There was no way I was going to miss this race. The first from Andy Nuttall and his Ultra magazine. It also just happened to be along much of the Test Way, which is a trail I run regularly whilst visiting my mum and stepdad near Andover in Hampshire.
Despite having launched the event only a couple of months before race date, there had been a good take-up and Andy had far exceeded his expectations for the inaugural race. But on reflection, why shouldn’t it have done? Ultra is a terrific magazine with a dedicated and passionate readership. To my mind it makes perfect sense that runners would be keen to see what the team could produce when it comes to race organization.
Seventy-two of us towed the starting line. Having completed some big mileage weeks (for me at least) I didn’t expect to be able to run to the best of my ability, but I wanted to squeeze out as good a performance as I could and to maximize the race as a training run for the Autumn 100. I planned to sit behind the lead pack, but to try and keep them in sight. Then, if I still had it in my legs, I’d use the last few miles to try and come from behind and push for the front. That said, this was a plan laid with absolutely no knowledge of the other runners and what those in the lead might be capable of.
Four of us set off at a fair pace and I whilst the front three ran together, I sat back about one hundred yards behind. Occasionally closing the gap and running with them for short periods. Mostly after they’d taken a wrong turn and quickly realised the error of their ways. This was not part of some grand and well considered strategy, but it was definitely a learning.
The four of us arrived at the first checkpoint, Hurstbourne Tarrant at 17.5K, together and about seven minutes ahead of the next runners. No-one was in the mood to dither around. We were all in and out in a few minutes.
On to the halfway point at 27km, Coombe Gibbet, where there is a large two-sided structure originally erected to hang two criminals back in the seventeenth century. The view was stunning. They say that on a clear day one can see up to seven counties. At this point the lead pack had a few minutes on me, but I still felt I could catch them later on.
Several miles of running alone and I started to pass runners on my return. Several of them suggested that the leader was just a few minutes ahead. They’d also only talked of one person, so I assumed that two of the front pack had managed to take a wrong turn and gotten lost. Perhaps I wouldn’t need to push it harder at the end after all. But then a short while later, I was passed by Peter, and joined by William. We pushed on together for a time, and ran through the check point at 39.5km in 3.12. This is where I made a foolish mistake. In my haste and determination to catch the leader, I opted to miss the checkpoint and make do with the little water I had remaining in my two bottles.
Within just a few miles, I really started to struggle with the feeling of exhaustion and dehydration. The energy was sapped from body, and my legs began to feel very sore. I knew this wasn’t good, and was now battling just to hold my pace.
In the last section I did manage to come within about one hundred metres of the leaders about 5km out from the finish, but I lacked the motivation to push to try and catch them. My head wanted to, but clearly not enough to drown out all the noise my body was making in an effort to slow me down, or even stop. In the last three miles I slowed to a walk on multiple occasions and swore quite a lot too. I was bonking pretty badly and beginning to fantasize about ice cold Coke, which is always a sure fire sign that I’m heavily dehydrated.
After losing my way for a very short period, I eventually found the gate which lead to the finish in the field at Longparish. I gritted my teeth and made a half-hearted attempt at a sprint finish.
The lead pack of Peter, William and Mark had all finished at around 4.30, and I came in shortly after in 4.36. I must have lost five minutes in the final couple of miles.
But in the end I was happy with my performance. I’d not tapered, and run high mileage for the two weeks prior, so 4th place and a respectable time were a satisfactory outcome to a good day’s running.