‘Don’t start off like a twat. Don’t start off like a twat. Don’t start off like a twat.’
I have an unfortunate history of starting off races like a twat. In various races over a variety of distances I have started off far too quickly and really suffered for it. At the Weald Challenge in May I went off far too fast in the first 5K and made the remaining 45K much harder and more painful than they needed to be. I’ve done it at parkrun, dying on my arse in the last kilometre. I’m an equal-opportunity start off like a twatter.
But today was going to be a day where I didn’t start off like a twat. I was going to start off at a sensible pace of around 9 minutes per mile (around 5 and a half minutes per K) and I was going to hold that pace for as long as I could – hopefully for fifty miles until the finish.
The Kent 50 mile endurance run is organised by the wonderful Traviss and Rachel (www.saxon-shore.com) and consists of seven laps of just over seven miles each. Race HQ is a barn at Brooks Lane in Reculver (near Herne Bay) in north Kent and the course takes in trails, bike paths and farm tracks. It’s mostly pretty flat and a lap looks like this:
I’m generally pretty good with lapped races, having run round a 400 metre track for 24 hours on a couple of occasions before. They have the huge advantage of being able to easily and regularly access your stuff (in this case every seven miles or so), which makes nutrition much easier.
Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve come to realise that chocolate croissants, chocolate-filled crepes, gels and Mountain Dew seem to work very well for me in long races. It’s an unusual combination that I doubt would (and should) ever go together in any other context, but it gives me sufficient fuel to keep going for several hours. Hit the sugar train early, hit it hard and ride it to the finish.
Mountain Dew is fabulous stuff. Full fat coke is the fuel of choice for many ultrarunners, but for me coke pales into insignificance when compared to the mighty power of Mountain Dew. Packing 240 calories, a huge amount of caffeine and a whopping 66 grammes of sugar (74% of your recommended daily allowance!) into each luminous green 500ml bottle, how this stuff remains legal is beyond me. It takes sugar and caffeine rushes to new heights and if Mountain Dew ever start an ultrarunning team, I’m first in the queue.
So nutrition was really simple. Halfway through every lap I’d take a gel and at the end of every lap I would drink most of a 500ml bottle of Mountain Dew and eat either a chocolate croissant or a crepe. And repeat. It worked spectacularly well although my sugar and caffeine tolerance has been developed over many years – please proceed with caution if trying this at home.
With the ‘not starting off like a twat’ mantra ringing in my head, the race began at 6:00am and I started off at a very un-twattish pace. A few people went off ahead of me and I settled into my own race and chugged along in a very relaxed manner. It was overcast with a little breeze – a perfect day for running. The field spread out really quickly and just over an hour later I’d finished the first lap.
That pretty much set the tone for the day. Apart from a very necessary pit-stop at the end of lap two, I continued along feeling pretty relaxed at my goal pace. There were two or three people in front of me but I was happily running my own race.
The event had a slightly unusual format, in that with most fifty mile races if you don’t finish then that’s it. With the Kent 50, if you wanted the Kent 50 medal and the 50 mile finish, then you obviously had to run all seven laps and complete the 50 miles. However, if it wasn’t your day for any reason or you simply decided that you wanted to run a bit less than 50 miles, there was a bell at race HQ that you could ring. That told everyone that your day was over and you got a different medal and your goody bag.
My race continued along in its own unruffled way. On the out and back section of the lap you would see people heading in the other direction and wave and say hi. On the looped section you went round the edge of fields, with views across the Kent countryside on one side and the A299 Thanet Way on the other.
The laps went past and my pace was staying steady and where I wanted it to be. With a couple of laps to go, I realised that if I kept this pace up then I was on course for a time that I would be really happy with. Nobody had overtaken me for a long while and I hadn’t seen the guys who started off faster than me for a bit – I was running a time trial to a large extent at this stage.
I ticked off the sixth lap, ate another chocolate crepe, drank yet another bottle of Mountain Dew (I ended up drinking 5 bottles of the stuff – I still don’t understand how I slept that night) and headed out for the final lap. My quads felt like they had been pretty well used, but other than that I still felt pretty good, all things considered.
The last lap was pretty uneventful. I took in the various features of the lap for the last time, ate my last gel and headed back into the farmyard and race HQ for the final time – seven hours thirty three minutes and thirty one seconds after I first left it. Traviss gave me my medal and congratulated me on winning the race, which was the first time I knew that I had won! I think I was as surprised as anyone and it was the first time I had ever won anything in my life. I’d not been racing for a win, but I wasn’t about to turn it down!
It couldn’t really have gone much better. I’d not started like a twat, held my target pace throughout, my (rather unusual, admittedly) nutrition had gone perfectly and my last two miles were the quickest of the race, which was definitely a positive sign. I’d run the race off virtually no taper as part of my training for the Berlin Wall 100 and fifty miles was the furthest I’d run since last September. The race had been superbly organised with great camaraderie and support from the other runners and from the people helping. It had been one of those very, very rare races where everything had gone according to plan. They don’t happen too often so you definitely have to enjoy them while you can.