One week on from Race to the King and I’m still on the biggest high. My very first ultra marathon experience, getting to share all the miles and memories with Livvy and what an unforgettable weekend it was! I still can’t believe I ran that far, and I’m in shock at just how much I’m enjoying all this trail running malarkey.
After my first marathon in 2018 I felt this huge pressure to do an ultra. Runners kept saying to me ‘ultra next?’ And I was utterly horrified, I mean come on I’d just done a marathon, was that not far enough?! I think you should always do things when the timing is right for YOU, and by this I mean there won’t necessarily be a lightbulb eureka ‘I’m gonna run an ultra moment’ but there will come a time it will feel less scary and you’ll feel curious and that’s when you know you’re ready. For me coming off the back of two marathons, an ultra cycle and a week of mountain running in France I knew the timing was perfect. So when the opportunity arose to run this with Livvy I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t have done this alone and was so grateful for the company.
My place was gifted to me by Threshold, and I want to put that out there because I must be honest with you (it’s ethical and it’s the law). I am so so lucky to have had this opportunity, and the gift of a place allowed me to experience something for the first time, push myself well out of my comfort zone and that’s why I want to share this experience with you all, so that you can make an informed decision before you decide to spent your hard earned cash on an event. This recap hasn’t been edited or influenced by anyone at Threshold, it is my own unbiased opinion of my experience. So sit back and enjoy….
It all began on Friday when we pitched up in Arundel (I still cannot pronounce this place properly) and began by throwing all my road running rules out the window by having salads and Prosecco for our pre race dinner. This weekend was all about enjoying the miles, views and company. It was totally new territory for me, so it was time to just let go, let my hair down and enjoy the ride. After a lot of confusion (who knew there were two travelodges across the road from each other) we arrived at our hotel for the night to discover three things: 1) my friends Sam and Chelle were in the Travelodge across the road; 2) our room had six beds in and 3) we had accidentally packed identical kit, right down to our sports bras. I guess at least that meant we couldn’t lose each other on the trails right?
The morning arrived all too quickly and soon we were crammed in the back of Chelle’s car (I hadn’t packed light) and were on our way to the start. After depositing our bags we headed off in the first wave, with 23ish miles ahead of us to base camp. The weather was really hotting up, but we had lots of water and snacks and were hoping for some shady trails. It was 8 miles until pit stop one and this flew by. Livvy and I adopted a tactic of walking up the hills and enjoying powering along on the flats and it was working! Trail running and especially ultra running is such a welcome break from pounding the roads. 23 miles on the roads sounded a long way but 23 miles on the trails with company and snacks felt much less scary.
I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The hills began to kick in but that was ok. Our tactic of walking up them meant that we got a much welcomed break from running in the heat. We saw some epic views, patted some dogs and cruised our way into pit stop two. Everything was going great, apart from one thing, I was really struggling to eat. Seeing all the sandwiches lined up at the pit stop made me feel queasy and I was very glad of some flat watered down coke. I tried eating some crisps but they were just making a paste in my mouth. I guess this is where I just decided to abandon everyone’s advice of eating real food on ultras and I just stuck to my Science in Sport gels. It was really working for me, and once I accepted that this would be my fuelling tactic I stopped feeling stressed about what I felt I should have been eating.
We left pit stop two and met a beast of a hill which would be our biggest climb for the day. Despite having gone 20 miles at this point I felt surprisingly fresh. Had this been a road marathon I would have been preparing to hit the wall, however at this point I felt like I didn’t want Day 1 to end. The views from the top were so worth the effort. Closing in on basecamp we were in good spirits. Livvy was ready for a shower and I was thinking about pimms.
The one mile to basecamp sign came around quickly and as we closed in on our finish line for the day I had really mixed feelings. Part of me didn’t want to stop, I felt a little jealous of all those carrying on. I still had another day until I officially became an ultra marathoner and I was having such a great time. After 5 and a half hours we pulled into basecamp and we were amongst the first of the over nighters to do so.
After grabbing our stuff and having a quick chill in our tents we decided to get fed, massaged and showered. This was bliss. After suitably stuffing my face (hooray my appetite was back!) we kicked back in the sun with a pint of cider each and cheered the runners coming through basecamp. The atmosphere was great, and later on in the evening we joined to cheer the final runners in, and that was it, day one was over.
I thought camping meant we would be making the weekend easier by splitting the mileage over two days, but waking up at 4:30 (thanks noisy tent man) after 3.5 hours sleep with heavy legs and trying to get dressed in a tiny tent was a challenge. Somehow we went from it being 4:30am to almost 7am and we had to hurriedly dump our bags and flee from basecamp before the 7am cut off. Today would be just over 30 miles and then I would be an ultra marathoner.
It took a while to get our legs going, so as there was a lot of downhill on the road we decided to walk the first mile to warm ourselves up, rather than sleepily smash our shins into the tarmac in our trail shoes. This was an excellent tactic, and I was so glad to have Livvy with me as she was a much more experienced endurance/ trail runner than I am.
Once we began running we started to pass hikers who had set off much earlier than us. There was a lot of road in this section and it started to play havoc with my knee which really hated the tarmac downhills. Luckily the medics at the pit stops were great, they taped me up and sent me on my way. Once we got back on the trails the uncomfortable sensation passed altogether. There’s something really magical about running on trails, the further we ran the stronger I felt, which was bizarre given we had ran 23 miles the day before and had such little sleep.
Again the miles passed so quickly. It was wonderful to have company with me and I was so glad to be sharing this experience with Livvy. All the miles and pit stops began to blur into one, punctuated by some flat coke and some epic jam sandwiches. I was focussed on reaching that magic 50mile sign because at that point I would have run my furthest ever distance.
By the time we reached it we were both beginning to tire, we had a mini celebration and thoroughly enjoyed the views of the poppy fields. We were running in such a wonderful place and so lucky so experience this. Once 50miles passed we were on the hunt for the finish. We began to pick up the pace, it really felt like we had powered through the miles. Some runners we had spoken to around mile 44 had told us we had made up 1 hour 15 on their time. Evidently our team work was paying off. I was running ahead on the flats picking out the route and Livvy was guiding us both up the hills. Together we kept our spirits up.
The trails slowly began to merge into a village, and we knew we were on the hunt for the finish. We were exhausted, I was now throwing mini cheddars down my throat (of course just minutes from the finish my body would finally decide it was hungry- typical) and our watches were showing us that the finish should already be here! As we came through Winchester a man shouted to us that when we turned the corner we would see the finish. I have massive spectator trust issues (we all know that person at mile ten who lovingly claps saying we haven’t got far to go) but the gentleman was right. Relief washed over me, we had been going for over seven hours, I didn’t think it was possible to cry when you were as dehydrated as I felt but the tears started flowing, I looked back at Livvy and could see the look of relief on her face. As we ran down towards the Cathedral we had one final challenge of navigating three steps down to the finish (evil much?!) and that was that, we had completed 54 miles along the South Downs Way and I was an ultra marathoner.
There were tears, hugs, we whipped out Livvy’s bride to be crown (#worsthendoever) and then I ate a very questionable jacket potato. The food at the end was a lovely touch and it was totally acceptable to eat naan bread with macaroni cheese.
Exactly how far we had ran only hit me a few days later when I went back to work and casually described my weekend to my colleagues who all exchanged looks as if to say ‘who is this mad girl in our office?’ I feel like I’ve been firmly gripped by the trail/ultra bug and I’m already thinking about all the adventures I want to have off the roads, starting with a trip to Munich this July. I used to be a strict road runner, I wanted to pound the pavements and get it done because that was what I enjoyed. But now I’ve found this whole other side to running which I love just as much. I would never leave the roads behind but I’m now happy to broaden my experiences and I’m so glad I have an excuse to spend more time out in nature.
So in summary would I do it again? Yes absolutely! Having also done the threshold London Revolution on my bike I can safely say this company are faultless when it comes to delivering a well organised event. I feel like I’m firmly part of the Threshold family. Every runner is taken care of by a team of excellent and selfless volunteers who tend to your every need from filling up your water bottles to giving you a motivational pep talk. I found that mentally breaking the miles down into pit stops was a huge motivator as you were counting down the miles to flat coke and friendly smiles.
Huge positives: well signposted routes, excellent aid stations, caring, compassionate and hard working volunteers, excellent camping facilities (I mean hello hot showers), and wonderful little touches like free massages and photos. You feel really really well looked after and safe on the route, which means you can just put one foot in front of the other and enjoy yourself.
Slight improvements: we arrived into basecamp very early, you’re given a two course meal (pasta/ fajitas and cake) but as we arrived at 1pm and I had struggled to eat on the course we ended up eating quite early on then soon realised we wouldn’t get any other substantial food for the rest of the day. One of the volunteers did let us sneak back for some seconds in the evening and there was a place you could buy pizzas but some extra provision for campers in our situation might have been helpful.
Day 2 also had a lot of road which I found difficult running on as it felt like it was zapping my energy, but it is was it is. The rest of the route was simply beautiful. It’s definitely worth looking at the route and planning a walk break on some of the roads to save your legs.
Somewhere to change/ even shower at the end would have been useful. There were public toilets but they were really cramped and busy. We ended up emptying our bags on the grass by the baggage collection then changing in a portaloo which wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences after two days of it sitting in the heat. I was also that smelly person on the tube after a 3 hour journey home.
Finally one of the selling points of the Threshold events is free photos, however unfortunately there was no photographers out on the trails. We have some great pics from the two finish lines, but I’m sad we didn’t get more out on the beautiful route, however I think this was a last minute change to this event.
Thank you so much to everyone at Threshold and all the volunteers for such a fantastic and memorable weekend. But mostly thank you to Livvy for being the best ultra companion a girl could ask for. I couldn’t have done it without you, although next time I promise I won’t bring any creme eggs!
I’m already eyeing up The Threshold Series next summer and would love to try one all the way through! Have you tried any other events, I’d love to hear your insights!