The Winter X 50K Ultra (organised by Phil Hoy of Second Wind Running) was utterly awesome. Absolutely fantastic. I’m still on a high if the truth be told. It was an early start and the thermometer in the car said that the temperature was minus four. We’d had settling snow the day before and on higher ground it had clung on and then froze. Conditions under foot were brutal. It was very hard going because normally when I’m running long my mind wanders all over the place and I’ll spend a lot of time coming up with my own brand of awful jokes. Not on Ultra day though. I spent mile after mile and what felt like hour after hour looking at and assessing every single step. Many of the short road sections were covered in black ice and all of the footpaths on higher ground were plastered in lumps of frozen snow. In places the sun had thawed things out a bit which just made things even more slippery. I’m not selling it to you am I?
Common sense (and a keenly felt desire for self-preservation) made me walk on some stretches where I’d normally have been covering the ground at a comfortable conversational pace. The downside of that was it cost me time, probably 45 minutes overall, but the upside was that I finished very strongly. The last four or five miles were mainly flat or downhill and I was able to comfortably run it all and make up a bit of lost time. Some of the views I had were breathtakingly beautiful. From the top of Winchester Hill and then again just before we came out on to the Beauworth Road, the views across the South Downs to the Solent and the Isle of Wight and West to Southampton and beyond were utterly spectacular.
There were two races running that day. The 50K race (that’s almost 32 miles in old money) which I was in and a 45 mile race. The 50K runners did three legs and the 45 milers did a fourth leg. The first leg was a nice gentle 5K out and back from race HQ at Meonstoke Village Hall. The second leg, 10K out and back, took you East to East Meon and then towards Butser. This, for me, was the toughest leg. There were two hard climbs on the way out and one on the way back. At the time I wished I’d joined the organisers for some of their reconnaissance runs, although in retrospect I realise that a hill is a hill is a hill. We all run them and we all deal with them. Get over it. Literally!!
Back at race HQ it was nice to use the “facilities” in the warm and have my wonderful coach on hand to sort me out with nutrition and hydration. I was also prepared to have a change of shoe at that point. We’d been warned about the conditions for the first and second legs and so I wore the Brooks ASR12 trail shoes. They’re such good shoes, they really are. I went through puddles of freezing water and my feet stayed dry and when I was on the harshest terrain they gave me grip and kept me stable. So rather than change to my trusty old GTS15s for the third leg I decided to stick with the ASR12s. The third leg took us on a long slow climb towards Exton, Preshaw, The Milburys and almost to Cheriton. By the time I reached the final turn around point I was getting paranoid that I was in last place but I was assured that there were plenty of runners behind me and of course I started to meet them almost as soon as I started my return journey. It was nice to keep seeing friendly faces and to get a bit of encouragement and to offer a bit in return. That last return leg was very enjoyable. I was able to get my head down and do some consistent running, and the 30th mile on the day was also my 1,000th mile of the year. I didn’t even realise that I’d gone through the marathon distance until my watch buzzed at mile 27. The return to Meonstoke Village Hall would probably be viewed as a bit of an anti-climax by a lot of people, but it made me feel like a conquering hero. What a remarkable feeling. It was brilliant to get the medal and then to repair to the warmth of the village hall to get some warm clothes on and start the recovery process.
Sandra, my Coach, supports me on every step of my running journey and is a huge part of the success I enjoy and I really can’t thank her enough. I’m still “ambassadoring” for Alton Sports and I owe them a debt of thanks as well. I didn’t sleep particularly well that night because I still had an overload of adrenaline in my system, but I woke up the following morning safe in the knowledge that I’d be doing more ultras in 2018. It looks like I’ll be doing one in July and probably the Winter X Ultra again in December, plus two or three other marathons. Let the madness begin!!