Okay, I’d like to tell you now, if you’re looking for a happy ending, go elsewhere.
So, here I sit, the day after attempting my first 50 miler, and how do I feel? I suppose the overwhelming feeling is, a little foolish.
The day started at 7:10 when the Lavises and Darren picked me up to take me to the end. Jan Lavis was attempting her umpteenth ultra marathon, with Jon, an experienced and dependable crew, backing her up. We were on our way to Worthing to the start of the South Downs Way 50, a race organised by Centurion Running. They organise races throughout the year from 50 miles up.
Upon arrival, we entered the West Cafe at Worthing college and went through check-in, which involved proving you had a waterproof, a map, a spare base layer and an emergency blanket. There were many other items on their compulsory kit list, but these were the ones they wanted to see. I had to buy a map which I’d ordered on line to pick up on the day, and went back to get my chip of approval (this isn’t a technical thing, it was a poker chip!). One of the kit-checkers was Bryan, one of the aid station crew from the Clayton SDW100 aid station that Darren and I helped with in 2014.I had a quick chat with him when things had died down a little later.
Once that hurdle was passed, it was a short queue to collect numbers. If we’d left it a little later we would have been queueing out the door.
So, number on, back-pack re-loaded, and we were ready to go, with an hour to kill before the off. We spent the time chatting with people we knew, including a few we didn’t. A few Boshers were there, along with Phil (another SDW100 Aid-stationer). BHR’s own Philippe Ecaille arrived a little later. It turned out that he’d arrived by train, and had walked the 1.5 miles from Worthing Station to get to the start!
So, all prepared, last wee break, and off we went to the start line. Whilst in the corral I switched on my Garmin. For some reason it didn’t want to switch on – a couple of tries later and it started up. So after a few wishes of good luck to the ‘team’, a listen to the race brief, the klaxon sounded and we were off!
I decided to take things easy to start – I didn’t want to overdo things. Let’s face it, it’s a long way to go! Darren (who’d been told by his coach to go off strong) and Jan were out of sight within minutes; not difficult considering the number of people running, but they were both looking strong.
I spent the first few miles running with Philippe – he was so super excited, and sounded so positive. It was clear he was in fine form, and I hoped he would achieve his ambition. This race was a stepping stone to a longer race later in the year (along with Darren and Jan).
We reached Cissbury ring, and hit the hill on the way down. The rain of the previous two days hadn’t made too much of an impact on the course. My reccy a few weeks before had been much worse, but we hit the track at the bottom and were still dodging the odd deep puddle.
We eventually turned towards Washington to join the SDW proper, with a nice downhill section towards the Wiston Estate. This was a lovely section where you could relax a little and enjoy a bit of respite. Except…
Well, this was it – four miles in, I started to feel a nag in my right calf. I stopped for a moment on the side, to see if I could stretch it out. If anything it made it worse. I tried to run a bit more, but it was definitely no good. I realised I was out. I decided I would walk for a while and await the dreaded grim reaper. I say grim reaper, I actually mean the old broom wagon, who, for the first 18 miles was going to be one Jay McArdle of Sussex Trail Running fame. As each runner past me, I thought “he’ll be next. A hand on my shoulder and I’ll be out”.
Another runner asked how I was as we turned uphill to head up to meet the SDW50. At this end of the race, everyone tends to walk uphill, so he kept pace with me while I shared my woes. He offered me a speedy recovery and went on his way. Halfway up the hill I realised a good place to drop would be Washington car park. It would have meant taking a left while everyone else took a right, so I called Sue to let her know what’s going on, and to ask that she pick me up.
I recognised Brigitte, Lisa and Anne as they went past me. Brigitte and Anne were pacers for Jan last year on her NDW100 attempt (another Centurion running race). They asked how I was doing, so I explained my problem. Brigitte was supportive, suggesting that I just needed to walk it off. One part of me thought that maybe she was right, that I could continue, but the major majority of me thought no, time out, live to run another day. I knew that if I continued, I would blow something major, so I wished them well for the rest of the day, and took the left hand turn.
The info pack for the race mentions that if you drop out for any reason, you ensure you tell either the race HQ or the nearest aid station, as otherwise they put on a search, and any costs arising from it are for your account. As I was still 7 miles from the nearest aid station, I made the call to race HQ on the way down to the car park. That was it, my race officially over.
So, what have I learnt over the weekend? What would I do differently next time?
Well, first of all, I think I would read the subliminal signs a little clearer. So many weird little things happened over the previous week which leads me to think, in retrospect, that the race was doomed.
- The Garmin going wrong just before the race.
- When I tried to order the map online and went to pay for it, the Centurion website refused to move on to the payment page.
- Having a twinge in the muscle the week before on a reccy which we got lost on, could also have been another sign. While I did get it looked at, and found no evidence of any damage, it may have my body saying too much!
Health-wise, I think race-prep went okay up to a point. In theory it’s taper time at 3 weeks to go, which was when I got a cold. The cold wasn’t too bad, as we managed to pump out a 20 miler on it, but even so, that might have been a sign that I was maybe pushing too hard, and wasn’t ready.
Had I done enough training? I think the underlying answer to that is probably no. It would appear my weakness is still there, and needs working on before doing anything further, and whilst I’d done the long runs, maybe the midweek work wasn’t enough.
To summarise, I think I’d let my confidence get the better of me. I took a gamble and it didn’t pay off. As the distances get higher, so do the risks.
I can’t say I don’t respect the distance, more that I believed I was in better shape than I probably was.
In all, I’ve learnt that things can go wrong just when you think things are going well, and there’s no point in trying to kid yourself, as it’s only yourself who will lose out. 50 miles is a long way to limp!