in the mileage – it wasn’t going according to plan at all.

With just a few weeks left until Endure 24 I really wanted to start getting around 40 miles in over weekends, and to manage as close to 70 mile weeks as I could. Eventually I managed this at the end of May, though only because I did an extra long run during the week in addition to my usual two weekend long runs – I just couldn’t find the time to fit in 40 miles in one weekend.

Tweeting when I finally managed a 70 mile week did however bring about the wrath of some runners who believe that a 70 mile week for an ultra is too much. The implication there was that a 62 mile race (which is my next one) doesn’t warrant that number of miles. However, when you consider a lot of the faster marathon runners would run in excess of that number for a marathon – is it wrong? I don’t think it is, I think it’s important to do the training that you feel best prepares you for whatever your goal or event is, and that’s what I was doing. Just because someone has a different opinion, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is different. They then went on to judge the quality of sessions, without actually knowing what sort of sessions I was doing and at that point I decided they were either just a troll, or someone who has nothing better to do than to complain. Best ignored.

When Endure 24 happened I found it far tougher than I expected which resulted in me walking the majority of the last ten miles I did. Once this was over I was no longer feeling ready for Race to the King, despite having done thirty miles in one block. In the weeks after this event I didn’t really feel like doing any long runs, in part due to the hotter weather, so kept them short up until the day.

Kit List

When I did Canalathon, my only previous “official” ultra marathon, there was a mandatory kit list that I had to comply with. I didn’t use everything I took with me, but I understood why it was necessary. With an ultra marathon you don’t know how long you’ll be out in the elements for, or what you’ll encounter, and it’s very likely you’ll be out longer than you expect. You have to be prepared for survival. For Race to the King I figured I’d be out for at least ten hours – that’s a lot of time to encounter issues, or for the weather to change drastically. So after some deliberation, I came up with my own kit list:

  • Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,
  • Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • 2 x Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • #UKRunChat #oneteam technical t-shirt,
  • Nike running shorts,
  • More Miles running socks,
  • Running cap,
  • Flipbelt,
  • buff,
  • Waterproof poncho,
  • Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • 3 x Compeed plasters,
  • 2 x large plasters (in case my backpack rubs),
  • SPF 50 sunscreen,
  • a small mixed bag of cashew nuts and pretzels,
  • cereal bars,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

Most of this had been tested previously at Endure 24, and even on some of my longer training runs so I felt this would work.

Pre-race Day

For this event I decided that I’d work on the basis that at the end of the race I’d be tired and would want as little travel as possible. So I booked two nights in a hotel not far from the finish in Winchester and drove down there after work on the Friday before the race. What I hadn’t realised though was that it was on the southbound side of the M3 with no access from the northbound side, so any trips to Winchester would be followed by a twenty mile round trip to turn around at the next junction. Such as the return journey after the race.

I’d started work an hour earlier than normal so I could be on the road to Winchester as soon as possible. This allowed me to get to the hotel for 17:30, and into the city centre shortly after. I found a short stay parking that I think may have been free after 18:00, but it also said you had to display a valid ticket. Unsure what to do I paid for an hour to get a ticket, and found it’d give me until 09:00 the following morning.

I’d decided to eat at Prezzo as it was easy to find, and I knew they did spaghetti bolognese. Being on my own also meant service was incredibly quick as I’d ordered and finished within fifteen minutes of entering. It took another ten minutes to pay, but I still think that was pretty good going! Unfortunately Winchester Cathedral was closed for the day so I couldn’t see Jayne Austen’s grave, but I did wander over to the statue of King Alfred to take a photograph – hopeful that despite an upset stomach that I’d still get to see it the following evening.

I was back at the hotel by 20:00, and ready to finally rest ahead of what would certainly be a long day.

Race Day

I didn’t sleep much, but this was it – today I’d be running over 50 miles if all went well. Crazy. I got up at 04:45 and quickly had breakfast – wanting to make sure I’d digested it as well as possible before setting off. I’d gone for my normal breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea, but added a third of a banana to the mix to recover some potassium from the last 24 hours. I also decided to add immodium to my race kit just in case. I was at the nearby park and ride by 06:10 in time for the 06:30 shuttle to Gaston Farm in Arundel. Fortunately I’d asked others about the location of this park and ride before the event as Google listed two, and neither the event website or the booking website indicated which of these it would be (though the parking permit I later received did). I noticed that the parking that had cost £10 would normally be £3 for the day if the car park hadn’t been commandeered for this event.

As I’d got to the park and ride early they let me on the 06:15 shuttle to the start. If I hadn’t been in such a rush I’d have remembered to pack my sunscreen – I’d taken it out of my bag to apply some before boarding the coach, but then never did, and left it behind in my car. I suspect though that it’d have been faster to have gotten on the 06:30 coach when our driver went the wrong way and came face to face with another coach. She then had to reverse along a winding country lane no wider than the bus – that was some impressive reversing skills! Eventually I made it to the race village, and collected by number. I was asked my name a few times, just in case I didn’t know my own name, as it took them a while to find my race pack.

Once I’d attached my race number to my shorts I spotted @SamABaxter so went over to talk to him as we watched the first two waves start off on their Race to the King through clouds of purple smoke from some flares. I’d hoped to say “hi” to @Mazzie1111 though once again we managed to miss each other as she set off in the first wave. Just before the third wave, the one I was in, was due to set off we bumped into @JenningsNicola and had a quick pre-race photograph. Apparently my race pack should have contained a map, but hadn’t – fortunately I was told that the signage is really good on this course. During the course of the day I found this to be completely true.

At last this was it – I was off on the start of a 53.5 mile run back to Winchester. I’m sure there must be an easier way to get back there. Instead we were all setting off across the field which soon takes a sharp right onto a trail outside of the field and from there it was a steady run along the South Downs Way.

After about a mile I’d warmed up enough to take off my jumper and tie it around my waist, though in doing so I managed to stop my watch and didn’t notice for almost a full minute – by which time I was on an uphill section, struggling to pass walkers swinging their walking poles around in the air. I’m not sure if it was that they didn’t want people passing them through the narrow path through the grasses, or whether they were just not thinking about what they were doing. In any case, it became a bit of an obstacle course to avoid them – but I realised I’d already caught up with the back of the second wave. Perhaps if I was lucky I could catch up with some of them from the first wave so I could say “hi” to @Mazzie1111 after all.

Once passed the narrow trail I was able to pass the walkers and start running again, and did so for the next three miles – occasionally talking to some of the others around. It was a very different experience to road races I’ve done as normally people around me don’t talk – they’re concentrating too much on running. In fact, another difference here was seeing people call out which side they’re passing on to make sure they don’t run into anyone – much better sportsmanship I think. Everyone is working together to get through the race.

At around 7 miles into the race, after the first of the really big hills, I saw a sign for Winchester that said it was 45 miles away – great. Thanks for the reminder. I’d been tempted to take a photo of the sign, but my phone was tucked safely away and would have taken too much effort to get out. Maybe for the best, at least at this point I was still mostly running.

The first pit stop was at only 8 miles into the race. Normally, if it had been a marathon and I’d not had an upset stomach the day before, I’d have started eating jelly babies from this point. However, I slowed down to see what was at the pit stop but carried on through. I’d not even sipped at the 1.5 litres of water I was carrying in my backpack at this point. In fact, by the end of the race I’d only used half a litre of what I was carrying. Why drink water when there’s tea on offer?

Even though I wanted to carry on running, I had to stop when we reached another narrow trail through stinging nettles and thorns which people were walking through. I was eager to run, but had no choice but to walk for the next mile. Another thing that kept breaking up my running was the need to open and close gates as the route passed from field to field. Though, for the next few miles I decided to walk for the up-hill sections, and to only run where it was flat or going down hill. My thought was that this would conserve much needed energy for when I’d really need it.

Even though there had been spots of rain throughout the morning it hadn’t been that bad. Eventually there was a downpour strong enough to warrant me getting my waterproof poncho out of my backpack. It turned out it’s really difficult to put on when it’s windy. After a few miles though I was able to take it off, and then tied it to my backpack. The running was becoming incredibly hard work, though just when I needed it a song on my iPhone kept me going that little bit longer.

May this lift you up,
When you feel you’ll fall again,
You cannot win, no,
Hope these words are enough,
For you to be strong, my friend,
Sometimes you fall before you rise,
Sometimes you lose it all to find,
You’ve gotta keep fighting,
And get back up again.
— My Champion, by Alter Bridge

 

I then turned my music off to save battery power for my phone – thinking I’d want that later. Though after mile 14 I didn’t listen to music again for the rest of the course. It’s odd though as I looked at my watch at mile 14.9 – the second pit stop, and the next time I looked at it, after some big hill climbs, I was at mile 22. I couldn’t believe that eight miles had just disappeared like that. At the second pit stop I didn’t stop for fuel or drink, but I did quickly nip into the portaloo for the only time during this race. After that I decided to try eating some cashew nuts, almonds, and pretzels during the long climb after stop. To get to this climb we had to cross a public road for the first time on this course. This next mile was one of the biggest overall climbs for a mile split in the entire race – it was 357 feet of climbing over one mile. Around this time we summited another peak and found a photographer waiting for us next to a cairn there – possibly the last photographer until the end.

At mile 23.4 I reached pit stop 3 after a slight diversion off the course to cross timing mats. This was where 1-day and 2-day runners would stop for the day. I envied them – it felt a shame I couldn’t stop there and carry on tomorrow, but instead I grabbed what I thought was some flat coke (as advertised) but turned out to be fizzy pepsi (noooo!) and half a banana. I felt the fizzy drink was a bad idea and then walked for most of the next mile along the quiet country road – a trend that continued to the eventual finish.

The hills continued to crop up on us, but with every climb it gave us views of the countryside around and of villages in the distance. It was starting to feel like every pit stop was down hill after one of the big hill climbs. This trend continued with pit stop four where I stopped for a cup of tea and a packet of crisps – and for the first time I actually sat down. This turned out to be a bad idea though as I found it difficult to get going again and it felt like 31.4 miles was going to be my limit. I’d run this distance before at Canalathon, and wasn’t far off this at Endure 24. I needed to keep going so I pushed on through it and eventually got my legs moving properly again.

Finally I got running and started to enjoy some more running through a wooded area. I found it fun whenever I got the chance to dodge tree routes, but along this section I also had to jump over a high tree root, and climb over a fallen tree. I was feeling incredibly tired, so much so that when a wasp landed on my glasses I did nothing. I just accepted I had a wasp now and that it’d be with me until it got bored.

I kept on running as I reached another field of wheat though eventually I found that once more I needed to walk. Sometimes in tough races you wonder why you’re running, and question running ever again. This was one of those moments where I even thought doing Race to the Stones would be a stupid idea.

I desired to live worthily as long as I lived, …

— King Ælfrēd the Great

The course was getting tough again, and this time I got my phone out and tweeted about how hard the course was. This resulted in a few tweets of encouragement that did help me to get running again, though I didn’t run that many of the miles through Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I’d also tweeted @Mazzie1111 who’d set off in the first wave and I found at some point I’d overtaken her without having realised it. I guess we’d meet at some other race, unless she caught me up whilst I was walking.

The hill climb up to pit stop 5 was unlike any before it – I found myself wanting to stop, but I pushed on and eventually started pushing my hands onto my legs to try and help with the climb. It seemed to go on forever and one of the others I was walking passed was on a mobile phone and commented that it felt like she’d been walking up this hill for ten minutes. It was a big hill, but not quite that bad – at least I didn’t think it was but time has a funny way of passing during an ultra marathon. At this pit stop they had camping chairs – far more comfortable for sitting on so I sat and had another cup of tea which I’d been wanting for the past couple of miles, a cup of orange squash, and a fudge chocolate bar. Maybe it wasn’t the best fuelling but I was hungry and felt I should eat something.

For a while I spoke to another runner who had set off in the first wave and was nursing an injury. I can’t imagine what it must be like to run with an injury over this sort of distance – hopefully he was able to finish. I eventually left him behind, but over the next few miles we did switch places occasionally until I’d run for long enough to stay ahead. It wasn’t intentional, I was just running whenever I could.

At around 42 miles I got to the top of Beacon Hill and this was the last of the big climbs, though it wasn’t the last climb on the course. Not long after this was pit stop 6 where I sat down once more, had another cup of tea, some orange juice, and another fudge chocolate bar. This time I also picked up a second with the intention of eating it on the course if I needed to. Around this time I also stopped thinking about how far was left and started to think how far it was until the next pit stop – it may have helped me to keep going.

Whenever the downhill sections appeared I ran for the majority of them. The ones that were riddled with tree routes and felt like very technical areas were the ones I found to be the most fun – and powering down them also got comments from runners who then passed me later about how brave it was to go at those speeds down the hills. I didn’t feel it was, I just felt it was fun – I don’t mind the concentration it takes! After the race I did find that some of these sections I’d taken  that quickly that I’d hit 2:53min/mile pace on the descent. I know on one of them though I had to jump out of the way for two mountain bikers that sailed passed me from behind.

I wasn’t sure when as I’d stopped looking at my watch for sometime, but I found that eventually I got to a railway line, and with it were steps to go up onto the bridge and over the tracks. It feels a little sadistic to throw steps at someone after they run over 40 miles. Not long after this though I stopped at mile 44.5 to help a runner who had cramp in his calves. He couldn’t ease them off however, and even offering to help him to the next pit stop he decided to pull out of the race. It’s a shame to get so close, but then have that happen.

The last few pit stops had been fairly close together, and this next one was only 2.8 miles after the one before. This was the last pitstop and I made a conscious effort to run as much of the mile before it as I could. My calves and my feet were aching so much at this point and I didn’t think I could do anything other than walk for the just over 10K that remained. I quickly drank some orange squash, some blackcurrant squash, and then stretched out. As I was getting ready to leave the pit stop I was offered some warm minestrone soup so accepted graciously and took it with me. The support at every pitstop had been amazing and they were eager to help and to motivate.

I hadn’t thought it through though as although it meant I could take on some much needed salt I’d need to carry the cup with me to the finish (though I found a bin in Winchester I could drop it into before the actual finish). It seemed that after crossing an A road that most of what was left would be down hill so I ran as frequently as I could.

After crossing the M3 bridge I was then in Winchester, I just had 3km left to go but didn’t have any running left in me. I tried to run for short bursts, but felt that if I ran too much of what was left I may end up walking over the finish line. This was mostly down hill though so I ran when I could. Eventually I got to the road that runs passed the Bishop’s college and under the arches of St. Swithun-upon-Kingsgate Church. It’d started to rain, but by this point it didn’t bother me. I saw a crowd ahead and they started to cheer – I thanked them as I rounded the corner and realised the finish was in sight! At last! Wanting it to be over I sprinted to the finish and then realised that there were a few steps I’d not seen – some people also shouted this out as a warning; but I’d already got this covered by a leap that took me clear of the steps. When I landed I turned on the spot and sat down on the stonework at the base of the cross in front of Winchester cathedral. I’d finished, completing an overall climb of 5,456 feet, and had earned myself another 4 UTMB points. Not that I’d ever use them.

The photographer at the side of me commented that if I’d had that left in me at the end that I’d not run hard enough. I had though, it’d taken a lot to get to the finish. The finishing medal was put over my head, and I got up to see where I could get food. I’d thought there might have been something to eat at the finish, but there was nothing. At least I didn’t think there was, but when I went passed the following day I found a sign to the food hidden behind the information tent – impossible to see if you weren’t collecting baggage!

I finished 160th out of the non-stop 53.5 mile runners with an official chip time of 11:25:06. Of those that started there were 581 finishers (which meant I’d somehow managed to walk into the first 27.5%) but there were many that had been unable to finish. It was a tough course though and I could totally understand it – I was surprised I’d been able to finish. I was even more surprised I’d finished with 20% of power left on my running watch – I hadn’t needed to use the back-up one I’d borrowed from my sister!

I saw some coaches parked up to take people back to the park and ride, and found that they’d leave every hour on the hour. I decided this would give me enough time to eat, so I hobbled up the hill to Ask Italian for pizza. It was uncomfortable sitting there, but after stretching a little I found I could sit long enough to eat my pizza. I couldn’t quite finish it though as it took 15 minutes to take my order, and I’d got limited time if I wanted to be on the 21:00 shuttle.

After the 20 mile drive from the park and ride to the hotel, and the climb up the stairs I was done. I could relax in a steaming hot bath, and start thinking about my next race.

Post-race Day

I woke up early and tried to stay in bed for as long as possible, but by 06:30 I’d decided I’d get breakfast. My plans for today had been for a bit of Winchester tourism, and to look around the cathedral I’d missed the opportunity to see when I’d last been in Winchester. With it not being open until 12:30 I had quite some wait ahead of me, but at least my legs had recovered from yesterday’s efforts – I didn’t even have any blisters. I guess walking most of it had it’s advantages – I’d even come out of this blister-free.

Before heading back to the city I sat around the hotel for a few hours and found that a photo of me jumping to the finish had made it onto Race to the Kings favourite photos of the day list. When I got into town I parked up in the same place as before and spent some time cheering in the first of the day 2 runners whilst eating a Subway sub, and waiting for the cathedral to open.

For those finishing on the second day they now had someone dressed as a knight you could have your photo taken with. As I’d missed out on a post-race photo, possibly due to it spitting with rain when I finished, I got my photo taken with the knight whilst I was there. I also heard after the event that there had been cakes at the finish from the Ministry of Cake – I guess that’s what they had for finishers who had spotted the hidden sign. I finally got my chance to go in the cathedral as well – and surprising it was free!

Having had time to reflect on the race it didn’t seem so bad. Sure it was the hardest race I’d ever done, and some of those hills were immense. I’d walked a lot, but I’d seen a lot of places I’d not seen before. I wished I’d taken more time to photograph some of the route – any of it in fact, but I’d finished. All that remained now was my final challenge of the year – Race to the Stones. At least now I’d completed a run that would give me an idea of what it would be like.

Mizuno Endure 24 2017

Endure24-Wasing-logoI’d heard of the “Endure 24” race before, though I knew absolutely nothing about it other than the obvious – that it was a 24 hour race. In my mind it was like Le Mans – the famous endurance car racing event which is coming up to it’s 100th year.

After I’d already signed up for both Race to the King and Race to the Stones I was asked by Charly to join her team – “Team Half Pints”, as they needed some more runners. I thought it was a bit close to RTTK, but I figured that it could be good training. I then agreed to join the team under the condition that I’d get to at least do a 25 or 30 mile block in addition to whatever other running they needed me to do. This brought the team up to:

  • Charly (@_charly_b)
  • Steve (@1stevemac)
  • Kim (@kimberlyjmil)
  • Stephanie (@wentrunning)
  • David (@DavidNFLF1)
  • Myself

This would be the first race of 2017 that #TheDavids, which @DavidNFLF1 and myself are collectively known as by #UKRunChat on Twitter, would be doing the same event. After a few months had passed we sadly lost Kim and Stephanie from the team as they suffered with injuries. We were then unable to replace them before the April deadline. This would mean the four of us remaining in the team would need to increase the number of miles in order to make up the difference – an average of an extra two hours running each. This could potentially work okay for me though as if I wasn’t doing this event my goal would have been to do thirteen slow miles on the Saturday, and then thirty miles on the Sunday. There were a still things to sort though – for instance I had no idea where the race was, and hadn’t known there were multiple locations for it. Before the race I did at least learn that it was near Reading in a place called Wasing Park.

Training

I’m not sure if training for Endure 24 is specifically required as realistically when you’re part of a team you’re doing five mile laps and have time to recover in between them. I think the closest training you could probably do for that is to run five miles (or however many laps you’re doing per block) and to then repeat this a little later in the day. My training hadn’t been ideal though, but this is something I’ll go into in more detail when I post about Race to the King and Race to the Stones. I would be going into this race having not completed more than 26.2 miles in a day, but having done 40-70 mile weeks during the build-up.

Training for Endure 24 isn’t something I’d even thought about – my only thoughts had been towards the “bigger” events, though as I got closer to Endure 24 I started to think about easing off on the training a little for the week before the event. I was also starting to really look forward to the day but the weather wasn’t looking good – we were forecast strong winds and lots of rain. Just what you want at the end of spring when you’re camping in a tent.

Kit and Equipment Lists

This was unlike any other race I’ve done – I needed camping gear for the weekend. Now camping is not something I’ve really done much of – I did it once at Silverstone with some friends when we watched the Renault World Series. They brought all the gear however as they already had it – I just needed a sleeping bag, airbed, and a pillow. My first week in Nepal could also be considered camping as well, but again a very different experience and was using equipment that had been ready set up by the Impact Marathons team. For Endure 24 I’d need to at least buy a tent, and would need to expand upon what sleeping gear I had.

My car isn’t particularly big, it’s only an MX-5 which is a fairly small car. Whatever would go with me to the event would need to fit in my boot (if you’re North American – that’s a trunk) along with my bag for work. What I eventually came up with is:

  • Kelty Salida 2-person tent with footprint,
  • Down 500 Sleeping bag,
  • Sea to Summit Silk Liner for sleeping bag,
  • Exped Air Pillow (with pillow case),
  • BCB self-inflating sleeping mat,
  • camping clothes line (for airing used running clothes),
  • solar powered lantern,
  • earplugs,
  • camping chair,
  • picnic blanket,
  • Swiss army knife,
  • sunscreen,
  • tissue paper,
  • plenty of water.

In addition to camping gear, I obviously needed to take some running kit with me as well. It’s recommended by the organisers to take everything you own with you, though I decided I wouldn’t. What I instead decided was to take enough to last a few blocks under the assumption that I’d be able to do blocks of multiple laps instead of breaking them up too much. It would of course depend upon what the others wanted to do.

  • 2 x Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • 1 x Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,
  • 1 x Technicals waterproof jacket,
  • 1 x Peter Storm waterproof trousers,
  • 1 x Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • 3 x technical t-shirts,
  • 2 x running shorts,
  • 3 x running socks,
  • 2 x Flipbelt,
  • 1 x buff,
  • 1 x running hoodie,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

I’d of course have my mobile phone on me as well to provide some music whilst running, and so to supplement this I’d also have my USB power pack. The backpack is something I probably wouldn’t need, though I packed it just in case during the 25-30 mile block there was some hot weather – I may find I’d need some water. I also didn’t pack much food for when I wasn’t running either – my assumption was that I could get some reasonable cooked food from the catering services there. I was careful to pack my usual crunchy nut cornflakes for breakfast though – I felt some consistency was important.

The Event

Most people travelled to the event on the Friday morning – but I didn’t want the day off work so travelled in the evening. I started the day earlier than usual so I could leave the office at 15:00. The drive from the office to Reading could be anywhere between two to three hours, or maybe even longer if I stopped for food. I didn’t want to arrive too late though as upon arrival I’d still need to get my tent set-up. I’d tried it out the weekend before so I could do it quickly, however I figured it might take longer in the wind or rain.

After 2.5 hours and 100 miles later I arrived at Wasing Park. The entrances were well sign posted and I found the area the rest that half the team had already set-up in pretty quickly. It took ten minutes to get my tent set-up but then a further twenty minutes to figure out how to attach the guy ropes. Once everything was set-up inside my tent as well I then went for a wander around the race village to see what it was like, and to get some food.

The food options in the race village were very basic, more so than even some of the races I’ve done. After having wandered around the area for a while taking photographs I returned to our camp site to relax. An hour later I wandered around once more to see the start of the 1 mile race, and to say “hi” to @FiaCarter who was also running as part of another team.

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Eventually the last of our team members arrived, and after @DavidNFLF1 had cooked his dinner everyone was ready for the day ahead.By 22:00 most of the light was gone from the sky, but the music of pre-race partying continued for some time after this. The temperature had also dropped so eventually I decided to call it a night and to see how warm my tent would be. I also took this time to figure out a way to suspend the lantern in my tent.

I awoke at 05:00 around the time that the sun rose. It was peaceful around, so I didn’t get up for a couple more hours. As I could be running I decided to go for my normal breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes, a cup of tea, and a couple of biscuits. My flask by this time had cooled off which meant I had to buy some tea from the refreshments tent for £1.20. Around this time the others on the team started to awake and have breakfast.

It was a warm and sunny morning, but out of the sun it was windy and cold. This morning was a chance to make sure all our kit was ready for the running ahead of us. We also got a printed copy of our team’s schedule so we’d know roughly when we’d be running. My first planned run wasn’t until tomorrow, but there were gaps where I could potentially get in a run or two.

At 11:50 we all headed over to the start for the briefing and then cheered Charly as she started our team off. An hour later David took over and got around in under forty minutes, before being followed up by Steve who was going to do five back to back laps. As everyone came close to completing their fast lap I was ready with my camera to take photographs of them.

By the time Steve finished his fifth lap we were forty minutes ahead of schedule. David then set off on his second lap – unlike me and Steve he was splitting his thirty miles up across the twenty-four hours to get more of the Endure 24 experience. I decided I’d do the lap after him so headed over to the transition area and waited. Whilst there one of the ones that had just set off collapsed in the transition area, and needed to be helped out. Her teammates seemed more interested in getting another runner back to the pen to take over though. Sometimes competitiveness is too much – especially in an event like this which is about camaraderie – at best the competition should be amongst your teammates.

David finished his lap in around 36 minutes so I took over and started my watch for the first time this weekend. To start with the course goes along a tarmac path before it passed through an inflatable archway over some boarded up cattle-grids. This was the proper start to the race as the tarmac changed to gravel and started with a gentle climb up (referred to as the “Hill of No Return”) to a flat bit passed an old church. This was the first 1K complete.

Passed this it turns into a proper trail race through the trees, though for the next 1K a buggy carrying marshals was trying to overtake me, but even with me running on the grass verge it wouldn’t overtake for sometime. Eventually it did, but then found that running behind it was actually slowing me down. The marshals were looking out the back of it and smiling – perhaps in amusement that the buggy wasn’t going any faster than I was running.

A little after the first mile is complete it goes into a downhill stretch – a fast one they call “Pace Gully”. Apt name. Though this then has a sharp turn up “Little Steep” hill to 3K and into the “Far Away Forest”. At times this was making me think of Centre Parcs in Sherwood Forest, and at other times it reminded me of hikes I’ve done in the US. I even wished someone a happy birthday as they had a sign on their back to say it was – what a way to celebrate!

Between miles 3 and 4 there is a VDUB Cocktail Bar – which I think was serving energy drinks, and the Cliff Bar Cafe which was serving water. Around this area there are a number of lakes you can look down on from the trail, and it became a bit of a welcome distraction. I’d chosen to run without music and I found other than the odd comparison of my surroundings to places I’d been before, I was for the most-part concentrating on getting passed slower moving traffic, a lot of which was walking. I was surprised how many people were walking, but then when it’s a 24 hour race I shouldn’t really be that surprised. It was difficult to pass in some places though when people walked side by side with no space for people to overtake unless they ran through the bushes.

After the 5K mark I was just approaching 22 minutes – it appeared that although I wasn’t pushing I was making relatively good time. The one thing I didn’t want to do was walk on this first lap, and I knew what was coming up next was the one part I might need to for – Heartbreak Hill. This was a long inclination that seemed to last for some time, but what made it harder was needing to weave through the masses of people walking up it. I tried my best not to slow, though eventually I decided it didn’t matter if I slowed down, as long as I didn’t walk.

Eventually I reached the top, out of breath, but I kept on going. By the time I was in the area labelled “Deep Dark Swamp” I’d caught my breath and was back to a steady pace that was easy to sustain. What followed required some concentration to avoid roots sticking out of the ground. In some ways it reminded me of Nepal, especially when the pace picked up for the downhill sections. There was then a bit that was windy and included some very sharp, short drops that I decided to jump down to avoid slowing.

I could then see the farm building and realised that I wasn’t far from the end now, and started to hear the music and crowds as I left the trees and started on the switchback behind one of the camping areas and then around towards the finish. After rounding the corner I decided I might as well use some speed, and built up to a sprint finish through the Mizuno arch. It wasn’t my fastest finish, but I just wanted to give my legs a bit of a stretch before tomorrow. The announcer commented on an incredibly strong finish this far into the race – little did he know it was actually my first lap and I was still quite fresh.

I handed the wristband over to David so he could set off on the last lap before sunset. Although we’d got some time left, we’d decided we’d all have a break before going out again. I went to the refreshments tent and bought pasta bolognese (it wasn’t spaghetti), a cake, and a bottle of Fanta. After this I had some more time to relax whilst I considered whether or not I wanted to go out on a night lap – it’d be a new experience for me. Even though I’ve ran at night with a head-torch a few times I’ve never raced at night. Common sense prevailed though and instead I decided to get some rest.

With some earplugs I was eventually able to sleep though the noise, though was woken up just after midnight by the rain. This carried on until around 04:00 and I heard that the course was now incredibly slippery. An hour later I gave up on trying to sleep and decided to have breakfast and tidy my tent. The advantage to this was that it would give me time to digest my breakfast long before I needed to run.

Just before I headed over to the refreshments tent for a cup of tea Charly had gone to meet Steve who was just finishing his extra three laps, and was with David who was going to take over for another. David had done another two laps over night spread out over several hours so had experienced the dark and the rain.

After emptying most of my tent into my car I found that although the rain had been stopped a few hours the long grass was drenching my running shoes. I hadn’t thought that through, but fortunately I’d still got a spare pair of running shoes and socks I could change into before taking over.

I then set off on the first of what I hoped would be six laps – a total of 30 miles. Or it would have been if the course wasn’t short by about 0.2 miles. I set off at a slower pace than my lap the day before as I knew it was going to be difficult. In fact, I decided to walk each of the three main hills on every lap thinking that would improve my chances of doing the laps I wanted to.

This first lap felt relatively easy, though I could still feel the previous day’s efforts in my legs. The track was far muddier than it had been, and this made “Little Steep” and “Heartbreak Hill” take more effort. In fact, on this first lap I was going around fast enough to slide in the mud as I rounded the corner of that hill. The run through the section with the tree roots was just as fun, and by the time I finished the first lap I was having fun. For the first time I ran straight through the finish and carried on into my second lap.

This lap was slower than the last, and there were a couple more moments when I walked. Fortunately it was still early  so hadn’t yet warmed up too much. This second lap of the day was also quieter than the lap I did the day before, even the VDUB bar hadn’t started up yet. During this lap I started to eat one jelly baby per mile – my usual race plan when racing marathons. I was starting to feel some fatigue though, and as I finished my second lap I started to calculate in my head what sort of pace I’d need to manage in order to get another 4 laps done.

The third lap went pretty similar to the second lap, but by now it was starting to get warm. It seemed that the overnight rain hadn’t eliminated the humidity either. The bits of the trail that had been muddy before were now even more churned up as more runners were returning to the course. I found I needed to walk a little more than before on this lap and I started to wonder if I could complete another three. I was almost halfway though and couldn’t give up – this was training for Race to the King; something one of the signs on the course reminded me of. I figured if I couldn’t run this then I couldn’t run that.

My fourth lap was incredibly hard work, but I was still running for reasonable sections of it. When I started my fifth lap I was seriously considering making it my last as I started to walk for about 75% of the course. This would take me up to 25 miles for the day, and 30 for the event. It didn’t seem too bad really. Maybe I didn’t need to finish another. When I finished this fifth lap it was only 11:20 – there was time for another so reluctantly I carried on going though this time I got my phone out of my backpack and decided to walk the entire lap to take photographs along the way.

I tried to run a couple of times but my legs weren’t really that keen on the idea. I was struggling to finish 30 miles; it wasn’t like I was trying to do 53 or even 62. Eventually though the end was in sight and I decided to run, and then decided I’d try to go for a sprint finish.

Finally, I finished another lap. The race was over and I could at least be happy I’d done more laps than originally planned. I think I may have done the fastest lap in our team, and possibly the longest single block of laps as well. Steve managed to clock up the most miles having done around 40 miles over the 24 hours.

When I finished I handed over the chip timer and they placed the medal around my neck. Though all I was really thinking about now was Race to the King. Though this was replaced with thoughts of getting my tent down (thanks Steve and Charly for the hand!) and driving the two hours home.

The other David seemed to be filled with endless energy and seemed to love every minute of the weekend. He was also the only one of us who went for the more traditional approach of doing one lap at a time, yet still managed to get six laps in over the period. I think we all have a big thank you to Charly for putting the team together and making sure we were all organised.

MK Marathon Weekend 2017 Part 2 – The Marathon

Two races. Two days. On the Sunday for this bank holiday weekend I did the Rocket 5K in Milton Keynes as part of their Marathon Weekend event. It didn’t quite go according to plan as I’d hoped to achieve one of my running goals through it, but missed completely. Then, the day after this was the Milton Keynes marathon – my second marathon for 2017, and my ninth in the past three years (okay so it’s only two and half years since I did my first – but this is a rounder number).

For this marathon I didn’t go down the same route as Manchester – I didn’t have gold, silver, and bronze goals. In fact, I had no goals, and didn’t even have a plan. From a certain point of view I’d not really trained to do another marathon so soon as I’d not been running much this month due to my time in what was essentially a desert in the US.

My hope was that I’d take my time on tired legs, have a bit of fun, and hopefully complete the marathon in order to kick off the training for my biggest runs of the year during the summer. The Achilles tendon on my right foot was feeling a little tight after the efforts of the previous day, so there were no certainties here. I’d predicted beforehand though, and mentioned to @treb91, that I’d complete the race in between 3:30 and 3:45 – it was about right for what I’d do in training so made sense.

Although the race start was an hour later than the previous day I had to set off at the same time in the hope of finding somewhere to park. For this event there was no parking at the venue other than a small number of spaces that sold out before I had chance to book. They also hadn’t suggested where it would be possible to park – they only indicated where we shouldn’t. This alone was putting me off repeating this event in future, even though it’s likely I’d do the Rocket 5K again.

On the morning of the event I drove through what started off as heavy rain, but by the time I parked up in Bletchley the rain had stopped. There was some home that I might get to stay dry. From where I parked it was about twenty minutes to the stadium, and once there I hung around until the race start. I also met up with @runningozzy who was doing the half and stood around talking until it was time to drop of my backpack and make my way to the starting pens.

In the time I’d been inside it’d warmed up outside considerably, with the sun breaking through the clouds. As the start time got closer they moved the red pen into position, and then the one I was in – this would be the first wave of the staggered start. I decided as I had no interest in pushing hard for this race that I’d start at the very back of the wave.

Within 50 metres of the race starting I found I’d already got a stitch, despite running far slower than I normally would. I decided if I kept running through it, at an even slower pace, that it’d eventually go. Sure enough, by the time I reached the end of the first mile it did the same as the local support – it vanished. I then ran as I normally would and somehow overtook the 3:30 and the 3:15 pacers before the second mile marker, and it was some time before I saw either of them again.

For the first three miles it was mostly the same route as the Rocket 5K, but in reverse. This mean that although bits of this was down hill, there was a considerable amount of up hill to run and also a few “there and back again” bits. I found these made me feel slower, though whether I was actually going slower I didn’t check.

After mile 4 the route then headed back in the direction of the MK Dons stadium. So far the route hadn’t been that scenic and was a little boring, but at least the sun was still shining. It was actually warm enough already that I tried to keep to the shadows whenever possible, thinking it might keep me a little cooler. Before reaching the stadium it then veered off to the left and from there it was new territory, and the scattered support from the locals returned.

Somewhere around mile 7, we also left behind the half marathon runners as they went off on their own course for the remainder. Over the next few miles we went through small villages and parks and at last it was a scenic route, even though it had clouded over and occasionally rained. I even found myself thinking that it wasn’t that bad and perhaps I’d consider this marathon in future. These miles were also the first of a few times we had to move aside for passing cars on sections of road that weren’t closed – unless the drivers didn’t realise they were supposed to be. This reminded me of my cool down jog from the day before when I saw a blue Audi mount the curb to get passed the cones blocking the road the runners were still on. It had then shot passed them, and I’d hoped nobody was injured.

My mind wandered back to the present day, and I was soon passing the half way mark. I’d covered the first half in around 95 minutes – possibly slightly too fast for a training run, even if this actually was a race. I cut back on the pace a little, and as I got close to mile 15 I heard people talking behind me. One commented that they were 90 seconds ahead of 3:15 pace and that was pleasing – I didn’t really expect to get. I knew eventually I’d walk – I never had any doubt of that, and that would eventually put me somewhere behind that time. Probably by 10 – 20 minutes depending on how soon I started.

Shortly after I found it was the 3:15 pace group that I’d heard, and they soon came storming through as I crossed mile 15. For most of the next half mile I hung with them, but then I started to walk through Great Linford Park. Part of me was disappointed that I hadn’t stayed running for longer. In Manchester I’d kept going for longer; though I’d more or less trained for that, I hadn’t had a two week break, and hadn’t run a 5K race the day before. I should have expected it really, but it didn’t matter – as long as I could complete the distance it would be ample training for Race to the King. In the ultra I would of course be walking – there’s no chance I’ll be able to run 53 miles without walking.

It’s crazy to think, but I took twenty-one walking breaks over the remaining distance. There were points I didn’t really feel like running, but I tried to keep running as much as possible knowing it’d be better to get the miles in the legs.  When I got to mile 16 I was just ahead of the 2 hour mark, and could still see the pace group but as time went on they disappeared further and further into the distance.

For mile 17 there was a tree lined path which reminded me a little of Leicester’s half and full marathon routes as they pass the space centre. No space centre here of course, but shortly after this I did spot @joannasbarlow sitting on the wall and said “hi” as I passed. Amazingly this was at one of the points when I was actually running. The route was getting closer and closer to the stadium but there were still miles left to cover. For the first few miles after taking walking breaks I’d tried to make sure that I stayed running for most of the mile, but when I got bored of jelly babies and stopped eating them I started to find this more difficult.

From about mile 19 we were too close to the city for there to be scenic parts, and the proximity to the major roads meant the underpasses were becoming frequent. I found these made it difficult to keep a constant pace and soon found myself walking up the hills more and more. Though during mile 25 it’s back onto the path alongside the dual carriageway with the stadium in sight.

I started to get back into a rhythm and a runner alongside me started talking to me. Usually this doesn’t happen to me during a run! Though the first comment was that I looked like I’d only just started the race and was still fresh. Sadly this was far from the truth. I walked some more during this mile, but once I reached the entrance to the stadiums carpark I didn’t walk again.

The sight of the stadium and the crowds kept me going and it felt like I was increasing my pace. The path the rounded the corner and headed towards the stadium entrance where it goes down a ramp. I was pretty sure that there was a sign there indicating just 200 metres left, however I think it was more like 0.2 miles that was left.

At the bottom of the ramp it met the concrete and astroturf surrounding the pitch of the MK Dons stadium. For this the route went along one side, then across the top of the field behind the goal, and then half way down the other side. Once I reached the corner I decided I may as well sprint to the finish and got up to 5:26min/mile pace. It seemed like a good idea, but then the entire width of the path was taken up by 5 or 6 of the local club runners holding hands so nobody could pass.

I decided to run into the rope so that went it stretched I could sprint passed them – it worked and I was able to weave at a sprint around those in front to cross the finish line. Once around the other corner they hand you a water bottle, and then the medal appropriate to the distance you’ve just run.

From there it’s a walk up the ramp and into the hall inside the stadium. They then hand you a banana and a goodie bag with a t-shirt of your specified size. In this bag there was also a brioche, a packet of crisps, a milkshake, and an energy gel.

As I’d completed the MK Marathon Weekend Challenge, after collecting my backpack I also had to collect the medal for having completed this. For the next hour I sat and ate what had been in the goodie bag and waited for a friend to finish his first marathon so I could congratulate him at the end. I then had the fun of walking back to Bletchley to collect my car, though for some of this I was talking to another runner who had randomly started talking to me.

So for this “training” run I finished with a time of 3:31:54 in position 296 of 2020 finishers (first 14.6%). Not my best result, but then it was never going to be – I’m happy that I’ve managed to start my RTTK training.

MK Marathon Weekend 2017 Part 1 – Rocket 5K

Marathons and 5Ks are very different events with very different strategies. With a marathon you hold back for most of the race in the knowledge that later in the race it will benefit you. I find when I run this distance that I plan different paces throughout the race as I know I’ll tire too much towards the end – it’s all about discipline. With a 5K it’s very different – you put everything you’ve got into it from the start, and keep pushing for as long as you can, hopefully for the full 3.11 miles.

Last year I decided to try out the Rocket 5K event that Milton Keynes added as part of their marathon weekend. I could tell that it was a fast race, though I felt I didn’t push as hard as I could have (especially when I walked some of it). I came short of a sub-19 time and that was something I’d wanted to achieve. For 2017 I set my running goals as:

  • sub-19 5K,
  • sub-39 10K,
  • sub-89 HM,
  • 3:15 mara,
  • completing 100K race.

Up until this point I’d had three races booked to have a go at three of those goals, though for each of them I fell short. For one of them I did actually move my PB a little closer to my goal, but not close enough. The MK Rocket 5K seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a go at beating that sub-19 time again, though admittedly with how close I already was to it I should probably have been aiming for sub-18:30.

In reality my chances of getting a PB, or attaining my goal was slim due to having had two weeks with almost no running whilst in the US in the preceding weeks. I still wanted to have a go at it though so on the Sunday morning I drove to Milton Keynes to see what I could do. When I got there I spent the next twenty minutes trying to find my way to somewhere I could park. Fortunately I found somewhere about a mile away that only charged 50p per hour, and I used the distance to throw in a light warm-up run.

For the majority of the next hour I stood around in the relative cold waiting for the race to start whilst the DJ played classic hits such as Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. This being a “rocket” 5K meant they were keeping with the space theme for both the music and the race number background. As the time approached it started to warm up and I wandered close to the start line. I stood around watching as the pen filled in around me. One of them just in front of me was talking about how she’d like to go sub-30 on this run. I’m no expert, but I think if the pen was organised it’d mean that wanting that sort of time wouldn’t put you two strides from the start line.

Once the race started quite a few people shot off like a rocket, weaving passed those near the front that had set off slower. The first section of this race was up a 3.5% hill to a crossroads where the route then begins it’s (mostly) downhill descent along Saxon Gate to the MK Dons stadium.

I didn’t look at my running watch often, but at the top of this hill before the descent I saw that my time was 06:43min/mile – far from good enough, and slower than my training during the week had been. During the first mile my pace was all over the place – it peaked at 5:41 but didn’t stay there long before my speed started to drop once more. There was some wind, but not that much, and I was finding I was wearing out quicker than I normally do. My thoughts at this point turned to wondering how I was ever going to manage a marathon in the morning. At the end of this first mile I glanced at my watch for the penultimate time, seeing that I’d done it in 06:06 – six seconds slower than what I’d seen as the worst-case scenario. It wasn’t looking promising.

I used this to try and push on after my pace had dropped to 6:43min/mile and for most of the second mile I managed to average close to the 06:00min/mile pace I’d wanted. It was tough going, but I couldn’t make up for the slow start to the second mile and finished this second one even slower. I didn’t look at my watch but after being overtaken by a couple of people I realised that my pace must have dropped. In actual fact I’d managed to slow by another six seconds, and I was now starting to struggle.

Over the next mile my thoughts were focused on having walked last year and missing my goal by a couple of seconds. This year I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to keep running no matter what as I knew I wouldn’t be happy with my time if I’d walked any of it. It was a constant battle, but something of a relief when I saw the “4K” sign, and the first glimpse of the MK Dons stadium in the distance.

I saw the point where I’d started walking last year and ran straight passed it – I wasn’t going to walk this time. Eventually the route turned right into the entrance of the stadium, and another runner passed me. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 18:43. It was just over ten seconds slower than what I’d wanted to finish in, but I thought maybe if I could get up to speed quickly I might just sneak in at under 19:00 and complete the first of my goals for the year.

I got up to 4:00 min/mile pace as quickly as I could and soon overtook the runner that had passed me moments before. I wasn’t  sure how long I could hold the pace for, but the finish was not only in sight, it was fast approaching so I just had to hold on that little bit longer.

When I crossed the line I looked straight at my watch and saw that I’d just missed sub-19:00 again. For the second year running. This year though I was two seconds slower at 19:03. A few seconds later I received an SMS confirming my official time as the same. This put me in position 44 of 1,569 overall finishers (first 2.8%). This also equated to being the 42nd male, and 25th in my age category.

It was a shame as I thought this was the one goal I could beat this year, but I couldn’t. I’ll need to work harder and try to get that sub-19 time at a parkrun later in the year. Someone I know on Twitter raised a good point – perhaps I’ve reached a plateau. It’s entirely possible, but as Bruce Lee apparently once said:

There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.

What this means is that I’ll need to figure out how to push passed this – I really want to get that sub-19 time. To start with I’ll try just working harder and trying to get a few faster mid-week training runs in every two weeks. At the minute they’re slower than I could manage so perhaps picking the pace up on those may help. I’m also considering beginning a run streak on the lead-up to Race to the King and Race to the Stones, but I may try one parkrun before that. Just in case.

After the race I did a slow cool down run back to my car ready for the one hour drive home to try and relax before another day of running.

Utah Day 14 & 15 – Going Home

It was an early start to the day – up at 05:00 to catch the 05:30 shuttle to the airport. After the previous day’s experience with the shuttle we weren’t taking any chances. When dropping my bag at the baggage drop I was asked if I would like to take a later flight in exchange for a US$200 voucher. I immediately turned it down as I couldn’t see how that was going to work with two connecting flights following this; the final being international.

Once through security I had breakfast at the cafe at the side of it, though it was hard work asking them if they’d make it without egg. Their mother tongue was Spanish, and unfortunately their English was limited, though probably not as limited as my Spanish.

The first of my flights was to Houston and took 150 minutes to get there, though for the geographically inclined it might be noted that it’s in the wrong direction! This was because I couldn’t get a flight directly to a hub airport that would connect to Birmingham and so with what options were available the best option was to fly south first.

When I arrived in Houston I found my next flight had been delayed enough to mean I had only thirty-three minutes to get to my connecting flight out of Newark and on to Birmingham. By the time I’d spoken to the service desk to make sure this tight connection would still work it had then been delayed further meaning I had only seven minutes. The international flight wasn’t going to happen, or at least was unlikely to.

I spoke to the United service desk again, and they were less than helpful as they said they didn’t know how they operate in Newark, but then wouldn’t call them to find out. The best they could do was to put me on hold for another flight out of Newark, but it was one which would not include my checked luggage. Why it wouldn’t I had no idea as an extra thirty minutes should be enough to transfer a suitcase – it has been in the past.

After a while I decided to speak to a different United representative at the gate, and they told me the reservation was a waste of time as there was too little difference in time between them. Instead he got me a confirmed seat getting me from Newark to Heathrow – not the ideal airport, however it was a way back home. Whilst having this conversation with the service desk the flight was delayed by another sixteen minutes – proving I’d made the right choice.

The flight took off ninety-one minutes late and upon arrival I found that the flight to Birmingham had been delayed by forty minutes. There was a chance to make it. Thankfully some kind passengers let me in front to get off the plane quickly, though even with that and running to the gate it was closed when I got there.

However I still had a backup plan to put into effect – I went to the service desk, and got given a new ticket that would get me to London Heathrow instead. I just needed to get a seat assignment at the gate, which after a short wait was soon confirmed. I was going home.

It looked like the airline staff were pushed to their limits though in trying to cope with the situation caused by the high winds. A lot of passengers seemed unhappy with their seat assignments, but to their credit the staff kept their cool.

It was a long flight, but they served both dinner and breakfast during the course of it. For some passengers the faulty entertainment system was an annoyance for them that they continued to complain about. I’d seen the issue with the system though and potentially knew how to fix it – but doubted I’d be allowed to due to regulations; unlike the time I disinfected the computers on a ship in Antarctic waters.

For dinner I had one of the worst tasting curries I’ve ever come across, and for breakfast they served a croissant with a yoghurt. During the flight though I know I actually managed to sleep for at least thirty minutes based upon the songs playing from my phone that I’d missed.

United may not have been able to get me back to my starting location, but I’d finally made it back to England with my luggage. From a trip that had finished it’s first week with a break-in and it’s second week with a missed international connection. It was certainly an eventful trip, and in this time we’d hiked over ninety-five miles, and driven for many more. At least now though I’d seen everything I wanted to of California, and of Utah.

Utah Day 13 – Salt Lake City

On the last full day of this trip we had to drive back to Salt Lake City so got up early so we could be on the road as soon as possible. It was a long drive to Salt Lake, and we still wanted to see a viewpoint in Snowbird, and to see the Mormon temple in the city.

The drive was just under four hours with just one short stop to top up on fuel, and to use the washroom there. Once we’d dropped off our bags we then headed out in search of the Snowbird resort we’d been given tickets for.

Finding the resort wasn’t that straightforward to start with as the satnav wouldn’t direct us there, but got us some of the way. From there we used the offline maps on my phone to direct us the remainder of the way up into the mountains around Salt Lake City.

As we got higher the temperature began to drop and I started to question my choice of wearing shorts and a shirt to a ski resort. It may not have been the best decision to make. When we got there we couldn’t find any parking so decided to use the valet parking – it was expensive, but the tickets for the tram were going to be free so it didn’t really matter.

Inside the Snowbird ski resort we soon found our way to where the ticket office was located, though to our surprise the lady who had offered us the free tickets in San Francisco was standing at the top of the stairs and spotted us. It turned out she’d done an extra day of volunteering there and by chance we just happened to bump into her.

We thanked her again for the tickets and headed over to the ticket booth where we handed over some ID and was presented with the reserved tickets. The tram as they call it is actually what in England we’d call a cable car. It amused me that in comparison to this, what they called a cable car in San Francisco was actually a tram.

We weren’t the only tourists boarding the tram as it’s possible to take a ride up there for US$20 per person. Tourists enter the tram first, and then following this the skiers and snowboarders eager to get to the slopes pile in afterwards like on a busy London underground train.

At either end of the tram there is a permanently open window which makes it easier for taking photographs out of. As we got higher though I soon found that a cool breeze blowing through the window was just too cold so instead I tried to stay warm.

At the top we disembarked last and wandered around the summit building taking photographs of our surroundings. Up here the wind was almost non-existent and the sun was warm which meant that walking around in shorts and shirt wasn’t actually that bad. My friend though was still in a thick coat and a woolly hat.

Outside on the deck there are a few tables so we sat and had our packed lunch before continuing to explore. The place was busy with people using the slopes, and watching them was pretty fascinating – especially with how fast some of them were able to turn.

When we decided we’d taken enough photographs we headed back down to pay the US$16 for the valet parking and to collect our car. From there we drove to the Temple Square which has a number of religious buildings surrounding it, and in particular the mormon temple we’d been told about. The parking though was a little on the expensive side at US10 even though we only needed it for less than an hour.

Whilst wandering around we noticed an incredible number of wedding photography sessions happening, and we wondered about the quality of some of their shoots when we could see they were clearly shooting towards the sun.

The Salt Lake Temple is a relatively impressive structure for a modern church, though it’s one we couldn’t go inside. Instead we wandered around outside looking for what interesting photographs we could take.

When we returned to the car we found the parking machine wasn’t working, and the parking attendant disappeared. He obviously realised the complications of this as he’d left the barrier open so people could still leave. Unable to pay for the parking due to this we headed on to the airport, filling up with fuel one last time on the way.

Once we’d dropped off the car we called for the airport shuttle and that’s when the fun began. The hotel told us to wait by passenger pick-up six and the shuttle would be along shortly to pick us up. Time passed and there was no sign of it, so my friend called the hotel again and was told to wait a little longer.

It was getting cold though as the sun dipped closer and closer to the horizon. The waiting and telephone exchanges happened for ninety minutes before we spoke to another airport shuttle driver and they told us that airport shuttles can’t stop at where we waiting. They thought that the hotel had probably meant door six instead. This was a completely different area, but eventually after almost two hours of waiting we were able to get a shuttle to the hotel.

When we saw the driver he insisted he was waiting there – which he was, but he didn’t seem to understand or want to understand that we’d been told to wait in the wrong place. It seemed the confusion came from the hotel receptionist organising the hotel shuttle telling us the wrong place to start with.

For the evening meal we ate at Amelia’s restaurant again where I had one last steak. Back at the hotel I then packed as well as I could ready for an early start the next day.

 

3.5 miles walked

Utah Day 12 – Kolob Canyon and Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Having completed our hiking of Zion a day early we were in need of something else to do. During the course of the previous day we’d come across two possibilities: Kolob Canyon in the north, and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in the south.

Kolob Canyon was covered by the same entry fee we’d paid for Zion so we were able to drive straight in and start the five mile scenic drive. We didn’t do this all in one go however as at one of the viewpoints there was also a trailhead for the Taylor Creek Trail. This trail goes past two wooden huts from the 1930s and crossed the Taylor creek many times as it winds through the valley. The trail is easy, and the total distance is supposed to be five miles.

At the end of this trail we reached what they call the “Double Arch”, though it was more of an alcove really – but with really great acoustics. We had gotten there very quickly as my friend had set a reasonable pace with no time to look around and enjoy the environment. It was okay though as the purpose of the hike was to reach the arch.

Along the way we’d heard that there was a waterfall less than half a mile passed it, so we continued walking through the creek until we reached a small waterfall that was situated inside a crevice. I thought this was an interesting one as it was quite different to the other waterfalls we’d seen on this trip.

After having had some slow days in Zion I thought that Kolob Canyon had redeemed Zion somewhat. On the return hike we stopped briefly for lunch, but still made it back to the car quicker than the guide time suggested.

The car wasn’t too warm, not like it was when returning from hikes in Zion itself, so cooled off nicely by the time we reached the top of the scenic drive. At the top of this there is then a viewpoint which overlooks the canyon.

As we’d now finished we drove on to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, stopping for fuel in Hurricane along the way. The road to this state park goes into Arizona briefly before turning off onto an unpaved road for a good portion of the last ten miles of the journey as it changes direction back into Utah. This meant progress was slower, but we still made good time.

The entrance fee for this park was US$8 for the day for the vehicle, though there was very little to do unless you’ve got an off-road vehicle such as an ATV or dirt bike, or if you’re camping there.

One other thing there is to do there however is to hike. This isn’t that easy though as if you’ve not got sandals or similar then the easiest way is to walk across the orange sands – not as pink as the name would suggest. When we found a good place for this we left our walking boots at the car, and started our barefoot trek across the sand dunes.

For the start of this trek it was a mixture of smooth sand, and places where there were stones which made it uncomfortable to walk on. Once we reached a fence we were then in a section where we weren’t alone – we had to be careful of off-road vehicles driving at speed around these dunes.

It looked like most of the drivers and riders had common sense though as they stayed away from the areas where hikers were passing through – which was mostly to the largest of the sand dunes.

The largest of the sand dunes was steep and was hard work to climb up – but it was worth it. This gave a better view of the state park, and also made it easier to take photographs of the sand. After briefly watching some of the off-road vehicles dash across the sand we made our way back to the car.

From there we drove back into Arizona along the dirt road, and finally back into Utah once more. This time we passed many ATVs speeding along the unpaved roads creating massive, billowing clouds of dust as they went.

Eventually though we made it back into Hurricane. After picking up some more supplies for the remaining days, and dropping off our cameras we headed out for dinner. We once again ate at JB’s where I had their turkey and stuffing dinner followed by an apple and cinnamon pie. It tasted okay, but I’d had better elsewhere before – it was certainly good enough though so left a reasonable tip.

As our final day of the trip was approaching I then spent the evening making more of an effort to pack my suitcase ready for flying as tomorrow would be spent driving to Salt Lake City. It was now Good Friday, and we’d be spending Easter Sunday on flights back to our respective countries of origin. I gave one of the Easter eggs I’d been carrying around the USA to my friend, and ate part of the other one myself.

 

8.8 miles walked

Utah Day 11 – Hiking Zion Day 2

We knew that there was little left for us to cover in Zion, particularly with my friend’s fear of heights limiting which paths we could take. With this in mind we knew we could have a fairly late start to the day. The breakfast at this hotel was probably the worst we’d had – typical that it was the place we were at for the longest amount of time.

When we got to Zion we decided to pay US$20 parking so we could park closer to the visitor centre, instead of using the free on-road parking further back. This time we didn’t have to queue for the shuttle for long at all and was soon at the “Big Bend” stop to have another go at photographing “Angel’s Landing” with the sun now in a better position.

This didn’t take long so we hopped straight onto the next shuttle and took it back to a stop with a washroom before heading to the start of the Sand Beach Trail. This trail is supposed to take around five hours to complete, though we completed it just under two hours. We did however miss out about a mile of it as you can start from two different places.

The hike was incredibly warm, and was also hard work plodding on through endless mounds of sand. For a good portion of this hike there was no shelter from the sun either which meant the heat was relentless and unforgiving. This trail is also used by horses which was evident not just by their hoof prints, but also by what they’d left behind frequently on parts of the path.

Once this hike was over I’d had enough of hiking and didn’t really want to do any more this trip; especially when it didn’t really serve a purpose. I sat down on the benches at the end of this trail and poured the sand from my shoes – it was incredible just how much of it I’d picked up along the way.

The next few shuttles to turn up at this stop were full so we decided to sit under the shelter and eat lunch before taking one to The Grotto. From there we took the Grotto Trail back to the Lodge and looked around the gift shop there. There wasn’t really anything of interest to me though so we took the next shuttle to Canyon Junction.

At this stop we took the Pa’rus trail which would take us eventually all the way back to the visitor centre. We stopped along the way though to go in the Zion Human History Museum. There we watched a twenty-two minute video about Zion before walking the rest of the way back to the visitor centre and eventually the car.

The video described Zion as unique with nowhere else like it in the world. I think it’s uniqueness is a combination of both the reds of the iron deposits in the mountains combined with the greens of the trees along the Virgin River. Either one of those alone is not unique and can be seen in many places, though together they’re not so common.

We dropped off our bags at the hotel and then headed back out, earlier than usual, to find somewhere to eat. On the other side of town we found a restaurant called Stage Coach Grill where I had chicken, as is often the case, and finished the meal with an amazingly large slice of chocolate cake.

We hadn’t covered as many miles today, but we’d been out in the desert sun for a lot longer. Zion Canyon was now done, but our time staying in Hurricane was not yet over.
9.2 miles walked