Where do I even begin with this one? Well, I became a marathoner and an ultra runner in the same race – and I felt strong throughout, right to the very end of my 31 miles/50K.
Now for a confession: the most I ran in training was 15 miles. I feel like this needs some justification, as I don’t want it to appear as though I’m disrespecting the distance by not training for it, so:
- I’m not a long distance runner, and whilst I was keen to do a marathon or an ultra at some point in the future (as in 2019) this race was not part of my schedule until 6 weeks ago when my ultra-runner uncle sent me the details – so I did not have the chance to have a solid few months to prepare for the event.
- I have other running priorities this year, namely a PB at my half-marathon distance – and I managed to achieve that target in last weekend’s race.
- I grow bored easily so I knew that if I had dedicated months to super long runs at the weekend, I probably would’ve resented the distance on the day. I also like the unknown and the unexpected on race day and I definitely got a kick out of not knowing what my body would be capable of after the 15 miles (also, here’s my apology to those people who really didn’t want me to take on this challenge – you know who you are, so I really am sorry…but look, I survived!).
My uncle really wanted me to run the marathon distance in this race to see if it was a distance I enjoyed and was suited to – as he frequently runs the trails of Chamonix, off-road is more his thing and so this race seemed like the perfect opportunity to team up once again and have some fun. He set out a few rules for me:
- I wasn’t allowed to wear my watch – the thought of this sat uncomfortably with me, but it was definitely the right call. He said that he would pace me to the marathon distance and then we’d see if I wanted to go further. Every time I started to run too fast, he’d tell me to slow down…and that strategy ensured I had a strong race.
- We walk on the inclines. It wasn’t a particularly hilly course but I think there were four or five inclines that would’ve fatigued our legs if we had run them…of course every time we got to a hill my natural instinct was to keep running, so it was great having him there to give me a reality check in those moments.
- During the first lap my uncle said to me ‘If you think you’re hungry or thirsty, it’s already too late’. And so we agreed to drink a bottle of water on each lap and to take on a little fuel on each incline.
So, what exactly was this race? The Kent Endurance Run is officially a 50 mile challenge (with a 14 hour cut off) and it consists of laps of 6.25 miles, mostly on a farm – and a mixture of trail and concrete underfoot. The race is set up so that people can finish on any lap and still earn a medal, and there were a lot of people aiming for the marathon distance as it’s a pretty sensible one to do for your first long distance race.
I wasn’t particularly well-rested or well-fuelled going into the race, and I thought that would cause me issues, however a lot of the time I think if your physical fitness is there, then it’s very much a mental game…and I am quite mentally strong (which can also be a negative sometimes). I was really worried about fuelling on the run as I’m not used to taking on fuel for my half distance and I wasn’t sure how my body would respond and if it would give me any issues. I also have this intense paranoia about not having enough food with me for things, so I seriously overpacked. Mostly with things I would never consider eating on a regular basis, so I don’t know how I would’ve eaten those things during a race. When my uncle told me I should be fuelling from lap 1, I decided to open a packet of Nakd Nibbles and took on 3 of the pieces on every incline – I thought that I would perhaps branch out into one of my other snacks, but I didn’t as I found these worked well on my tummy and were providing me with adequate energy – so I didn’t want to change anything – in the end I got through one and a half packets of these. Every time we got into base camp I also took on 5 peanuts and 3 cubes of watermelon from the aid station (I realise counting these things is a bit weird, but I’m quite ritualistic with what I do and once I have something that works I cannot disrupt that routine…and yes, I’m an odd numbers girl). At the end of the second lap (mile 12.5) I started adding a Nuun Hydration Tablet into my water bottle every time we refilled. I was nervous about the hydration tablets as I had one for the first time after my race the previous weekend and really hated the taste, to the point where I couldn’t finish my water. Luckily, in race conditions, you forget about the taste – and I was very conscious that if I wasn’t eating a huge amount then I’d need to ensure my electrolytes were replenished…because, you know…didn’t want to die in this race. The good thing about Nuun is that it’s plant based, so that sits a little easier with me. In terms of my fuelling, I think I got it spot on – I don’t know if I took on too much or too little, but what I took on was exactly what I needed to keep my body feeling strong.
I found the first four laps easy (total distance at this point: 26 miles)…which I feel uneasy writing because I know a lot of people hit the wall from 20+ miles, and I can’t figure out why I found it easy nor why I didn’t hit the wall at any point. I think part of it was that I was just having a really enjoyable time so was perhaps on a high from the adrenaline. The support from the other runners was incredible too – we all kept passing each other due to the nature of the route, and everyone was cheerful and saying well done to each other. My uncle also pointed out on lap 4 that I was 5th lady, which is always a motivator for me. By the time we were out on lap 5, which we had decided would be our final lap, my legs were starting to feel heavier but I still had enough energy and motivation to continue running at a good pace. I still felt pretty great. We had a brief celebration when I hit 26.2 miles (a high five and a photo to mark my very first marathon) and then continued on our way. At 27 miles we could see 3rd and 4th lady ahead of us, and I spent the next half mile steadily making my way towards them, overtook, and made myself 3rd lady. Just after mile 29, we saw 2nd lady – and at that point my uncle gave me permission to run a hill and overtake her (I think his exact words were ‘Vic, you know you’ve got this – run fast now, take her’…apologies, we’re an obnoxiously competitive family). Target achieved, moving myself into 2nd lady…and running the final mile down into base camp where I rung the bell to indicate I had finished at 31.25 miles or 50K, and as 2nd lady overall at that moment in time, and 1st lady to finish at my distance (there were 21 of us who finished at 31.25 miles).
Needless to say, I was over the moon. I didn’t know I had a strong long race in me – in fact, I was preparing for a really tough race (and sort of thought that was what I wanted too, perversely) – but actually, maybe this was the race I needed to really show how far I’ve come and how I can achieve anything I set my mind to. Oh, and I came away with no blisters and no chafing…literally, living the dream.
Would I run another ultra or a marathon? Maybe. I had a really great time in this race – so much so that I can’t quite find the words to express how much fun I had. And it’s reassuring knowing that I can cover those distances and go long if I want to – and actually I had an inkling that longer distances suited me. I also loved the fact that it was a trail race. But I’m really in love with my half-marathon distance at the moment and that’s probably what I want to continue to focus on for the remainder of the year. If I did decide on another marathon or ultra, it would definitely be trail…I have no interest in a road marathon (unless the London Marathon gods are listening, in which case, please let me have a ballot place next year…).
So to conclude, an excellent race – superbly organised by Team SVN and with the friendliest people helping out. If you’re tempted to go long I would highly recommend this event.