Trails & trees, yes please, #motivation

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After an unusually long break I’m back running. It’s been five weeks since RTTK and today was just what I needed to get me back “out there”. I decided to returned to my roots !! Some 25 years ago I was running through these woods when I joined Stubbington Green runners and I find myself drawn back here when I need to reconnect with running. This Forestry Commission land is only 15 minutes down the motorway and offers that special feeling that only the woods can give you.

The compacted gravel path on the way to the woods has the added bonus of a short hill before you reach the more natural trails with their mud and puddles from the last couple of days rain. There’s always a stack of logged trees at the top of the hill and it gives you a great focal point to aim for when pushing some hill speed work !!

DSC00496The weather for todays run was changeable but generally sunny and it certainly brought out the dragonflies and butterflies. I noticed a small sign at the top of the hill which took me by surprise but I pressed on regardless 🙂 There weren’t any gun shot noises thankfully, in fact with so little noise all you could hear were the trees swishing in the breeze.

DSC00497Once into Botley Wood you soon become conscious of how the previous wide open spaces are now enclosed by the ferns and undergrowth at grown level and the trees above. The rain from last night was also evident whenever the wind blew because I was experiencing random showers of rain water from the leaves above !! There was a certain amount of mud but the one overriding sensation was just how lush everywhere looked.

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I met a mountain biker travelling in the opposite direction but that was it as far as contact with civilisation. Stopping to take these photos really makes you appreciate that there’s a whole world away from the office and home life that just exists day by day without hardly any involvement with the outside world. Nature just carries on as it always has and running through it is such a pleasure.

What also struck me was the contrast between old and new, the fallen tree with its circles to count for the time it had stood and then the newly planted trees that were finding their way in the forest.

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Today may have only been 55 minutes worth of running/photos but it has reignited my motivation and I’m looking for my next challenge. Coincidentally I saw on Strava that other Fareham Crusaders (my current club) are putting in long runs ahead of the Purbeck Marathon on September 17th. Photos from this challenging coastal run looked great last year so that will be my new found target.

With seven weeks to play with I’m now fired up with a new challenge. Returning to these woods always reminds me of my first club runs and the people that I ran with but most of all it reminds me that running through nature is both a pleasure and a privilege. There’s plenty of room in the woods for the trees, animals and us too, just give it the respect it deserves.

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Even the mud looked good !!

Happy running 🙂

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Goodwood Hill Climb 5 mile run

With Race to the Kings double marathon well and truly out of my legs now I’ve been looking around for some interesting Summer evening races.

The 53 second video above shows the iconic hill climb at the Goodwood motor racing circuit. I’ve now found out that there’s a 5 mile run that includes the hill on Monday August 7th at 7pm. This fits in perfectly, lets face it, I was sold as soon as they mentioned “hill” !! Naturally there may not be tens of thousands of fans cheering us on but it will be  a great night. The run isn’t on the race track but the grounds and the hill will be well worth the visit.

Organised by the Goodwood health club this annual event takes you through the glorious parkland of the estate and up the 1.2 mile hill with its 95 metre elevation. Winstons Wish (a charity for bereaved children) will benefit from the night and there’s also a food option if you wish to soak up the atmosphere even more.

£14 for a run along this historic route seems quite reasonable to me. We may not cover the 1.2 mile hill in 40 odd seconds but I’m looking forward to an evenings run with a difference. Come and join me ?? Click and Enter Here

Race to the King : 53.5 miles, 12 Hours & 1 Big smile

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Race to the King (RTTK) is a trail running challenge from Slindon to Winchester. The route was 53.5 miles along predominantly the South Downs Way (SDW), which also meant 5,200 feet of elevation. I think it’s fair to say that the longest day might have been last week but Saturday was certainly mine and everyone else’s. There are so many people and places that I’d like to mention so bear with me, get comfortable, and I’ll be begin.

My journey up to this point has involved a lot of preparation and planning but most of all the sheer enjoyment of trail running. It seems fitting that my trail running buddy Paul Coates and I are in the first photo because we’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting to the start line. At this point I’d like to thank Paul for all his help, everyone who has sponsored me for the Walking with the Wounded charity, £375, and all the good luck messages.

After a 4.45am alarm call myself, Paul, Dave, Lucy and Kate (all Fareham Crusaders) set off at 6am for Slindon. On arrival we had the first of our many positive impressions from the RTTK organisation. A huge marquee, lots of toilets and friendly staff welcoming us. This photo shows all of the above mentioned as well as Paul Southon but not Thom Dillon who was another Crusader I’d come across later.

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Also running today were our friends Phil and Teresa from Second Wind Running, a great local running outfit, I borrowed this next photo from them, so thanks for that. Phil was 30th overall (9.20) and first in his age category, Teresa was 4th in her category (10.40) fantastic times for two real “givers” to our local running community.

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Now, 53.5 miles and 9 hours 20 minutes I hear you cry, what did the winner run it in ?? Profeet‘s Jack Blackburn ran an amazing 7.13 !! (OMG) It was also great to have a chat with Perfect Pickles from twitter, sorry I can’t remember your first name as my brain isn’t working 100% yet !!

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Conditions were perfect for us with an overcast but humid day that would offer refreshing drizzle at times and thankfully no real sunshine to worry about. Hydration was clearly going to be a major part of the strategy so it was a huge relief that the weather was kind to us. I used two 500ml soft flasks and refilled them both at every aid station with electrolyte tablets.

I’m not that familiar with the first 8 miles or so but as we headed North for 3 miles and then looped around towards Gratton Beacon for another 5 miles all we seemed to be doing was going up !! Paul and I were running conservatively and when there was any doubt we walked, so as to save energy for later. The first feed station was at 7.9 miles and we were treated to portaloos, numerous snack options, plenty of water and a rousing welcome. Buoyed by the prospect of this being the case for the remaining aid stations we headed off with an extra spring in our stride.

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By 10 miles we’d crossed the A285 and my recollections from the South Downs marathon of 2 years ago meant I knew where we were and this also meant 43 miles of course knowledge to come (yes we’d done our homework !!) This also meant a long gradual hill through the crops that came flooding back to me !! Our pace was “steady” as we ran along the top of the Downs making sure to keep an eye on the chalk and loose gravel that characterises this area. I didn’t take many photos because I was concentrating on the matter at hand and ultimately there’s lots in my training blogs.

We chatted to out fellow runners on our way and as we started the descent towards the A285, and Cocking, we knew the second aid station and the long tarmac road that climbs back up to the Downs was approaching. What we didn’t expect was our friend Cat Underwood, she greeted us with her usual enthusiasm !! Hugs were exchanged and off we set. Thanks Cat ….. you’re a star 🙂

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The route out of the feed station meant a long gradual walk, after all we still had 38 miles to go. Our “steady start” strategy was working well but I did get the sense Paul was holding back. By the time we reached the Monkton estate and tree cover we’d had more drizzle but again it was refreshing so no jackets were needed. The 20 mile alarm on my garmin was a pleasant surprise because I’d hardly looked at it and that was after nearly four hours 🙂 I remember thinking “my god” four hours, a third of the way potentially.

Around this point we unexpectedly ran up Beacon Hill (the first one to avoid confusion) we’ve never run up this because it’s quite technical coming down the other side. As feedback for next year I think this was a mistake because with 20 miles in your legs they can run away with you and sure enough I fell over. Luckily it was my pride and a graze on my elbow but I don’t imagine I was the only one who fell. By now Paul was disappearing into the distance but I figured the 3rd aid station wasn’t far away at 23.4 miles. Harting Down was next and then we headed South towards base camp and half way.

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Once again we were greeted with help and cheer, I decided to eat a plate of pasta, bread and rice which took about ten minutes, I’d briefly seen Paul but he was keen to crack on and I wished him well. So, every now and then as runners we have a “moment”, it dawned on me that there were still 29 miles to go but in a funny way running on my own meant I was more in control, I smiled with that thought in mind and said to myself “this is where the run really begins”.

The next 6 or so miles took us through narrow lanes skirting around Butser and then as I ran through QECP there it was, the highest point on the SDW. I marched up Butser trying not to let it beat me and then I had an inspired moment, why not text a few people seeing as I was walking. This worked really well because it took my mind off the gradient and also updated my loved ones that I’d managed 30 miles.

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As the top of Butser Hill I had another hug from Cat and she said Paul was at least ten minutes ahead. Feed station 4 was a significant one because along with the oranges, melon, water and snacks was the thought that the miles between them would now get shorter 🙂 Previously it had been roughly every 8 miles, it was now 6 to Old Winchester Hill (OWH).

Both my legs and feet were bearing up well at this point and my concentration was aimed at trying to keep my average pace under 13 minute miles. The scenery is amazing along the South Downs and it all seemed quite unreal when I looked at my watch and saw 8 hours on it. The furthest I’ve run is 36 miles so it was new and exciting territory.

After leaving the OWH feed station I caught up Thom Dillion from our club, we had a chat, wished each other well and I pressed on down the hill which has lots of tree roots so care was needed. Joining the old railway line briefly I was starting to feel a couple of my toes were sore after the downhill section and my left thigh was tightening. I rubbed deep heat on my thigh and even though this meant stopping it did mean I had 3 other runners to tackle Beacon Hill for company (the second one 🙂 ) We walked a good proportion of it but chatting really helped, not that my spirits were low but just for some variety.

Reaching the trig point at 42 miles was a massive relief because that was the last big hill and I knew the remaining trail well.

I got quite emotional when my watch said 43 miles because that meant I was down to single figures. We’d worked out before hand that 13.5 minute miles were needed for a 12 hour finish. I was at about 10 hours now and still surprisingly bobbling along even if slowly. As long as I was running it kept my goal in sight.

The last aid station was at 46 miles and Cheesefoot Head was approaching. This was significant because it was a gradual climb but at 50 miles you see Winchester for the first time.

When my 50 mile alarm went off I have to admit a tear came to my eye, it was all downhill or flat now and even with some stomach issues and some walking due to that, I knew I could savour the moment because I was going too finish. The bridge over the motorway said 1 mile to go, the streets of Winchester were fantastic to see after hours of quite trails. I knew the road around Winchester Cathedral and as I ran my last100 metres to the finish, there it was, the Cathedral and the finish line.

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Those 3 steps were taken with care and it was all done. What does 53.5 miles feel like ???

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This photo from pic2go sums it up !! Thanks for the photos 🙂

It’s only when you stop that you realise what you have achieved.

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219th out of 581 (some would have been walkers) I decided to let myself off the 6 minutes and 18 seconds that I was over my target 🙂 I felt fantastic, proud and shattered.

DSC00485The great medal was then followed by the realisation I had to walk about a mile to the train station !! I missed the 8.19 so had to wait for the 9.19 but to be honest sitting down for 50 odd minutes was lovely. The train took me to Fareham and another 10 minute walk but this probably did my legs a favour. I was becoming aware of toe pains but three small blisters were an acceptable price to pay.

We are very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world and having The South Downs Way only 12 miles away means we can enjoy running parts of todays 53 miles again in the future.

Well done to Paul (10.59), a great time, as well as all the other Fareham Crusader runners and everyone that was brave enough to enter. Thanks to all my twitter and ukrunchat friends for their messages and support too. If you haven’t discovered trail running yet, give it a go, it’s beautiful.

Thanks to “Race to the King” and everyone that has supported me in my quest to achieve a double marathon. What’s next ?? 100K … who knows !!

In short, you can achieve so much, if you just “believe”.

Running for “Walking with the Wounded” (WWTW) at RTTK, please donate, thanks

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In less than a week and a half I’ll be running the furthest I’ve ever run. I don’t often run for a charity but on June 24th I am running for WWTW who support the retraining and re-education of our wounded servicemen and women, so that they can return to the work place.

This independence and future employability is the least we can help with, after the mental and physical injuries they have had to cope with.

Please donate, thanks very much 🙂

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RogerThomasson

 

20 miles : QECP to beyond Beacon Hill with 4.5 miles of RTTK

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Todays 20 miles were with Fareham Crusaders James Yeardley (first timer with us) and Rod Nairn (an old friend). We set off in the lovely early morning sunshine and were looking forward to seeing the South Downs Way 100 mile (SDW100) runners on our return leg. The runners started at 6am from Winchester and even allowing for the 14 hour course record pace we had figured we’d see them once we’d turned around at our half way mark of 10 miles. Today promised to be scenic with a capital “S” for us all.

James completed the MDS earlier in the year and Rod the London marathon, Rod was using today as a training run for the South Downs marathon next week and James was looking for his longest run since returning from Morocco and a gradual increase in his mileage. It’s always good to run with different people so chatting with Rod and James added a different twist to our training. Paul and I are 2 weeks away from RTTK so this would be my last long run.

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As we ran out of Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) Paul and James immediately looked the keenest, so Rod and I would be on catch up for most of the day !! We all had questions for James and his epic MDS experience while, to be fair, James was also interested in what we’d been up to. Paul commented that James has a few years yet before he joins Fareham Crusaders Saga splinter group (us) … ha ha !!

As we made our way along the South Downs trail I was wondering whether James was going to be too fast for us but he looped back with Paul on a few occasions. After some steady miles and quite a bit of banter we ran up through the trees towards Harting Down where we had our first sight of the Centurion Running 100 mile feed station and Ian from Chichester that we know was one of the volunteers. We pressed on down the chalky steep path near Beacon Hill, over the cattle grid and down the other side of the hill. Paul gave us a moment of amusement when he lost his footing on some slippy mud but skilfully managed to stay on his feet. We passed the WW2 German pilot’s memorial and took advantage of the cooler wooded trail but it’s worth noting there’s still puddles and mud out here.

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4.5 miles of the RTTK with 3 hills you need to know about !!

Our half way turning point was on the open Downs that come up from Cocking. From a RTTK point of view this would be at about 18 miles. We had a quick pit stop and James impressed us with his nuts !! Quite an assortment of protein packed goodness. Once you leave the wooded section and take a sharp left and right you will come across a narrow flat section that then winds back up hill. There are tree roots to avoid and a sharp left hand turn brings you out into the sunshine and onto the first main hill. This was the point that we saw the leading SDW100 runner. He looked strong and had a healthy lead.

DSC00448As you can see we decided to walk some of this hill !! We didn’t see the second and third placed runners until the shorter but steeper next hill that’s just down from Beacon Hill (which you skirt around). This photo was from earlier in the year as we were all concentrating on getting to the top !! The chalk path is quite rutted with loose stones and flint so care is needed both down and up it, once you’ve negotiated the cattle grid 🙂

hart3Needless to say today was considerably hotter than this photo. The first ten runners had passed us before we made the third climb of this section of hills towards Harting Down car park and the Centurion feed station. This hill needed some walking too 🙂

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By now we had lots of runners passing us in the opposite direction but we made a point of encouraging them all as they continued their epic journey. Ian very kindly gave us some water and after a quick chat we were off again. We stayed at the back of the tent keeping out of the way of the race runners.

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Not long after crossing the B2146 we bumped into Film My Run  Stephen and Richard. We wished them well and it was noticeable they didn’t seem to be filming !! James also met another MDS runner (it’s a small world). Soon after this we reached the signpost that will take everyone South for a few miles off the South Downs Way before we re join it at QECP and the 30 mile marker. Paul is doing his best “flight steward” pose. RTTK wise this would be 22.5 miles.

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Our final miles were “steady” as the heat was starting to take its toll but with a constant flow of SDW100 runners to cheer on, the time passed quite quickly !! For anyone that knows the route into QECP there are quite a few cheeky hills but the last one is short, sharp and very rough with stones and bricks. Rod and I caught up with James and Paul at the top just in time for this team selfie 🙂 p.s “Yes” I will be getting my haircut as part of the double marathon preparation !!

jy320 miles of sun and smiles, that’s what trail running does for you …. love it. James treated us to tea & coffee in the café so thank you for that and we look forward to future runs. It was also great to catch up with Rod as he’s run with us many times but not for a while.

Sunshine wise on the day of the RTTK we will be running East to West so the rising sun will be behind us until midday then for the remainder of the time we will be running towards it. White T shirt and white cap will definitely be my choice for the day.

I hope all the 100 milers had a safe journey towards Eastbourne.

Something different : Video/photos 21 miles #RTTK

This week Paul and I ran from QECP to Meonstoke and back. This out and back 21 mile run included Butser Hill and Old Winchester Hill. Our route was effectively between miles 30 to 41 within the Race to the King. By way of a change I decided to string our photos and a video clip together to give a visual account of our run. “Moving images” whatever next … ha ha. The Hot and hilly weather meant a white t shirt & cap.

Hope you like it !!

Train(ing) for RTTK, 25.5 miles to Winchester

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Race to the King is a 53 mile challenge from Slindon to Winchester and it’s only 5 weeks away !!!! On Saturday I mapped out virtually a marathon for us and more importantly our final 13 miles would mimic the 40 to 53 of RTTK. If you follow the link above it plays a short video that finishes around Winchester Cathedral and into its grounds. The final half marathon was what I wanted us to experience today. The photo above is Winchester with the rain falling but our spirits lifted after a great run 🙂

Paul and I had the pleasure of running with Del Roberts for the first time and part of the route with our friend Ros. Del is an experienced ultra runner and co founder of On the Whistle , a local running events company.

In our preparation for RTTK we use every run to try something new, for me today was suntan lotion and a cap 🙂 I’ve just got a feeling that June 24th will be a scorcher !!

As we ran out of Fareham from the train station it was interesting to hear more about Del’s running background and as we hadn’t seen Ros for a while it was good to catch up. Del talked about an interesting evening in June with the adventurer Ranulph Fiennes , so already he’d broadened our horizons.

The first 5 miles brought us to Wickham were the annual horse fair was starting to take shape so we skirted around it and joined the old railway line. By 7 miles it was time to wish Ros well as she was turning back and we pressed on, up the gradual incline, for another 5 miles. The changeable weather replaced our sunshine with dark menacing clouds but even at our steady pace we seemed to be out running the rain.

12 miles in and it was time for our scheduled pit stop at Meonstoke Village Store . This Aladins cave of treasures has numerous locally sourced offerings and if you live in the area it’s well worth popping into so as to support the local producers. Today we really only needed water but it came at just the right time, along with friendly service from the young lady behind the counter. Follow the link above to their website.

DSC00364In many ways this was the real start of our run because we had some mles in our legs and we were joining the RTTK route. I’d avoided too many photos up to this point as I wanted to give other RTTK runners an insight into the last 13 miles !!

First up is Beacon hill that climbs out of Exton. It’s about 450 feet of elevation and is the last big test. However, saying that there’s quite a few undulations along the way.

DSC00369Beacon Hill Lane gives way to the steeper White Way that Del and Paul are running here. Why do people run up great big hills I hear you say, well the answer is the view at the top. On this occasion it is Winchester Hill across the valley which is also part of RTTK.

DSC00371Our trusty South Downs Way signs with the blue acorn point you on your way but at times can blend into the hedges once the wood is weathered, but that’s the point of a recce run 🙂

We continued on our way past farms and barns and Milbury pub. One point we’d all noticed was that the cyclists and walkers that came towards us all had jackets on so there was still the prospect of the black clouds catching us. What we hadn’t reckoned on was hail !! Yes, hail in May. Luckily we only saw it in the hedgerows and Pauls photo.

DSC00373As we approached Cheeseford Head our mileage was now up to 20 and this was where we’d missed a left hand turn a couple of weeks ago. This gradual hilly section will be at about 47 ish miles on RTTK. We ran it today but I suspect it will need walking in June. The wide track changes to a narrow trail through the trees with lots of tree roots so beware “on the day”. This is also near the Boomtown festival site.

DSC00376Emerging from the woods we crossed the A272 and after a few fields we were rewarded with our first sight of Winchester and Intec if you know the area. So with about 3 miles left the end was literally in sight.

DSC00378You can’t beat a downhill section after 22 miles and even the light rain was refreshing. As we weaved our way down the hill and onto narrow county lanes we did have one pause for thought where there were two SDW signs but as Del pointed out one said riders and one walkers. The hedge line that we ran next to looked familiar from a run I did in the opposite direction a couple of years ago so we were closing in on the motorway bridge and Winchester city centre.

DSC00380Yes, I took more photos than I realised but I think they’ll be useful for anyone who runs this, especially as a point of reference when you are tired. The motorway bridge had a rewarding sign that we just had to take a photo of ……………

DSC00381All that was left was to find our way through the streets of Winchester, past the Black Boy pub, around Winchester college and the flint walls of the Cathedral (see the RTTK link and their video). Entering the Cathedral was actually quite emotional after 25.5 miles knowing that the next time we do this will be at the end of the race. Unknown to us Winchester’s Mayfest was today. This festival centres mainly around Morris Dancers, some traditional and some very colourful, however, we needed to sit down … ha ha !!

We’d had a great run and Del is now another member of the growing Thomason Tours club i.e. runners that have come on routes that I’ve planned 🙂 We had a well earned Starbucks coffee, made our way to the station and still had time for another train(ing)coffee to warm/ hydrate us.

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The 27 minute ride on comfy seats was just what we needed and naturally talk was of future runs and races between Paul, Del and myself.

What about the other 0.7 miles to make the training run a marathon I hear you ask ?? Well I live 3/4’s of a mile from Fareham train station so I bagged my marathon before I got home. Thanks for reading and thanks to Ros, Del and Paul for the company / banter that is essential on long runs.

There maybe some video footage to follow so log in again in the coming days 🙂

Doctor Dan really is “the man” !!

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Last week I had the pleasure and privilege to attend a talk from Doctor Daniel Roiz de Sa (Dr Dan). The location for this inspirational evening was Absolute Running’s fitness studio. Dr Dan specialises in Sport and Exercise medicine as well as activities in extreme weather climates. Dan is CMO at Gosport’s Institute of Naval Medicine, not that far from our local running shop, Absolute Running (AR). The evenings presentation was wide ranging but with a bias towards his work with the amazing Duncan Slater (athlete & double amputee) on the 250K Marathon des Sables (MDS).

Nick from Absolute Running is always keen to promote local endeavours and especially ex service personnel, so, with Duncan being ex RAF, this is how the evening came about.

Dr Dan has been involved in expeditions to the South Pole with Duncan, Prince Harry and other ex servicemen, various Olympians as they prepared for the Rio games, including Jonny & Alistair Brownlee and numerous other supporting roles for climate related extreme challenges. However, as he mingled with us and wrestled with his laptop I.T. issues you’d never of guessed that he was the key note speaker. It’s often the case that the people who have achieved so much are actually quite unassuming.

As Dan ran through the format of the evening his passion shone through and as an audience, we were captivate by his every word. The second central theme of the night was the charity that Duncan and Dan worked with on this project, Walking with the Wounded . WWTW was set up to help and promote the transition of ex servicemen back into the workplace. The admission money for the evening was being donated and the link above tells you more about their work.

The video below shows Dr Dan’s heat chamber and the special guest who popped down to Gosport to wish a fellow adventurer well. Dan can be seen letting Duncan into the chamber and explaining what to expect !! We learnt that diet, acclimatisation and lots of data was complied to give everyone their best chance possible, no stones were left unturned !!

Dan’s role was not only to complete the 250K (six marathons in six days) but to run ahead of Duncan so as to be there for any medical requirements. The nature of the event is that you are self sufficient with only water being provided throughout the running and tents as your overnight accommodation. This meant Dan’s pack included spare parts for Duncan’s ground breaking prosthetic legs as well as medical supplies, on top of what he needed to complete the race.

The MDS challenge is a constant battle with the sand dunes, exposed wide open flats, temperatures of 40 & 50 C and wind storms. Billed as the toughest footrace in the world the demands of the Moroccan environment would be too much for the vast majority of us but the combination of determination and willpower really came across as Dan showed us photos of dunes that had rope to pull on, because they were so steep !!

Dan left us with no illusions that the organisers will dnf (did not finish) you without too much compassion so this weight of responsibility must have been immense with Dan also trying to mange his own self preservation. Naturally it goes without saying that Duncan’s efforts were bordering on super human as the first double amputee to finish.

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Along with Dan and Duncan local ultra runner James Yeardley from my club Fareham Crusaders had also benefited from Dan’s heat chamber training so it was great to have a chat with him at Fareham Leisure Centre after a Crusaders training night recently.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tom Evans. From the minute Dan told us Tom’s story there was a sense of excitement and real anticipation in his voice. Tom is a Captain in the Welsh Guards and surprised everyone, not least the local favourites, when he came 4th on the first day. Tom eventually finished on the podium in 3rd place which is the best position any European runner has ever achieved. He was running for WWTW and naturally has catapulted himself into the marathon and ultra world with this performance. I suspect Tom will be seeing a lot more of Dr Dan !!

The royal seal of approval was given to Duncan on his completion of the MDS by Prince Harry, so Tom, James and Dr Dan can all say that they beat the desert.

princetweet A number of interesting questions were asked at the end and a heart felt round of applause completed a very motivational evening. Thank you Dr Dan.

We finished at 9pm, I said goodnight to a few of the local runners and asked Dan if he was ok with me writing this blog. Thanks must also go to Nick Carter of AR for organising the night and I think it’s fair to say that we all left feeling that we were capable of “so much more” !!

Finally, AR’s Nick has a series of Red Sofa interviews and this 9 minute episode is a measure of the respect and interest everyone had for the challenge that lay ahead.

Feedback ………. thanks very much Tom.

Tom

18 miles Exton to Cheesefoot Head & back, RTTK preperation

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Race to the King’s 53 miles are now 7 weeks away so Paul and I decided to catch up on some homework by running a section towards the end of the route. We started in the bottom right hand corner of the map at Meonstoke and joined the RTTK route at about 40.5 just off the old railway line and under the bridge that’s no longer there !! (That link and the remaining links are from Google Maps street view). We followed the undulating South Downs Way path to the A31 which will be about 49.5 miles on the day and was our 9 mile turn around point.

On arrival it was a cold and windy morning so we both started with a long sleeve and short sleeve tops plus jacket. This might sound excessive but kit choice will be key on the day due to the fact that we could be out there for twelve hours, the weather on top of the Downs can be markedly different to the bottom of the valleys and our British Summer time is so unpredictable.

Running through sleepy Exton we soon approached the narrow lanes that take you to the top of Beacon Hill and its trig point. On the RTTK day this will be at about 41.5 miles so the 1.5 mile tarmac lane with its 450 feet elevation will be the last “big” climb to test your physical and mental fortitude. The Beacon itself can be seen just before you take a right hand turn onto the narrow track up to the trig. If you are brave enough to look, here , is the google maps street view as you leave Beacon Hill Lane and start to ascent.

The view back towards Old Winchester Hill where you will have come from is amazing and well worth savouring, I say that because the vast majority of us will be walking towards the trig !!

The trail takes you through a farmyard and along a tree lined section which may be useful if it’s windy but we were lucky today as the wind had dropped and the sun had come out. Now, as we’ve all experienced your mind can play tricks on you when you are running because I mentioned to Paul we must be near Milbury pub about a mile later on, “there’s no pubs around here” was Paul’s reply, just as the path opened out onto the car park and pub. So the Milbury’s pub is now affectionately called the invisible pub.

With the sun getting stronger we stopped for a quick food and drink break in the shade.

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Our next noticeable point of reference was Holden Farm but before that we were presented with a classic South Downs photo opportunity with trees, crops, a hill and a trail. This beautiful view is only spoiled be me being in the way !!

DSC00361As I’m writing this my friend Alison has posted a photo of exactly this location with the caption, “stole your route” which made me laugh !! The South Downs Way ought to be a compulsory trip for everyone to take in the sights.

Did I mention the undulations, well there isn’t anything huge but they do come quite regularly and at this point when we are in the 40 odd miles done stage then I’m sure they will all seem bigger. We crossed the A272, ran around the edge of a field, past yet another barn and then we could see in the distance the A31 traffic at the bottom of the wonderfully named Cheesefoot head. By now we’d clocked 9 miles and the sign that I was next to showed a reassuring 3 miles to Winchester so this will be about 50 of the 53 Race to the King miles. What we also noticed here, were in a couple of tanks in the nearby fields. This turned out to be Juniper Leisure Tank driving  !! How cool is that 🙂

**Update**, after another look at the map we should have turned left instead of heading down towards the A31 where the Winchester sign was. So that’s at about the “V” of Temple Valley on the map at the top of my blog, “ha ho”, the live and learn !!

DSC00362 As you can see behind me our return leg would start with a hill so Paul played his trump card, a pepperoni pizza pasty. Easy to digest, lots of salt and quite tasty (he let me have some). Our return 9 miles were spent discussing RTTK strategy and all in all the 18 miles were the furthest I’ve run the weekend following a marathon so I was very pleased.

DSC00363 We leant some valuable course knowledge today as I’m sure that the last 13 miles of our 53 will be much more mental that physical, preparation is the key !! I hope this has helped to give other RTTK runners a flavour (not the pepperoni one) of what’s in store (not Sainsburys) 🙂 We returned to Meonstoke village hall were my request to the lady at the desk of “can we borrow some water on a long term basis please” was met with a “yes certainly”, the hot day had meant we’d both run out.

I will end my blog here but as we speak I am working on a video of snippets that Paul took on our way so watch this space for the final instalment.

3 Forts Challenge 27.2 miles

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The 3 Forts Challenge is a 27.2 mile trail run that takes in the South Downs Way (SDW)and three Iron Age forts. So, Cissbury Ring 250 BC, Devil’s Dyke 100 BC and Chanctonbury Ring 600 BC mean not only are you in a beautiful part of the world but you feel like you are going back in time as I doubt it has changed for hundreds of years.

Crusaders Paul, Sally, Jon, Dave, Lucy and Kate joined my trail running buddy Paul Coates and I on a windy morning along with Phil Hobby from Stubby. Kit choice was going to be important today seeing as we were set for 3,450 feet of elevation and the temperature can drop significantly when you get up onto the top of the exposed Downs. I wore my long sleeve Helly and was pleased I did as well as carrying my Ron Hill waterproof jacket that ties up around your waste because heavy rain for forecast for later. Finally with ten feed stations on route the organisers certainly had the runners interests at heart.

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route

As we set off on the initial two mile gradual climb to meet up with the SDW much of the chat was the fact that this would be two miles downhill to the finish !! Having said that when you have been on your feet for 3/4/5/6 hours the jarring on your thighs can actually mean you hold back on your natural instincts 🙂

Once onto the main trail some concentration was required due to the dry rutted mud and it was here at about four miles that I chatted wit Phil Hall who I know from twitter and have been in the same races but not actually met, so it was great to have a bit of a chat.

By six or so miles our days task came into view with the skyline being our target.

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I’m a firm believer that you get out of life what you put into it and as runners we train for days like this. The sheer beauty of our surroundings coupled with the physical and mental challenge ahead quite simply make you feel alive and highten all of your senses. With 350 + like minded runners the day promised to be a memorable one. As Julie Andrews once sang, “The hills are alive with the sound of runners” … or was it music ??

We dropped down towards the River Adur which meant the wind dropped and the sunshine was pleasant on your bones but as Sir Issac Newton will tell you what goes down inevitably goes up. Not having run in this area before I couldn’t say for certain which hill this was but it certainly meant walking from about half way up !! The grass and trail then gave way to a narrow road and this road weaved towards the top of the hill. With vehicles parked on the roadside it reminded me of a Tour de France stage, I almost excpected Chris Froome to run past me !! (Cycling joke)

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I’d read on the course notes that 11 miles was a turn around point so it didn’t surprise to to see “speedy” Paul Webster heading in my direction. Paul finished an amazing 41st out of 352 so much respect to you Sir. Paul Coates passed me next with a picture of concentration on his face which isn’t like Paul, we usually get a pose of some description. Clearly his 38 mile ultra from the previous week was starting to take some toll on his legs. I turned and fairly quickly saw Sally & Jon on the downhill then followed by Dave, Lucy and Kate. Seeing as I had my waste band open for a drink I took a photo.

DSC00352Apologies for taking a photo when you were walking but trust me we had all been run/walking at that point. An easy section of downhill was gratefully received and I pressed on to the most challenging section between 17 and 21 miles were the long drawn out hills tested your resolve and patience !! I use either a slow but constant stride for these or walk for a count of ten and then run for a count of ten. This works for me 🙂

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I passed an open toed sandals runner stopping to take pebbles out of his shoes (well flip flops really) and was mindful that the dark clouds were starting to roll in and that rain was on its way. The twenty mile beep on my watch was a welcome sound and a downhill chalky section between 21 and 23 had to be taken with some concentration but was still a delight. The final hilly section between 23 and 25 miles took some effort but again this is what we train for. If you can smile when it’s hurting you must be enjoying it 🙂

In many ways hills are a metaphor for life. You keep plugging away with whatever it throws at you and sometimes it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere but when you reach the top and know you’ve reached your goal then the sense of accomplishment is immense. Running can be quite emotional, at points like this, as a wave of self belief sweeps over you and you feel like you are on top of the world (well the South Downs).

The last two miles were bliss as the downward trail wound its way towards the finish line. The drizzle that had started at about 22 miles was becoming more noticeable but there was no way I was going to waste the “free miles” of the downhill section putting on my jacket !!

I crossed the line in just under 5 hours 7 minutes and in 218th place out of 352 which I was happy with in a field of runners who would have specifically chosen this event.

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Phil and Paul had both finished ahead of me and Paul Webster was probably at home having his tea 🙂 The remainder of the Crusaders came in through the heavy rain that had developed so well done to them too. Today got the thumbs up from both the lads above and certainly from me too, even if this photo was from before we started ha ha !!

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Thanks to the organisers for a great event. People ask me why I blog, it’s for days like today when you come away with a sense of achievement, pride and simply an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment. Come and join us on the trails, maybe you will get hooked just like us 🙂

P.S. I hum to myself when I run (sometimes this gets me funny looks) todays choice was mainly Ben Howard with the lyrics “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” 🙂