So 2 weeks have past since the epic ‘Race to the Stones’ 100km Ultramarathon, and I sit here and reflect on the past year or so, since I decided to go out of my comfort zone and challenge myself by entering this crazy event.
Firstly, I’m full of emotion due to the overwhelming wave of support I have had in my quest to raise money for the Royal Berkshire Charity (COAT fund). Friends, Family, work colleagues, Patients and their Families have all been so generous in their sponsorship, that I knew I absolutely had to nail this challenge to the wall and not let them down. My Just Giving page has gone absolutely nuts and I’m now over £10,500 raised, which has doubled my original predicted target !!! Special amazing thanks has to go to my good friend, Fiona Raybould, who put on an incredible Summer BBQ and Party for her friends and neighbours, raising a staggering £3000 towards the fund.
The week before
The week before the race was a training taper so I only ran a few short runs in the week, and bizarrely it felt quite odd not to be running regularly. Maybe my body was getting conditioned to running regularly !! It was a big ‘carbo load’ from the Tuesday evening onwards with loads of pasta every night and I also tried to keep as hydrated as possible.
I must thank Barry Keane from Meglio, pronounced mellio with a silent ‘g’ (www.meglio.co.uk) They are a local Reading based company which make and supply fitness and rehabilitation equipment. They have recently set up a team of athletes, mainly based around triathlon and cycling and he invited me to be one of their ambassadors. What an honour it was to get some really high quality racing kit to run in, as I knew if I was going to be on the move for potentially a whole day, I would need to be as comfortable, in my kit as possible.
The media release from Coms at RBH had got BBC Radio Berkshire interested in the story and I was delighted to have a phone interview with Phil Kennedy explaining the reasons behind the challenge and to promote My Just Giving page. The interview went out at 4.55pm on his Thursday drive time show and was really well received. You can click on the link below to hear the audio file…Massive thanks also to Emma at RBH Coms and Steve McManus, our CEO whose support has been incredible.
On Thursday I prepped all my kit and double checked it. Last job before bedtime on the Friday was to tape my toes ! My knowledge of dressing toes post operatively definitely helped ! As expected I was buzzing on that Friday night and despite going to bed nice and early I struggled to settle down and probably drifted off after midnight.
Saturday 13th July 2019 - Race day
I set my alarm for 5.30am and crept downstairs to avoid waking the boys. I had thought a bit about my nutrition on the day, which is one of the key components to any long distance running and ate a big bowl of porridge to start me off. Steve our close friend and support crew member no 1 arrived to pick me up and we set off towards Watlington to the start.
It was a cracking day and the prestart buzz in the air was evident as soon as we had parked up and made our way to the start pen. I was in Wave A (of several) with about another 200 or so runners eager to get going. Steve had his amazing SLR camera, hence the fantastic photos he was able to take at the start and throughout the day.
We set off at 7.30am from the farm, after a quick race briefing and soon joined the famous Ridgeway Trial heading in a Southwesterly direction.
The Ridgeway (Info taken from The National Trails website)
The Ridgeway National Trail a walking route in a surprisingly remote part of southern central England. It travels in a northeasterly direction for 87 miles (139 Km) from its start in the World Heritage Site of Avebury. As Britain’s oldest road The Ridgeway still follows the same route over the high ground used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers.
The Ridgeway is one of the 15 National Trails in England and Wales. National Trails are designated by the Secretary of State and are administered by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, and managed by the local authorities and National Park Authorities whose area they pass through.
Most National Trails have a dedicated Trail Manager responsible for maintaining the high quality standards on the Trail. National Trails are marked with the distinctive “acorn” symbol.
For, at least 5,000 years and maybe many more, people, including drovers, traders and invaders, have walked or ridden The Ridgeway. As part of a prehistoric track, once stretching about 250 miles (400 Km) from the Dorset coast to the Wash on the Norfolk coast, it provided a route over the high ground for travellers which was less wooded and drier than routes through the springline villages below.
The Ridgeway passes through two distinctive landscapes; the open downland of the west within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the more gentle and wooded countryside of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the east.
We were going to be running it backwards ! and also only 100km of it … Incidentally there is a trail running challenge every year along the whole route (139km) , the record time being an impressive 12 hrs 7 mins.
As expected, due to my excitability, I probably started at a pace a bit too quick and had to be calmed down by Steve at our first meet up just past Huntercomb golf club...
I must thank Steve and Kim, my sister Viv, our kids and lastly my wife Lauren who helped me throughout the day and without their support I would really have struggled to get through the challenge. In the second part of the race, Steve and Lauren both ran with me for a few sections, to keep me plodding along and made sure I kept topped up with fluids and as much solid food as I could manage. It’s incredible how quickly you just use up your energy supplies.
The first Marathon I clocked in 4hrs 7 mins, which with reflection, was quite quick but on the easier first flatter section of the course. Seeing the kids at Goring was a massive psychological boost and it made me run a bit faster !! At the half way point high on the Ridgeway near East Hendred, I had a good 10 minute stop but kept upright and tried to eat as much precooked pasta as I could. At 58-59km I had a bit tough section so recorded a video!
Later at about 67km I did really start to struggle as my pace dropped down and I was pretty close to the dreaded feeling of ‘hitting the wall’. Luckily Lauren made me eat a jam sandwich at the next pit stop and this seemed to go down much better. I felt reenergised and was able to get my head around it and started getting going into a decent rhythm again. The other godsend apart from my amazing support crew were the collapsible light weight running poles I had bought only a few weeks before the race. They were invaluable on the steeper inclines and I was able to power walk using my arms as much as possible and taking some of the pressure of my legs. It reminded me of the ‘3 peaks’ last year and basically running up Snowdon to try and make the 24hour deadline.
Another massive boost mentally was passing the 84km mark – that’s a double marathon and I felt pretty cool at that point… I then in my head broke the remainder down into two 8 km runs - an easy distance, that I would smash out in training of a weekend. The end was suddenly getting closer and with that my pace quickened again.
The chief marshal had explained at the pre-race briefing when we reached the famous Avebury Stone Circle ie; The Race to the Stones – there was still a further 2 km left!
Lauren had organised my 3 boys and their cousin to run the last 2 km with me so when I saw them I knew I had done it. The last 500 m was a nice slope down into the farm and I even managed what felt like a sprint across the line!
It was truly amazing to finish and I was absolutely chuffed to record a time of 11 hrs 26mins. Strava had calculated an actual moving time of 10 hrs 40 mins, and I definitely beat my ‘steps in a day’ record - 105,000!
Click to watch video
As by a stroke of luck I had chosen a great day to rest up on the sofa with the World Cup Cricket final and Wimbledon Tennis final to watch all day – it was difficult knowing which to concentrate on, as both were very exciting. Later that afternoon, I must admit I sneaked a look at another possible Ultra challenge for next year… I may go for a 100 miler – we will see..
Lauren races Ironman in Copenhagen in August, and this time I’ll be the support crew and I am wishing her all the success and support in that one, another massive feat of endurance. After that we will sit down and perhaps make a plan to take on a challenge together next year – who knows ?
Setting a goal, however big or small, in any aspect of your life, is a really good way of focusing you in to the task in hand.
So just over 2 years ago I had passed a significant birthday and had a bit of typical midlife fitness crisis. Crazy busy with work, home life the only time I seemed to find any time for any form of exercise was the odd jog in the summer holidays only to return to the daily routine, hanging up my trainers till the next holiday. Returning from our family holiday in Wales in 2017, I made the conscious and determined effort to keep my running going and started running to work, or at least dividing my commute into a short drive, parking the car, and then running across town. It didn’t take long for me to see the light……
My 10 personal benefits of getting running again (not 100km but any regular short distances):
I’ve steadily lost my excess tummy (over a stone and a half lost in 20 months)
I don’t have to sit in traffic through town during the commute to work, as I happily trot past all the stationary cars stuck on the IDR.
I get to think through the day (before to prepare and after to destress), before getting home to the different challenge of getting 3 boys under 8 bathed, teeth brushed, stories read and into bed.
I started reading all about the physical and mental challenges of endurance running – what makes the athletes tick, why do they do it – the human mind and body is incredible – perhaps we are cruising along at 60% of what we can actually achieve ? if you can drop down to just below marathon pace essentially it is an eating and drinking contest over 10 or more hours …
I felt more confident to enter the famous Reading Half Marathon, get my competitive edge back, and somehow beat Lauren this year …. I also got to train with her occasionally - The picture below shows us running to work in the big snow dump.
I feel a positive role model to my boys – staying as active and healthy as I can trying to keep up with them as they grow stronger and faster every week.
It allowed me to get superfit to conquer ‘3 peaks challenge’ last year and then the 100km Ultramarathon this year raising >£ 12,000 for Royal Berkshire Charity
Benefits of running to a persons’ health are multiple, not just physical health gains but positive effects on mental and psychological well-being as well. According to the latest research I’m going to live longer, have less chance of heart attacks, cancer, dementia, and depression and also have better sex – so it is all good !!!
One thing I do constantly tell my patients with early wear and tear in their knees is that despite the many interventions or operations we can offer as surgeons – staying fit and healthy, strengthening your leg muscles both around the hip (gluteal muscles) and around the knee (quadriceps and hamstrings) and also watching your weight are the most important factors in looking after your knees. So practicing what I preach is very satisfying.
Although the training was time consuming when I decided to do the ultra, it actually made me more organised and efficient all the other aspects of my busy life.
If I did it all again would I do anything differently?
1. Do a bit more strength and conditioning training, as well as the running training. – It’s the not so much fun side of running training but it’s very important. There is a fantastic, new patient information leaflet written by Debbie Burden our senior knee physiotherapist at RBH – click here for the link
2. Calculate my nutrition requirements more accurately.
So there it is – I’ve loved the whole challenge from start to finish – Thanks for supporting me.