Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The lost and found.

Sussex Weald 50km
Sunday 29th May 2016

Sunday, Sunday.
Getting up at 5am is a usual occurrence for me due to my day job, but only monday to friday! As the alarm burst into life on sunday morning, I groaned!  As usual, not a cracking night’s sleep, only 4 hours the night before a race had not set me up for the 50km race I was due to start at 8am!
With everything laid out and prepared I rolled out of bed, got dressed and warmed up my porridge to eat on the way with my ever loyal (and very tolerant) girlfriend, who was up and ready to drive us Chiddingly, Sussex.
It was a crisp morning and the forecast was sunny and bright for the whole day, the race director was surprised at the keenness of the Ultra runners, queuing up early for their race numbers at the village school HQ. I spotted a few familiar faces from the 100 marathon club, so I said hi and we chatted for a while. After a quick briefing about lack of way markers and directional signage I was not left feeling very confident! I have the navigational skills of a dead Dodo and the thought of getting lost halfway round was worse than the thought of running 31 miles! The route was simple, follow the Weald Way for the 1st half and the Vanguard Way for the 2nd half, sounds easy right, but feeling worried I picked up a map & directions that had been supplied and tucked it into my pack.

The beautiful scenery of the Sussex Weald 50km.

Leader of the pack!
We all set off at 8am and soon my 10 min mile turned into a 9 min mile. Enjoying the country lanes, lush fields and the banter from the lively front runners, it's fair to say I got a bit carried away, but I was so worried about getting lost, that I kept pushing my pace to keep up. I made the 1st checkpoint in just over an hour and decided to stick to this strategy for the next section. I stuck to the middle of the pack over stiles, meadows of wildflowers and narrow paths brimming with stinging nettles. I felt strong and reached the 2nd checkpoint in just over 2 hours. It all changed after mile 13 (unlucky for some!), it was all uphill through the woods and by mile 15, I was drained! I vanished into a bush for a quick toilet break and when I returned to the trail, all I could see was miles of relentless uphill track! Far away I could see a line of tiny runners, like ants, jogging up the incline, the wind had picked up and it was working against me and that was it! My mind decided that enough was enough and all I wanted to do was stop, the constant negative chatter in my head was getting the better of me! “You can’t do this, you will never make it! You've still got 16 miles to go! Give up now!” These thoughts kept looping around my head for 2 uphill torturous miles. I walked, stopped, jogged, stopped and walked again until finally I got to the top of the hill! I crossed the road and realised I was now on the Vanguard Way and on the way back to HQ, I had made it and with new found energy I ran the next 2 miles blissfully down hill.  At mile 18, I was stopped in my tracks by a deer and her young jumping out in front of me! As I fumbled for my phone to take a photo, I realised I had spent most of the race concerned about keeping up with others, instead of looking up and appreciating my surroundings. I was by myself at this point and without sounding too cosmic, it was a special moment that changed my race.
The mental challenge started here.

You've lost that running feeling.
I made it to checkpoint 3 by myself and saw a few familiar faces and decided to plonk myself in with the larger group to run and keep on track with my sub 6 hour finish. I chatted away to some of my fellow runners, but by mile 22 the pack had split and a navigational error had occurred. Thankfully, I was not alone and somehow we worked out that we needed to cross the train track, climb up the nettle infested bank and turn left! I needed a compass, a machete and to embody all things Bear Grylls! This mistake cost me 2 miles and about 40 mins!
I was back on track, but my energy was draining fast, I shuffled to checkpoint 4 and realised my sub 6 hour finish was now out of reach! Most of the runners, at this point, were having a moan about getting lost in the same place, it turned out that the markers had been removed!
I was determined to push on, so I talked to a few runners about their own challenges and I tried to remember my own personal challenge of 10 marathons in 8 months, fundraising for 5 charities for Dame Kelly Holmes.
The sun was still shining and there was a mere 7 miles between me and the finish line, with one more checkpoint in between. By now, everything was hurting and every time I saw a stile I winced with pain! It was now the physical part of me that was defeated but thankfully the mind was strong!
Not another bloody stile!

The lost and found
I arrived at Checkpoint 5 to a large cheer, after a few slurps of water and a quick refuel I continued to the end of the lane and turned right and there sat my loving girlfriend. I was so pleased to see her that words just blurted out of my mouth, which didn’t make an awful lot of sense to her, but I was trying to download my experience so far as quickly as possible. I carried on running what seemed like the longest 3 miles ever and eventually the school HQ was in sight, supporters were cheering me in, but had nothing left in my legs for a sprint finish!  As I crossed the finish line, I felt elated and was so thankful that I could finally stop running!
I was handed my mug and medal and congratulated by the race director and marshalls, I then took my place at the side of the road and cheered in my fellow runners.
Within 5 mins and after a good coffee and some very delicious gluten free cake, I felt alive and surprisingly unbroken and I conversed and laughed with other finishers about the best and worst bits of the 50km! Would I do it again? Maybe, but next year I’ll just do the half…….
Chuffed I made it back and claimed my medal and mug.

Later as I reminisced about how awesome the day had been, I was overcome with a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction. Not only had I completed the 50km trail race, only getting lost once is still a miracle, but I also ran the 1st of 10 marathons that I had committed to run for Dame Kelly Holmes. I am fundraising for 5 charities over the next 8 months, to help raise a total of £250,000. The charities are Myeloma Uk, Mind UK, Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, The Pickering Trust and The Hospice in the Weald.
Please see link below to visit my page and support/donate.


My next race is The Viking Coastal Marathon on 4th June.

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