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Race Reports

We spent the evening sleeping in the gym and theatre halls on school gym mats. I went straight to my bed straight after eating. My legs felt pretty done in and I was really worried about how they would feel in the morning, as despite everything, I would have to get up the next day and do another 27 miles!

Stage two - learning from my mistakes!

I woke up at 6 am and had porridge and toast for breakfast. I also drank loads and filled my camelback to the brim with energy drink and water. I also stuffed my pockets with dried apricots and a croissant that I had left from breakfast. There was no way I was going to make that mistake again.

The start of stage two was the same as the first stage, the slower runners and some walkers set off first at 7 am, the middle group at 8 am, and then the top 25 at 9 am. It was nice to have a little bit more time to prepare and stretch. Despite the day before my legs felt pretty good. My body did feel like it had a hangover though, probably dehydration.

My winning time of 4 hours and 14 minutes from stage one had given me a 15 minute lead over my nearest rivals a group of 4 runners. There were a few further back from that, but I knew that all I had to do was sit with the pack and not let anyone get away and I would be still in the lead for the last day. A good sensible plan or so I thought.

We lined up on the start line and then after a quick briefing we were sent on our way back down the road we had come the night before and back on to the Ridgeway. One of the other runners took to the front so I quickly took in step next to him. My legs ached a bit, but felt fairly good. Surprisingly, it was my lungs that hurt most of all. I felt as though I had them punched repeatedly by David Haye. The harder I breathed the more it hurt. It dawned on me that this was the first time I had ever raced back-to-back, day after day and that my lungs were also like muscles and were probably stiff and sore in the same way. They just needed warming up.

Unlike the start the day before, I ran as part of a group of three, with two guys, Ben and Ivan, who like me had also got

lost the day before, so they were looking to make up time and get close to the top three. We were working at fairly good pace of around 7.30 per mile for the first few miles, which felt comfortable. I was happy with my plan. It was quite nice to have company and to chat as well.

However, after about 4 miles we hit a hill and Ben and Ivan slowed into a power walk. I decided that I would keep running and that they would catch me back up at the top of the hill. At the top of the hill I looked back and had opened up a gap of about 50m. I remember thinking at that point I had a choice of easing up and letting them catch me up or just going for it. My legs were now feeling good and my lungs only ached a little. It was a lovely fresh day and conditions for running were good.

It took me less than a second to decide. I turned and dropped the hammer. Flying down the other side of the hill we had come up and disappearing into the woods. It was another lovely route. Up to the first check point we ran through forest paths, by fields filled with horses, and even right through the middle of a golf course. We were told at the briefing we had right of way, so I took a little bit of pleasure running right through the middle of a game and waving at the golfers as I went. The club had been told we were coming, so I even got some cheers back.

I reached the first checkpoint at 8 miles, quickly swiped my card, grabbed a cup of water and a banana and was straight off. I wasn’t going to make the refuelling mistake again.

The next 9 miles went incredibly smoothly. I couldn’t believe how well I was running, how comfortable it was and how little effort it seemed to be taking. I was well clear of the faster group behind me and was making good inroads into the two other groups ahead of me. One of the great things about this race was there was a great camaraderie among the competitors and everyone I passed clapped and cheered me on. It felt great and really spurred me on to get to the next person.

The next check point was at 16.5 miles and again, I stopped briefly to grab juice and food before disappearing up the road.

The other lesson that I had learned from 18 Ultrarunning World | February/March 2011

yesterday was about being a lot more careful on the route to make sure that I didn’t miss any signs, so at every point where I was on my own and had doubt, I slowed and made sure. Sometimes I even stopped for a second just to make sure the arrow was pointing down the path I was about to take.

By the time I reached 20 miles the number of people to pass had reduced considerably and I was really on my own. However, I was having a great time. I felt strong, fit and fast, and when I pulled into the final check point before the finish I met the guys who had helped me on the final checkpoint the day before. They were quick to tell me how much better I looked today and we shared a quick joke before I set off for the last stretch. The last 5 miles was undulating chalk and hard grass paths, which battered the feet as you went up and down them. I have to admit that at this point I could feel blisters on my toes and definite bruising, but that was it - they were my only concern.

The last two miles was all up hill, but at the top of that hill I could see the finishing flags. It was a great sight, as I knew two things for certain. I wasn’t going to get lost and I was going to win the second stage. It was a brilliant feeling. The last two miles weren’t a struggle at all, they were almost a pleasure, as unlike the day before I had done everything right and I felt like I deserved the win. I crossed the line in 3 hours and 32 minutes, not bad for 27 miles of hills, forest paths, trails and slippery mud.

I finished seven minutes ahead of Ben who I’d left at 4 miles, but had stayed strong and ran well. My nearest rivals from stage one finished 25 minutes behind me, giving me a forty minute advantage for the last day.

Later that night as we chatted, shared stories and listened to a talk about the MDS from Rory Coleman people kept telling me that I was sure thing to win the race. Friends from home were texting me too, saying how great a chance I had to win. This made me incredibly nervous. I had never a won a race before, never crossed the line first and hadn’t expected to be in this position in this race. My hope had been for a top 10 finish, maybe top 5 and my secret dream finish had been a podium.

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