A Crazy Day Out- By Vicky (with assistance from Sam)
I said after London that I would never run without Rafa again, but some of these lady flyers are very persuasive! First of all, Lucy asking me to run Chelmsford with her (swiftly changed to Stort30!) and the then Samantha asking for me to do ‘a few laps’ at HARP (which was never going to be a few laps!). Sunday 27th September was meant to be a half marathon according to the STORT schedule. However, I heard Maldon was road and hilly, so no Rafa. Didn’t fancy that, so looked at finding a trail half marathon. Found the High Weald Half, Full and Ultra so set about emailing Stuart, the run director to ask the canicross question.
Stuart replied that I was welcome to do the Ultra 50K with Rafa, but to be aware there were about 40-50 stiles to climb over. ‘Sorry, I mustn’t have made myself clear, we just want to do the half’ ‘Oh sorry, Half and Full are cancelled now and we are just doing the Ultra’. My immediate thoughts were ‘How good would it be to do an Ultra with Rafa?’ but I got real and said thanks but no thanks.
Trying to stick to the ‘No Rafs No Run’ rule meant I categorically ruled myself out the Southend 10K, and to ensure that I didn’t get persuaded otherwise I offered my services as a marshal so that Sam (now a Southend AC runner) could participate. But that meant that somehow, I needed to do a lonely long run. High Weald came back into my mind. Maybe I could run 20, walk the rest? I discussed this with Sam, who looked on the page ‘Awww its looks a beautiful run’, ‘Awww Pooh sticks bridge’. Next thing I know, as I’m sat in the Mariners that Wednesday evening she is sending me screenshots confirming she had booked it up. Needless to say, minutes later, I too was signed up. Rafa was going to do his first Marathon and Ultra!
Our preparation for the race can be described as poor at best. Neither of us has run more than half marathon distance since Harp, Sam working on speed with Southend AC and me, well, I dunno what I was doing. I had found myself being rather complacent after Harp, having not trained at all then whacking out 50 miles, what’s 31 miles? Nothing!
In reality we knew it would be a challenge. Andy thankfully offered (or perhaps Sam just told him!) to be our driver to and from the event, which was just over an hour away that early in the morning. Rafa and I bundled into the car at 5.45am and set off. I was packed like I was going on holiday- I didn’t have just myself to look after, I had Rafa.
In the days leading up to the race, nearly everyone I spoke to questioned if Rafa was going to be OK. He hadn’t done much training either, and the furthest he had done was 20 miles (twice) on road. But I was confident that if I could do it, he certainly could.
Shortly before arriving at Groombridge Place, we saw the immediate aftermath of a very nasty car crash. Car upside down and smoking, passenger still inside. We assessed there was another support there to continue on. When we arrived at Groombridge Place we were directed into a large car park with portoloos. Andy went in no problem, Sam went in no problem, I went in and immediately wretched. Got straight out of there and went to a bush instead!
It was rather cold and there was a beautiful mist across the vast fields that we knew we would be running into. We collected our numbers- 117 and 118! (got your number) Andy was in two minds as to whether he was going to join us, right up until the last minute, he decided not to though. As we set off, Rafa did his normal ‘race cry’ which attracted a lot of attention. Unsurprisingly he was the only dog, and this attracted lots of questions. I made the decision to run him off muzzle, and was so pleased I did.
The claxon went and we set off down a little road and country lane until we reached the first of what must have been 50 stiles (I kid you not!!) some narrower than others and with gates above. We alternated between lifting Rafa over, letting him jump them, or him going under. At first the stiles were a welcome break from the terrain, a chance to catch our breath, but by the end the pulling ourselves over really hurt our upper bodies.
We knew we had to navigate, but we really underestimated this. First, we thought we would latch on to someone we could keep up with. First mistake, this lady led us to a field of bulls just over a mile in. It was very muddy and I fell hip deep in a muddle puddle of cow s***. Poor Rafs had to swim through it! And Sam well she just laughed and carefully navigated around it. Luckily for me, she wasn’t quick thinking enough to grab a perfect photo opportunity! I did complete the entire race with s*** up my arms.
Covered in s*** we pressed on. About 5 miles in, the instructions started to get really confusing. A riddle with green gates put on a hilly extra mile to our distance, as well as wasting almost half an hour trying to get through to the race director on the phone for clarity, but mobile reception was poor. Next time (As if!) I would program the route in some kind of GPS device!
The green gate saga introduced us to a lady called Jill, who was nearly 70 and doing her first Ultra! She was an interesting lady who works doing film soundtracks. She was currently working on the new Bond film, but her CV included Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and she met Adele when doing Skyfall, but Sam Smith had decided to do this theme separately to the rest of the soundtrack. Jill had done a lot of the route before as she did the High Weald Marathon in the summer, so she was handy to have around and we stuck with Jill for the rest of the run.
The route was ‘undulating’ and crossed Sussex and Kent borders. Some of the route was the same as the Ashurst Trailscape, which meant to knew the big ass hill (b###h of a hill) that was just around the corner! Interestingly, despite the fact we had covered more than a marathon at this point, the hill didn’t seem as bad as when I did it in the 10K the year before. I guess that means progress!
The route took us through fields of Bulls, which was rather frightening with Rafa. He was fine, the bigger concern was Sam wearing the red of Southend AC! The final bull field took us incredibly close to them- we understandably picked up pace! We also ran through fields of sheep, who were fine and encountered pheasants and horses on route. The landscape was stunning, running across Pooh Sticks Bridge and through 100 Acre Wood was a highlight.
Every 5-6 miles there was a checkpoint. Generally they were well stocked, although when I desperately wanted some coca cola they had run out! Rafa tucked lightly into the delights of the checkpoint and became really good at hydrating at the checkpoints.
Due to our detour and delay, it became increasingly obvious that we weren’t going to make the 8 hour cut of point. My main concern was not getting a medal, would have been gutted if we hadn’t. But thankfully we did. As we entered the Groombridge estate a lady shouted at me to ‘Hurry up past’ because the geese didn’t like dogs! Having just run 33 miles, I didn’t have the energy to tell her where to go like I normally would! Rafa pulled to the end, so I really felt like I had an unfair advantage on Sam and Jill.
So our time wasn’t great, but we have to put things in perspective- we didn’t train appropriately, we didn’t plan to navigate. We stopped and chatted at checkpoints and took photos of the amazing scenery on route, building lasting memories. It was an adventure and I’m glad we did it, we being the main word- I would have had a complete meltdown without Sam, Jill and Rafa. But I’m through with distance running. Until next year.
If you are thinking about doing an Ultra, and you love trail, this race is a must. The photo opportunities of the landscape and nature are amazing, the people that participated were all really friendly, including a crazy Australian race organiser! Everyone at the checkpoints were friendly, encouraging, and helpful. Just make sure you are ready to navigate!!
This report has been written with the assistance of Samantha and Andrew, from the comfort of the Shoebury Hotel public house. Where stupid ideas like running ultra-marathons originate from.