50 Mile Challenge
Date: 28th July 2013
Distance: 52.4 miles
I had not actually planned for this to be my first 40+ mile event. That was supposed to be later in the year. I was their Moonlight Challenge but for various reasons switch the entries to the 50 Mile Challenge instead rather than waste the entry fee. Mike from Challenge Hub is very accommodating in allowing this.
I knew getting the long run training in was going to be an issue. However, didn’t realise how bad. Since the 40 mile race I had done around the Brecon Beacons on the 11th May, I had only managed to do 2 long runs. Nothing to do with injury, other commitments, other shorter events and a certain amount of CBA.
To make issues worse my other training was also not at its peak either. I was training a group of people from the club for the 10Km season. After a couple of weeks of me telling them what to do and then doing my own thing, it was obvious this was not going to work. So I ran with them so this involved me running slower than I would do normally and thus not getting the best out of myself during the sessions. However, was worth it as they made great progress. Therefore I was considerably for what was going to be my longest race ever by 12.4 miles!
I was not that concerned though. There was a rather generous, 15 hour time limit, so an average pace of 17 minute miles that’s just below working pace. It was also 8 laps around a 6.55 mile course and you could pull out at any point. Therefore, if I felt I could not complete the full distance I could just pull out on any lap I wanted.
A bigger concern however was the weather. For once we were having a good summer, in fact too good, with temperatures in the high 20s. I knew from the photos and videos of previous events, that most of this course was exposed so potentially very hot.
Now normal before any endurance event I should have been sitting around with my legs up consuming my own body weight is carbs. Instead, I was up early and driving across London in the heat for one of those other commitments. Then spend most of the day standing around, before a mad dash back across London, to get my stuff together and sling it in the car. Then make the journey over to Kent for the overnight camp as it was a 6:00am start time.
On arrival at the race site I was asked to read a disclaimer, then sign it and was given a number. I then asked where do we camp, as looking around I could not see any other tents or possible places to setup. The poor guy that had been left in charged looked a bit bemused. He said you can camp wherever you want. As I scouted around looking so a small piece of flat smooth grass surface, there was none but I lived in hope, my club mates arrived. One of them spotted a bald spot on the corner of a maize field, so with some trepidation we started setting up. As we did so it started to rain as we just got setup before it turned heavy, so we zipped up and headed for the pub down the road, a rather more appealing prospect than sitting a tent in a field eating cold pasta.
For a small village pub it was packed. After surveying the real ale menu, none of your standard stuff here, we found a sofa squeezed in at the far end of the pub. This put us in prime position to grab a suitably sized table. We did our best to make the current occupants think twice about ordering desert.
With the table bagged we scanned the menu. What the f**k is a noggin! Turns out it is a chip, as there was a whole history of why they are called noggins at the bottom of the menu. Food ordered we sat back and relaxed and waited for the food to arrive. At this point they started the most bizarre music pub quiz I have ever had the misfortune to be forced to sit through. Most of the music was 60’s with the occasional 70’s and very rare 80’s questions for the kids. Rather than playing a short burst of a song they must have played half the track. Then again they needed to as we have never heard most of these before. To make matters even more bizarre, due to the layout of the pub there where 2 quiz masters doing one round then switch rooms and doing the same round to the other half of the pub. If you walked between rooms it was like entering a parallel universe. With food devolved and the rain stopped we had for the nearest exit before it could get anymore odd.
After a disturbed night’s sleep due to rain and loud music coming from somewhere it was a 5:00am wakeup to get ready for the day ahead. After a breakfast of broche rolls, cereal bars and a sports drink, I placed my supplies for the day on the seat of my car and headed the 100m down the road to the start and race briefing. With no real plan for the day ahead other than try and do as much as possible before the 15 hour cut off.
A very small field with only 30 runners. The organiser spoke at great length about being sensible to quote “if it doesn’t make sense don’t do it”. It crossed my mind that if we were sensible then we wouldn’t be here in the first place. After the being sensible speech the least sensible start I have ever seen, using a firework rocket, which he light and then held onto! With the bang of the rocket we were off.
I had decided against carry water for the first lap, I had been told there was plenty of water station, so maybe no need to carry water at all. So the first lap was supposed to be a reasonable pace recon of the course. However, I joined up with Dan, and a lady for the first lap, we ran and chatted whilst making mental course notes.
The course was around farm tracks and access roads. Therefore, some concrete, some gravel paths and others where grass tracks. It was a figure of 8 with a water station at the 1 mile mark, the 3 mile mark, the 4 mile (the same station as the 1 mile), and then the 5 mile. Water was not going to be an issue.
The first lap was a lot quicker than I wanted or needed to run. 17 minute miles would get you around in less than 15 hours and we were doing just over 10 so I needed to slow down or risk burning too much energy.
I finished lap 1 and ran down the road to my car, drank some water, dumped my long sleeve top and grabbed a cereal bar. I walked down the road eating before breaking into a steady run.
Lap 2 was uneventful so with a half marathon done before most people are out of bed on a Sunday morning it was time for lap 3. I drank some water and grabbed a cut up peanut butter bagel as before walked up the road eating before breaking into a steady run.
In the first mile the figure of 8 course has a small, and narrow, section where runners pass each other in either direction. At this point a couple of my club mates, Jane and Olly, passed me on their way back, so they were roughly 4 miles ahead of me. Not an issue as neither of them wanted to do the full distance.
As I headed into the cross over section another club mate was going out on his 4th lap. I went through the 5 mile water station eating some more bagel and was back running into the village on the 1 mile road section. I was aware of someone behind me closing fast. A quick check and there was Jane. A quick hello and she was off into the distance followed by Olly a couple of minutes later.
End of Lap 3 as I ran down the road to my car to find Jane, Olly, Dan and Luke refuelling before there 4th or 5th Laps. Jane and Olly set off first and where walking up the road. I drank some water and then dropped a hydration tablet into the remaining water in the bottle so it would be ready for the next time I passed by. I set off up the road followed by Luke and then Dan. By the one mile mark we had joined up again and kept going on a steady jog. Luke would pass me, then walk so we kept passing each other for the next few miles. As I left the 5 mile mark Luke was just arriving.
Lap 4 done, so a marathon completed. I drank a couple of mouthfuls of Pepsi and left the lid off the bottle to go flat whilst I did the next lap. I grabbed the bottle with the hydration tablet in it and a 9 bar and set off for 5th lap.
By now it was getting routine, I would run walk the first mile so I could eat and drink. Run the next mile and half, to the water station. Walk and occasionally eat for a bit, then run the 4 mile water station, brief walk and on to the 5 mile water station. Followed, by a brief walk and then run to the start/finish.
By then end of lap 5 I was not feeling great, pain in my hip flexors, calves and feet. Jane, Olly and Dan where sitting at base camp. Not wanting to walk much I topped the Pepsi bottle up with water, swapped over the bagel packet and set off for lap 6.
After a brief discussion with a fellow runner, who had spotted the bottle of Pepsi, about the benefits of it, I was off back into the same routine. By now the walking breaks where longer and the overall pace was slowing. I decided to try and not let the pace drop by more than 30 – 50 seconds a mile. My watch was set to show current and average pace so this was easy to keep an eye on and gave me a focus.
As I headed back into the village past the pub we had eaten in the night before to find Jane and Olly sitting outside. Quick wave and off to the start/finish for the start of Lap 7.
Feeling much better now. I had blocked the pain and was feeling ok. But now I was heading out on Lap 7 and further than I had ever run before. Grabbed a gel and a cereal bar and off I went.
The field seemed really spread out. For most of the time you were on your own. The marshals had left all but one of the water station. It is at these points it becomes very mentally tough. Every part of your body want to give up. However, the average pace was still good and well below the 17 minute miles.
As I completed lap 7, Jane an Olly where waiting. They asked if I was going out on the 8th all I could think of is why wouldn’t I. You don’t come all this way to give up with 6.5 miles left to go. So off I set for the final lap.
As I approached the 1 mile water station, they marshal said I was the only person out on the course. Bugger, I was last. Now less concerned about pace I was more concerned about people waiting for me to finish, so I dug deep and kept going. As I went towards the 5 mile mark I could see they where clearing part of the course. I was praying they had not cleared the water station. I was very hot now, I could feel my suntan lotion was wearing off and my skin was burning. I needed water and if it was not there I would be in trouble with a mile and a half to go. It was so a grabbed a drink and headed for home.
The last mile and a half seemed to drag on forever, my feet where really starting to hurt. The gravel sections became very difficult as I wear minimal shoes and big stones where now causing a lot of pain in my feet, and this was now present on the last tarmac section.
As I came around the corner I could see they were already clearing down. As I finished I was greeted by Mike, presented me with a bottle of water, my gold medal and certificate. I then found out I was not last, 2 people were still out and one had only just set off.
After a brief rest it was time to pack up camp and head for home. Very tired but delighted to have finished well inside the 15 hour time limit as I finished in 12 hours 37 minutes, actually quicker than I had done a 40 mile race. However, than was in the mountains in Wales.
As I recovered at home the next day. The pain in my legs and feet was starting to subside. The results were published. I was amazed. Of the 30 people that started only 12 did the complete distance, so I was 10th overall.