On Hogmanay last year I signed up to run the Deeside 33 race but discovered a few days later that I wouldn’t be able to go. I then set about trying to find something else and stumbled across The New Forest Running Festival which was taking place the week after the D33 and it just so happens that my Aunt, Uncle, cousin and his wife stay in the New Forest so it would be a good opportunity for a family trip with my Mum and Dad.
There were a number of different events taking place over the weekend including a 5km, a 5km night race, a ladies only 10km, a ladies only half marathon, a 10km, a half marathon, a 20 miler, a 50km and a 75km so there was something for everyone. Fearing that I would be embarrassed in a ladies only race (only joking!) I signed up for the 50km race.
I had taken a couple of months off after completing the Jedburgh Three Peaks race in October last year but I started running again at the end of December and thought I would give the heart rate training a go since it seems to be the latest fad. I actually surprised myself by really enjoying running “slowly” to my heart rate and found I was able to run more miles than ever before in January and February.
By the time March came around I knew I should have decent stamina but wasn’t so sure that I had any speed (not that I would really need any in a 50km) so I did the Lasswade 10 mile race at the beginning of March to see how I was feeling. I cruised along slowly for the first 7 miles keeping an eye on my heart rate and then decided to really go for it over the last 3 miles. I felt like I was flying along and overtook lots of runners, which I will admit was a lot of fun, and I finished really strong. Although it was my slowest ever time at Lasswade I wasn’t bothered because I had ran it completely different to normal and I was feeling good at the end.
I turned up in the New Forest feeling quietly confident (which is highly unusual for me) about my prospects. I was aiming to finish somewhere between 5 and 6 hours, although the closer to 5 hours, the better. I’m still not sure if sitting in a car for 8 hours on the drive down to the New Forest the day before was a good or a bad thing but I was excited to get running. My Dad gave me a lift to the start in the morning and despite the car’s satellite navigation initially directing us to the middle of nowhere we made it to the Red Shoot Camp Site where the race would start and finish. There was a £1 donation to the Air Cadets for parking but being typically tight-fisted Scotsmen we parked just outside the gates and avoided the charge!
Once I had registered, got myself ready and used the facilities (possibly the nicest toilets I’ve come across before a race) I was ready to start. It was a cold, overcast day with a bit of a breeze but with a three lap course I was hoping that the wind would be behind at some point (unlike in Edinburgh when the wind always seems to be in my face!). After a race briefing, a walk up to the start and the pre-race photos we were sent on our way. The first half mile was on a humply single track road before we swung left and onto a trail path and a sharp climb.
NB. Now I should point out that my idea of a forest has lots of trees but apparently the locals in the New Forest think of wide open moorland (that’s what it looked like to me) as “forest”. To avoid confusion in my report if I talk about forest I mean an area surrounded by trees!
I settled into a comfortable pace taking in the new surroundings, feeling good about the day ahead. The first few miles were through forested areas before heading out onto a more exposed moorland section and I saw the first of the many wild horses that roam the New Forest. They didn’t seem at all perturbed by the sight of lycra-clad runners hoofing it (get it? Hoof – horse, ok I’ll stop now!) past them. The first lap went pretty well and I was slightly up on my target pace but I was slightly concerned that I was already feeling quite tired.
On the first hill of the second lap I stopped to walk for the first time and that was when I started to struggle. I was pretty disappointed that once again I was falling apart so early in an ultra. I had cruised round Lasswade just two weeks before and it felt so easy! I really didn’t enjoy the second lap at all and seriously considered just stopping at the end of the lap. My mood wasn’t helped when the leaders started to lap me! I knew it was going to be another long ultra-slog but I decided that I wanted to keep going so I didn’t let on to my Dad how I was feeling when I completed the lap and he helped me top on water, food and Coca-Cola. It was nice to see Sharon from Tailwind at the checkpoint as she had emailed me to wish me luck after I had ordered some of their product.
As I set off on the third and final lap I was feeling a little bit happier with the world and knew that whatever happened now I was going to finish. It was a little bit confusing when I was being overtaken by some pretty fast runners and it wasn’t until after a while that I realised they were doing one of the other races.
Now I will have a little bit of a grumble. Normally, in races you find that the marshals are pretty cheery and encouraging which always helps a bit when you are feeling down and almost out. I think most of the marshals for the race were teenagers from the Air Cadets and although a lot of them did offer encouragement there were a few of them that looked even more miserable than I did! There was even one who was hunkered down with his head buried in his mobile phone and I’m sure didn’t even see me go by. I’m guessing that they probably hadn’t volunteered themselves to stand out in the cold, watching runners go by for several hours so I can understand why they might have been feeling less than happy. Maybe it’s something the organisers should think about changing for next year.
Despite the fact that I was still struggling and the third lap was my slowest I actually enjoyed it the most. It was nice having completely different scenery to what I am used to at home and I loved seeing the wild horses roaming about so freely. With about 3.5 miles to go there was a tarmac road section of about 1.5 miles which I had been looking forward to reaching as I knew I would almost be finished, the wind would be behind me and it was pretty flat. Unfortunately, as soon as I got there I started feeling twinges of cramp in my right leg and had to slow down and walk. I took a gel, forced down some food and hoped that I wouldn’t need to walk all the way to the finish.
There was a checkpoint with about 2.5 miles to go and my Dad was there to snap some pictures of me looking less than impressed with life. I didn’t hang about though as I thought I could still sneak in under 6 hours if I could manage a little bit of running and I was looking forward to a nice sugary drink at the finish. I tried my best to run for a bit while constantly keeping the cramping in my leg at bay. About a mile from the finish there was one final climb which I started to walk up and immediately felt something go ping in my groin. I was slightly alarmed but just tried to keep walking so I could get to the finish. Surely nothing else could go wrong now?
At the top of the hill there was a short section on a tarmac road so I started a slow run again before turning down a road at the side of the camp site. It was a short downhill section and there were about half a dozen spectators (including Sharon) cheering at the entrance to the field where the finish was. Just as I was approaching them I came to a crashing halt as my right leg finally cramped up agonizingly. Great timing! I squealed like a baby and felt very embarrassed. I forced myself to keep moving and thankfully I only had to hobble a few paces into the field and across the finishing line in just under 5 hours and 49 minutes. I didn’t think I’d have a worse finish than at the Edinburgh Marathon but this surpassed it!
I was given my medal, had my photo taken and was surprised to look around and not see my Dad anywhere. I walked up to the tent with refreshments and asked for a cup of orange juice only to be told by the lady that I would need to pay for it! Seriously?! You must be joking? Is this Karma for not paying the parking charge perhaps? Rather than giving her a piece of my grumpy Scottish mind I tried my best pleading face and fluttered my eyelashes at her only to be pointed in the direction of a table full of cups of water which I was surprised to find was free. Excellent, just what I’ve been craving for the last 6 hours!! I stomped off in a huff…..
Still wondering where my Dad was I walked into the car park and saw his car. As I approached I could see that he was in fact just sitting in the car and when I knocked on the window he looked at me in astonishment. Apparently he hadn’t expected me so soon! Hmm, it’s not as though I covered the last 2.5 miles in record time!
Overall, there were definitely some things that could be improved upon organisation wise but I did really enjoy the scenery. I probably wouldn’t rush back to do it again but if you happened to be in the area when it was on I would recommend it as good way to see some of the beautiful countryside.
So, to sum up, I was pleased I had finished under 6 hours but disappointed that I hadn’t been closer to 5 hours and I was disappointed that I had again struggled so much and so early. However, 10 months ago I wasn’t even considering doing an ultra-marathon and now I’ve done 5 of them so I do feel pleased with the achievement. Maybe if I do enough of them I’ll actually get it right one day…….