Just over a couple of weeks ago, whilst sitting on my sofa, I was thinking about my upcoming races this year. I am running the brilliant Ragnar Relay with 4 good friends, but this won’t require me to run more than 7-8 miles in one go. My usual level of bravado figured this will be fairly easy at any level of fitness (completely untrue) and despite the fact that I haven’t really run properly all year, I wasn’t worried. There was 12 weeks to go till the envent. Plenty of time.
Then my mind slowly turned to the next event after that, the Beachy Head Marathon. Slightly different kettle of fish this, but I have run it before, it was 16 weeks or so away and with my usual level of misguided bravado I figured it would be alright.
That brings me on very nicely to the next event, the Wendover Woods 50 (WW50). This is 50 miles, not 50km. So its an ultra. And it was (at the time) 18 weeks away. It is now 16 weeks away!
Now bearing in mind I had hardly run all year, have put on almost 10kg in weight compared to when I was running regularly, this is clearly a slightly bigger fish to fry. For some unknown reason, I thought that this course was fairly flat. I even tweeted as such. You can read the fairly worrying responses to this tweet here.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that the WW50 is hilly. Sorry did I say hilly. I should have said HILLY. Sorry did I say HILLY. I meant HILLY. Apparently, it has approximately 10,000ft of elevation gain over 50 miles. If you consider that the South Downs Way 100 (twice the distance) has approximately 12,000ft of elevation change, this should give you an idea of just how hilly the WW50 is.
Rapidly I felt my previous bravado leaching away from me. In place of this bravado was abject panic. “Is it possible to train up from virtually nothing to 50 miles in 18 weeks” I thought to myself. Well there was only one way to find out.
Jump forward two weeks to the present day, and I have two weeks of training behind me. Two gruelling, punishing weeks where my body had to learn to run again. Even 30 minutes was hard. How was I ever going to run for upwards of 15 hours? Then it all came together in one beautiful moment, and I remembered why I love running so much.
Sunday was my “long run” day, so I headed up to the South Downs just north of where I live in Portsmouth, ready for a nice gentle 70 minute run on the trails. It was evening time, about 8pm. The light was perfect when I parked my car. It was still, quiet and beautiful.
The run started in the Sustainability Centre car park near East Meon. I was straight onto the South Downs Way and immediately heading uphill. For those of you who have not run on the South Downs Way, it is almost always either uphill or downhill. As I ran up the first hill I felt OK. In fact I felt a bit better than OK, I felt good. I reached the top of the hill and remember thinking “well you couldn’t have done that two weeks ago”.
As I plodded on, down single track running trails and descending a super steep rocky path, I felt good. I was running well. No aches and pains. Not feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It felt good.
Running past Meon Springs fishing and campsite, I realised that I hadn’t passed a single other person. I hadn’t even seen a car, or heard a plane in the sky. No tractors or agricultural vehicles. Nothing. I was all alone on the South Downs with just cows, sheep and goats for company. The sun was dropping in the sky, bathing the countryside in a beautiful orange glow. I raised my hands up to the sky and was thankful. Just to be able to run in such a stunning place, to be able to do this, is magical in its own rights.
Reaching the bottom of Old Winchester Hill, I turned around and headed back the way I came. It is amazing how running the opposite direction always seems shorter to me, despite the fact that I had a very steep incline to walk up and it actually took me a little bit longer to get back.
Arriving back at the car park, I posed in the classic style of the wonderful @RunningDads on twitter (who is the master of this strange open mouth pose) and my run was complete. A total of a hilly 10km in just over 70 minutes. I’ll take that any day of the week.
So that is why I love running. All alone, sun setting in one of the most beautiful places on earth I was reminded that with training, you can condition your body to enable you to enjoy a 10km run. If you run in the right places, at the right times, you get a connection to nature and the outdoors which is second to none.
Hope you are all out there enjoying your running as much as I am.
TTFN – Snooky