I am absolutely thrilled, stunned and a little bit embarrassed to have been asked to join Centurion Ultra Team http://www.centurionrunning.com/team-cr/. Scroll down on the web page and you can read my very lowly profile and race results. I am in the company of Great Britain's finest ultra runners, who also happen to be great guys, have been very supportive of me since I started running longer distances and I greatly look forward to chasing them over the Downs next year! I have a lot to live up to, but there is nothing like someone saying, 'I believe in you' to add an extra boost to training and racing. When you have had kids, given up your career, your sport, practically changed everything about your life, in many ways you have to find yourself all over again. I really do feel ultra running has given me back my identity, sense of purpose and joy of extreme pain again! I hope to do the team proud and will wear the yellow t shirt glowing with pride!
Last weekend I entered the Downslink Ultra by Sussex Trail Events. Starting at St Marthas Hill, Guildford and running down a disused railway line to Shoreham By The Sea. I felt that 38 miles was a really good distance for me at the moment. My strength, and more importantly, confidence over holding a racing pace is gradually building and I could convince myself that 38 miles is closer to a marathon distance than 50 miles, so would be less painful!
We couldn't have asked for better conditions, lovely warm Autumnal day. Most of the route is along a well walked trail, with the occasional field, road crossing, horse, small child wobbling on stabilisers or gate to break up the monotony. I had recced the last 21 miles of the route, which at the time seemed a bit pointless, but actually has shown me how knowing where you are going makes the final stages of a long run much easier mentally and physically.
Paul Navesey (the eventual winner) and I set off leading the race and the route quickly dipped sharply down hill. I couldn't see anything in the glaring sun, so took a more cautious approach than Paul who hared off, not to be seen again, or so I thought. I had planned to run a 7min 10-30 pace, which seemed easy to start with, but I knew post 30 miles it would be an effort. I am super competitive and the urge to run out hard and try and hold the pace, is a strategy I have tried and failed at. I had written all my splits down, with the aim to getting to 20 miles with having done the least damage to my legs. The route was simple, but with bright sun and a few intersecting paths, I kept having to stop and check I was on the Downslink route. There was no one in front or behind me, so I just kept hoping I was on the right path. After about 8 miles, Paul suddenly appeared behind me, looking rather sheepish! ' I went all the way back up the hill.' I think he snorted through a mouth of clifshots. 'You idiot' I replied helpfully. We trotted along for a little while together, but we were creeping into 6.30 min miles, so I forced myself to slow down and he disappeared to catch the one runner I knew was ahead.
I ticked the miles off to 21, where I had planned to meet husband and the kids. We had spent a long time planning what we would do with the kids. Its an ultra in itself, husband managing them in and out of the car, feeding them, naps, epic whining etc. So we decided we would just meet up at one point where he could refill my water and I could have a quick chat with the boys. As I went through the checkpoint, I knew the business end of the race was about to start. The trail is relentless with very little change of gradient, so I was trying to run on different sides of the path to change the camber and played, catch the cyclist, beat the horse, jump the dog, to break up the monotony. The miles from 26-30 seemed to take forever and I was growing bored of seeing the same path. I had slowed and was just about holding 7.30s, but I knew this was the hardest part and once I got into the 30 miles I would feel better both mentally and physically. I was forcing down the gels by now, hoping they would give me a little lift to the line.
Once I hit 31 miles, I started to feel strong again, I felt like I was running fast (ha ha!) and was moving smoothly. I am getting used to running with pretty mashed up legs now and yes it hurts and yes most normal people wouldn't want to spend their Sunday afternoons putting themselves through it, but there is something so raw -like about embracing pain, working with the pain. Your senses become heightened; you know many people will never feel their bodies working like this and you realise the strength of your mental fortitude.
The finish was over a toll bridge, then a series of paved slabs, which were pretty rough on battered hamstrings. I couldn't find the end and actually ended up heading into the car park, till husband appeared frantically waving down by the river. I was pretty shot at the end. I couldn't even do my normal victory run in with the kids, but just wanted to sit down and be fed tea. Fortunately the race organisers had this all in their plan and I was plied with baked beans, some Drymax socks for being first female and a lovely cup of tea and massage. Paul was already looking feeble in the corner after taking the victory by ruining himself making up for his lost time. A really impressive race for someone that ran an extra mile, though I have a sneeky suspicion, he just wanted to add in a few bonus miles to make it an even 40.
'Job done' were husbands congratulatory words to me. 'I almost rang you at mile 30.' I said, 'I needed a lift.' 'Woman, you don't need me, just get on with it and bloody finish!' I love that part of our relationship, he knows I don't want any praise from him, I don't need to be mollycoddled, knowing that he believes in me and the strength of his support for me gives me more boost than I could ever put into words. Juggling the kids, work, life, training is a proper team effort.
So I was pleased with 4.47, 3rd overall and 1st female. I felt I ran strong, but that I had lots more to give, especially in the middle of the race, but its a really positive step forward to running a super competitive 50 miler. The next day was truly horrendous, I could hardly move, every time the kids stepped on my toes or touched my quads, I would leap through the roof, but I'd do it all again tomorrow. I love the pain, I love the ultra community and I love the inner sense of satisfaction I have of a 'job done' well.
Thanks to Sussex Trail Events for a great race, next up some proper quad bashing at Beachy Head Marathon.