Don’t do a back to back ultra the weekend before a 53ish mile event……

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I am not usually stuck for words when it comes to running or the events that I do. But, I’m at a loss how to start this one. I feel fine and I enjoyed it when I was running, and walking. The volunteers were great and it was well organised. I got a certificate and a woven badge for completing it. I knew much of the route – and ran some of it back in March when I did the Kent Coast. I enjoyed the food, and I didn’t wish for anything (oh other than oranges which were lacking). So, here goes with what actually happened on this cold and wet night.

A short train journey away from Pluckley. It was quite the adventure taking the train – I decided to do that so I wouldn’t have to drive tired. That could end badly – so no unnecessary risks there. I spotted a few people who looked like they might be doing the White Cliffs challenge, but then they could equally have poor dress sense and be going for a day out to Pontins for a 1980’s revival.

A got the train early so that I could stock up with a breakfast at Wetherspoons before the race. Yes road runners….. try that before a race. 😉

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The HQ was the Rugby club between Deal and Walmer, and I had a short walk there. When I arrived there were a couple of folk saying they wanted to start earlier than the advertised time for runners. I had literally no idea why – the official start time for walkers is 10am and 12:30pm for runners. The cut off for the 53 miles is 8:00am. So even if you walk the whole thing and start at 12:30pm you’ve plenty of time to finish. Some people huh! I can only think that it was the nerves getting to the chap in front of me.

Anyway, I had some waiting to do, so I rested my feet and had a chin wag with some of the other runners. Some of them were starting earlier (again – no idea why!) and eventually there were 4 of us left. Yes…. F O U R runners starting at the official time. Everyone else had gone early. It wasn’t off to a good start, the lady in front made a nav error – and I stupidly followed – ok – it was only a couple of extra metres, but it was enough to remind me that I should trust anyone else on the nav. In anycase, I had the special route description that I printed off, plus my Garmin Etrex 20 with the GPX file uploaded. So – just follow the trail!

I remembered the stretch from Deal to Walmer from earlier this year, so I knew mostly where I was going. A lady who was running (for fun!) asked what I was doing. She thought it was amazing. As ever – I don’t really think it is – just a bit silly. Anyway, perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was the two guys in front heading off down the prom, but I realised we had missed the turn, so I had to backtrack again. I could tell it was one of those days.

I settled down a bit now that I was on my own – I wondered when those two chaps would notice they had gone wrong. After a little while I noticed them in front – so they must have cut through. Again I went wrong, as they climbed onto the cliffs, I stayed below, before realising my mistake (while all the time thinking that they were idiots because they had gone wrong).

Back on to familiar territory and the cliff top run all the way to Dover and the National Trust car park. I spotted the chaps in front of me again – they were just leaving the aid station as I arrived. I was the final runner to go through. That excited me because it meant I was doing the rest of the run from the back. No one would be overtaking me. Just me overtaking. I’ve learned that lots of people look strong early in a race and are often broken in the later stages. I said my goodbyes to the aid station volunteers and headed off again. As I was heading out of the town centre, I heard a couple of voices behind me – those two chaps again! Anyway, I then went wrong – yet again, and cursing myself, I followed them for a while. The navigation was actually pretty straightforward and as we reached the top of the mound overlooking Dover, I passed one of the guys and then started to catch the next one. That was my plan – just keep moving, reel one in at a time. Not because I am competitive, it’s just my way of getting to the end when I am running on my own.

I soon caught up with a guy and a lady. They were saying they spoke to someone doing the 53 miler and that he had NOTHING with him…. and was complaining about the lack of signs, and marshalls showing the route. I am guessing he didn’t make it to the end! I hit the top of a castle mound and headed confidently off down the hill the other side. There was a group who looked a bit confused on the route…. so I just said this way and left them in my wake.

I don’t recall much of the next section. Some bits of route I recognised. Lots of heat. Lots of humidity. My legs complaining. Breathing was laboured. Bloody great hill near Samphire Hoe. Last time I was here I felt equally knackered having run the Kent Coast. That’s when I knew it was going to be a hard event today. I found sections hard to get motivated to run. Happily bimbling along. Keeping ahead of the folk behind me and tracking down the runners and walkers in front.

I had a brief chat to one of the walkers – I was surprised I had met a walker so early. Anyway, I ran on, and then I met him again as I had gone the wrong way. Eventually near Capel Le Ferne I spotted two runners in the near distance – I recognised them as a couple of guys who started early – (one of them complaining about the start time). I knew that I was about 30 minutes ahead of them by that point as they started at noon.

I pushed on. The heat was quite silly. And after a few more silly route errors I found myself running up a field in the dusk and trying to work out which way to go. I spotted runners and walkers hiking off in different directions – but I somehow found the magic line right to a gate. Next thing I was flying down a hill past a couple of runners putting their head torches on. I realised later why. This next section was in dense tree cover so visibility was minimal. Head torch on…. and then the flash of doom…… that meant my batteries were dead. I had one spare set, so I changed them in the moonlight. Off I went again. I had to keep my headtorch on low so that the battery would last. Some walking crept in – across ploughed fields, the uphill sections, the downhill sections – and some of the flat sections too. Eventually, I bumped into a friend  – Sophie. She was suffering with her foot and walking with a friend of hers Mick. I walked for a mile or so, and then after a hug, ran on. At the next aid station I had a lovely hot dog and sugary tea. Delicious. A quick phone home to Susie with an update (37 miles apparently!) and I was off again. I didn’t feel much like running, but pressed on with a mix of running and walking.

Taken with Lumia Selfie

The last time I remember running was at the aid station at around 43 miles. I felt bloated from all the water I had earlier. And it had started to rain. Not much at first, and I planned to tough it out without stopping to put my jacket on. But then it got cold. And windy. And wet. So I had to stop and dig out my waterproof from the bottom of my bag. Why is it always at the bottom?

I bumped into a couple of walkers sheltering in a church entrance by the road, and I carried on with those guys. Glad of the company – I was almost finished and really could be bothered to run anymore. I trudged the rest of the way with those guys – making a few combined nav errors, and then eventually getting into the outskirts of Deal. One of the reasons I was walking was that I had a blister (boo hoo…. sob!) but, the weather extremes and the fact I could imagine it now macerating in my shoe made me really grumpy.

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So, you’ll understand when I say it was a pleasure to finish and have a bacon roll! A lovely event, well organised, and very friendly. I probably should not have done a back to back ultra the previous weekend.

Next job was a few hours of shut eye on a sofa at the club.

Taken with Lumia Selfie

What I learned –

  1. Take another set of batteries for headtorch.
  2. Have waterproof at the top of backpack
  3. Don’t get too grumpy!
  4. I can get lost just like the next guy
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