It’s been a tough few weeks of training and racing since the Ashford and District marathon that’s left me questioning at times whether I’m ever going to be ready for this month’s Race to the King.
A short training run that I had to finish walking, hating the sun; totally destroyed by the Bewl Water marathon (beautiful but oh so tough); and a 10k race with heavy heavy legs that were simply not turning over. But you know how it is, sometimes you have to trust your training, push through the tough patches, and beat your body into submission.
And so on Sunday I stood on the start line of the Weal Ultra 50k (actually 51, those extra kilometres all matter), determined to take it easy, to not push, to treat it as a training race. I previously ran the Weald half marathon a couple of years ago; a low key race organised by Trail Running Sussex that started in the implausibly tiny village of Muddles Green, looping through the beautiful local countryside, and back to base to receive a much deserved medal and an even more welcome (and some might say famous) bespoke mug. I had loved it and had looked forward to running the ultra ever since.
Sunday was warm and a little misty, not as hot as the previous few days but once the sun broke through it was promising to be a scorcher. I set off at an easy pace, letting people stream past me, repeating as a mantra ‘keep to your plan, keep to you plan’. Those early miles were lovely, lots of wooded patches kept cool by the dew dampened trails under foot to provide welcome respite from the rising sun.
The route continued on and up the Wealdway trail to the Ashdown Forest, which for those of you that don’t know the area, is not a forest. In fact it’s the opposite of a forest, seemingly ironically named in the same way as Little John isn’t…well, you know. It also has all the aesthetics of a tank training ground, deeply rutted with multiple tracks exposing the white clay beneath what little greenery remains to create something of a crucible in which the spirits of several of the runners seemed to evaporate.
I moved to the front of the group I’d been running with and looking at the long rise ahead I feared I would also soon be reduced to hiking pace; however at that moment another group of runners burst from a rare patch of gorse ahead and I took the opportunity to jump onto the back and take pace from them to the top before we turned around to begin following the Vanguard Way return leg for the next 16 miles.
Now what goes up must come down and though if it was only a gentle rise up to that point, the next few miles seemed to pass in a rush with some beautifully long downhills, with just a few kicks up followed by more downhill. I was overtaking all those people who had passed me at the start, and before I knew it I was at 20 miles and seriously enjoying myself. Then 24 miles, then 26. Hurting now, walking all but the shallowest of uphills by managing to coast the flats and downs and still holding it together.
For the final few miles I joined up with another runner and we chatted and encouraged each other through our various pains before the final ‘sprint’ finish and that well deserved mug.
Weald Ultra done. It was a hot hot day, but despite my fears coming into the race I had held pace throughout, finishing only 13 seconds per mile outside my target, but better yet, I have recovered well, finding the runner’s rhythm on all my runs since. Which goes to show, sometimes you have to trust your training, push through the tough patches, and beat your body into submission.
And the best thing is, I’m now super excited for Race to the King.