Today I have a really exciting post from my lovely friend and running extraordinaire, Shantha. She’s such a lovely, lovely person We’ve done a few long runs together (though she is a lot more speedy than me she’s happy to go a bit slower!) and she’s a pleasure to be around.
She has recently completed the incredible Race to the King (ultra marathon of 53.5 miles along the South Downs Way). I cheekily asked her if she’d do a race recap for me as I think her achievement is so fantastic (ultra marathoners are just amazing!). So enough of my rambling… Here’s Shantha.
I entered the Race to the King 2016 in December 2015 in that typical pre-Christmas “oh what are my running goals going to be for next year”, having never competed at above marathon distance before. And to be honest in that headspace most of us are in when we commit to something that is a significant challenge but in a quite a blasé ‘oh it’s still six, seven, eight months away, it’ll be ok’. I was privileged to be chosen for the Women’s Running Magazine Project 26.2 in 2014 and wanted to have a similar focus on a single event.
What is the Race to the King or #RTTK16? Organised by the excellent Threshold Sports, it is a double marathon (actually 53.5 miles – I know the maths doesn’t add up, more of that later) over the stunning South Downs Way, starting to the East of Chichester in a village called Slindon, heading north for about 6-7 miles before hitting the long distance South Downs Way.
Course map [Source]
You finish in the beautiful city of Winchester, right in front of the Cathedral.
You can walk or run it, and you can opt to do it with an overnight stop or non-stop. It is fully supported with numerous amazingly stocked pit stops for fuel, hydration, medical support if needed and cheery volunteers motivating you on! Never one to make it easy for myself, I chose the non-stop run!
(There is so much to write about this event, and I am conscious that most of you readers will be pretty savvy runners, so I will stick to a review of the race and a brief summary of how I prepared for it).
2016 was the inaugural RTTK and the organisers were brilliant in the months leading up in keeping you informed with vital information, training tips and just enough to excite me at the thought of this challenge. Having read several reviews of other Threshold events (Race to the Stones) I had pretty high expectations on this event. The event was billed as a double marathon (52 miles) but in the weeks before we were informed that an extra 1.5 miles would be added to the off road, highly undulating route to enable a further pit stop to be added. On the day this change was gratefully received and meant that on average the pit stops (where if you so wished you could gorge on malt loaf, Tunnock’s tea cake, sweets, sandwiches, even soup, pasta and porridge at the latter ones) were 10kms apart. However the lovely technical tee that I purchased has ’52’ emblazoned on it, so regularly I do the typical runner explaining the full story thing.
On arrival at Race HQ on Saturday 25th June everything was super organised, registration was a breeze, plenty of clean portaloos (and at every pit stop) and motivational music to get every runner and walker in the zone. We started at 8am and really jogged and walked to start (due to the volume of people). This was initially frustrating but probably made no odds overall and helped conserve energy. The crowds started to thin after 5km, interestingly coinciding with the first climb and then people became increasingly spread out.
The first half of the race over some of the major climbs of the downs and finishing south of Petersfield was stunning and varied. English countryside at its absolute best; grassy down lands, wildflowers at the side of the bridle path and butterflies. The beauty of an ultra of this length and the slow running pace (I probably averaged 11-12 min per mile over the entire event) is that you focus on yourself but you can lose yourself in the marvels of Nature. However idyllic that sounds, the perfect sunshine was drowned by thunderstorms of a biblical scale before the descent through in to the Queen Elizabeth Park and under the A3.
It was interesting seeing how other runners were dressed and what equipment they were carrying. Whilst I did spot a pink (male) gorilla (!) most were in the usual variety of kit. I ran with ‘normal’ trainers (I stick with Mizunos) but significantly more cushioned that my stripped down marathon lightweights, normal running socks (just a smidgen of Vaseline over the toes), shorts, tops, undies, sunglasses and that I had all worn numerous times before. Like other races, I knew that nothing should be done for the first time.
In terms of fuelling, I ran with a stock of Clif Shot Bloks and a Nathan Race Vest which I carried about 0.5l water. I took a cube of Blok every 30 mins and then at the pit stops ate pretty much what I felt I like, being conscious that for the first 20 miles my body would be okay on a minimum (bananas and squash to drink) and after mile 26 where I was heading into unknown territory I needed to up the calories.
I loved the training and ticking off each week and the increase in mileage. I used the 50 mile training plan written by US ultra legend Krissy Moehl and provided I listened to my body it really worked for me. It was tough doing back to back long runs and I probably didn’t do enough conditioning or interval work, BUT I managed to squeeze in a few runs with friends like Anna and I completed the race without a single injury OR niggle (unlike the hard and intense training I have completed for marathons). However I think that committing to training over at least 6 months and running at a less intense pace increases the sustainability. That said, during the various phases of adaptation I regularly had aching limbs and fatigue.
The second half of the race was so interesting as this was the new experience for me. Whilst I kept any walking to a power walk up the steep hills initially like Butser Hill, in this part of the event, any incline reduced speed to a jog. Mentally my approach was simplistic and perhaps naive. It was a case of deciding that I would finish come what may, and simply putting one foot in front of the other. Not suffering blisters made executing that strategy straightforward.
The final miles and descent into Winchester were really tough and the valiant spectators who cheered us on were so welcome to see. What I loved about runners’ family and friends who cheered on was how special they made me feel and how their words really meant so much. I was lucky enough to have my mum supporting me, and whilst that was fabulous emotional support, there was a practical side…chauffeuring me home!
Running over the finish line was emotional and Threshold had clearly planned this moment carefully, thinking through details such as placing a medal around your neck, to creating great props (swords and crowns) for a top Facebook/ Twitter post to giving every finisher a blank cheque at the Cathedral Refectory to fuel up.
Would I do an ultra again? Definitely. Would I recommend RRTK? You’d be mad not to give it a go. I’m now maintaining a no pressured running routine of 20 miles per week whilst I decide on my next challenge, which could well be another ultra!
Anna here again… How fantastic is she?! I can’t fathom running over a marathon but 53.5 miles!? And her time was incredible too!
I’m so pleased it went well for her as she’s such a great person – and an inspiration! I look forward to seeing what she does next
Have you ever run an ultra before?
Would this be an event you’d enjoy?
What would be your ideal snack at a pit stop?