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Race Reports

It felt odd to think about winning the whole thing, especially as I still had a whole marathon to run the next day. One thing was for certain though, I was desperate to win. I really wanted it, so after a massage I took myself off to bed - another mat and sleeping bag in another sports hall.

That was an experience in itself. 100+ people all lying on mats and blankets. It was a like a refugee camp for runners, sponsored by Gore-tex. The smell wasn’t much better than a refugee camp either, as high protein diets, sweaty sports kit and damp trainers filled the air. Add to that the loud snoring that seemed to come from all corners of the room sounding like a bad impression of Paul McCartney’s frog orchestra and it was a wonder I got any sleep at all.

Stage Three: Feeling brilliant!

I did get some sleep, although not mas- sive amounts. In the morning I tried to eat breakfast, but I don’t know if it was my nerves or as a result of two days hard running, but my stomach wasn’t enjoy- ing eating.

I managed a small bowl of cereal and half a jam sandwich before trying a banana. I hate bananas. I hate the smell, the taste, the touch, everything about them I hate. However, if I can force myself to eat them before or during a run they always help me. I discovered that in Amsterdam 2008 during the marathon when I just had to eat something and all I could get my hands on was a banana. I tried the banana and after one mouthful I quickly brought it back up again, which I had to then force back down, not very nice at all. I stopped eating.

I’d thought the night before that my legs had felt better than after the first day and I wondered if that would hold out till the morning. They did. They felt really good. I looked about the refugee camp and saw that most other people were limping, hobbling and shuffling about, but I was feeling quite light and fit. It filled me with confidence and I started to believe that I was going to have a good race, as long as I didn’t get lost!

My race plan was again the same as day two - to sit with the pack and not let anyone go. I had forty minutes on my nearest rival and so there was no way I

could lose it unless I got lost or injured, or took it so easy that someone took forty minutes out of me. We were taken to day two’s finish spot and set off. My race plan lasted a mile. I couldn’t help it. I felt brilliant for my third day of marathon running. Okay, I had a few tight spots and aches and my lungs were a little tight again, but apart from that all was good. I dropped Ben who had stuck with me for the first mile and just pushed on.

The first 16.5 miles of this stage were simple and straight forward. Heavy grass paths littered with chalky rock, some- times the chalky paths broke to make a proper road, but it was fairly straight with few direction changes. It was just what I wanted. It was undulating, with a few hills thrown in, but I was really enjoying myself. There was a stiff breeze and the rain was coming down in fits, but it didn’t bother me. I stormed through both check points stopping briefly for refreshments and to swipe my card. I also began to pass the earlier groups, and again it was great to get their support. I’d got to know some of them by now and it was great to get their encouragement.

The last 10 miles was mainly through fields and farm fields across open coun- try. By the time I had got to 22 miles I had passed most of the earlier groups and was very much on my own. After stage one I was still very paranoid about getting lost. I didn’t allow myself to think about wining at all. In fact I kept think- ing about losing, and how that would happen if I got lost. I thought about how I would have to tell people I didn’t win, I thought about how I would feel about not winning. It was a strange negative image to pump through my mind, but it kept me focused.

We were due to finish on top of a hill at Barbury Castle. At mile 24 I moved into more open country and a farmer’s fields with a path leading through the middle up the hill. I kept expecting to see a castle in the horizon, but nothing. I started to worry a bit when I got to 25 miles and all I could see across the open countryside was fields and no castle. I kept telling myself that it would appear at the top of the next brow, but at the top of every little bump and hill there was yet more countryside. My watch hit 25.75 and I still couldn’t see anything. I was beginning to panic. I wondered, if I

20 Ultrarunning World | February/March 2011

should have taken a different path or if I’d missed a turn. There was no one about either, so I couldn’t ask anyone. I could make out some signage at the end of the farmer’s field and decided I would go as far as that and see if it would point me in the right direction. By now my watch beeped 26 miles.

Thankfully the sign said Ridgeway right and as I climbed the gate and turned two guys started clapping at me. It was the two guys from the last checkpoints from stages one and two. They cheered and called out to me, pointed me off the road and then I saw for the first time the finishing gate and the flags. It was only at this point did it really hit me, that I was going to win. I was going to win!

It was an awesome sensation. I picked up my pace for a home straight finish with a small crowd cheering me on. I couldn’t help but smile, as I sprinted over the line to complete the 26.2 miles in 3 hours 18 minutes.

The organiser, Neil, shook my hand and handed my medal congratulating me on the stage and the race. Incidentally, I never did see the castle.

I have never won a race, ever, not even at school (well not that I can remember, there maybe an egg and spoon race way down the line, but I don’t recall) and as most people know, I have really wanted to win a race since I started running back in 2007. I have to admit I never thought I would do it on my first ever multistage race or in an ultra-marathon.

I learnt loads during my first ultra - mainly that training hard isn’t enough, preparation is just as important. I never, ever, want to go through what I did on stage one (well, apart from the winning bit!).

It felt brilliant collecting my winner’s trophy in the tent in front of a lot of the people I had raced with over the week- end. I keep looking at it and pinching myself that it is mine and I did win it. It’s now sitting on top of the mantelpiece in pride of place. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I can replace it with another winner’s trophy.

Overall, this was an extremely well organised event and one that I would recommend to anyone curious to try an ultra marathon/multi-day event.

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