Monday, 20 July 2009

50 mile challenge race report

So the waiting was over... this was it... my first 50 miler (52.4m to be exact). quite a step up from my previous furthest run in May of 33 miles at the Marlborough Challenge. My training had gone well and I felt ready to take it on (which is probably half the battle won).

It was a bright clear morning in Chislet Marshes (just outside Canterbury) as the 100 strong field assembled outside the Gate Inn pub which would be the start/finish area for the next 8 laps of this multi lap 6.55mile course. The course was a figure of eight with varied terrain mostly off road on farm tracks, with one long section of concrete and a short section on road for good measure.

The course map

The multi-lap nature of the event plus the varied terrain was really helpful in breaking down the enormity of the task I faced. Simply thinking about the total distance was a little daunting to say the least, but six and a half miles X eight sounds far more manageable!

Me, Mike Inkster (race organiser), and dad at the start

I can't actually remember how Mike started the race.... but at 6am we were off on our way as I quickly settled into my stride. I had planned to adopt the same run/walk strategy which worked so well for me at Marlborough. Thus I would run for 9 minutes, walk for 1 minute and repeat from the start to the end of the race. In the run sections I planned to keep a pace of around 10minute miles, however I found myself running faster than this in the first lap, yet it felt comfortably for me so I continued at this pace (around 9:40 m/m). Inserting the walk breaks too gave me an average lap pace of just under 10 min miles per lap.

And so it was that I notched off the laps sticking to a consistent pace. Laps 1 to 4 which make up the marathon distance, I ran in 1:05.19, 1:05.40, 1:04:50 and 1:05.50. Pretty good going but was I going to keep it up as I went beyond this?? At the end of lap 4 I made full use of my great support crew - wife, mum and 1yr daughter with a fresh pair of socks, a change of footwear to my lighter innov8's, and a dash of sun cream. At the end of each lap I had also been alternating between two drinks; a high carb energy drink, and a electrolyte drink to replace lost sodium. This seemed to be working well so I kept this going, with the wife kindly refilling my bottle.

Lap 4 to 5 pit stop!

Lap 5 was very eventful due to the torrential downpour that ensued at about 2 miles in and lasted for a further 2 miles. I passed two runners that had decided to try and stay dry by stopping under a tree, however in my mind this wasn't an option. Standing around certainly wasn't going to get me nearer the finish, and as coach Mad Dog says always keep moving forward whatever happens. I actually found the drenching quite refreshing and it kept my mind on the task at hand finishing lap 5 in 1:06.31. A quick change over and back out for lap 6, which would take me into unknown territory as I went pass the 33 mile mark for the very first time!

I guess this was the lap where I first noticed that I was finding it harder to keep on the same pace. I slowed slightly as my average pace dropped, and the walk breaks became a much welcomed restbite. At this stage though there was no overwhelmed urge to stop, as I continued on my way. I completed lap 6 in 1:10.57 my slowest yet but perhaps not too surprising considering.

So it was into lap 7 having completed 39 miles and with just two laps remaining that my world changed. I simply couldn't continue at my 10 mile pace. I remember looking down at my garmin in amazement as my pace dropped and seemingly I couldn't do a damn thing about it. First 11 minute miles, then 12, and then 13... was I in a never ended spiral of decline that would continue to the end? That was if I even made the end! I had the overwhelming urge to stop and lay down in the grass verge for a nice kip, but I knew I simply had to keep moving forward and perhaps I could get through this bad patch and out the other side. I really thought this lap would never end but thankfully it did in time of 1:27.14. Ouch!!

Completing the lap from hell!!

As I ran into the start/finish area my support crew were waiting... including my dad who had joined them after completing 4 laps himself (well done dad!!). So this was it... one lap remaining but I couldn't endure another like the last, so I dived into my bag and pulled out my secret weapon... the ipod. The time for enjoying the scenery and taking in the sights and sounds of nature was over... it was time to crank it up and blast out some METALLICA!!

Haha... and so it was that I flew around lap 8 zipping along with a new found energy and zeal that had totally deserted me in the previous lap, and in fact more so than I had felt in any of the previous 7. I made the decision to ditch the walk breaks which at this stage would serve no real purpose and would only break my rhythm, and also not to look at the garmin. It helped immensely as I dug deep and didn't look back. I completed the 8th and final lap in 0:59.36 (my quickest of the lot!) much to the surprise of my family who weren't expecting me for another 20 minutes, and thus totally missed me crossing the line! My dad was even sleeping in the car at the time. lol.

Me recreating the finish line photo!! (as family missed the real thing!) lol

And with that I had finished my first 50 miler (52.4m :-) in a time of 9:06.01, which was way beyond my best expectations.

Looking back on it now even lap 7 which seemed a total disaster of epic proportions at the time wasn't really so bad. I had actually paced a pretty good race considering it was a distance that I had no experience of, therefore making it quite hard to gauge what pace you should run at. And lastly I actually achieved by running mantra to 'Finish Strong'.... Happy days!


  1. Fantastic performance Stu. My sub 9 prediction wasn't far off, was it? Next year.....

  2. Hey mate - brilliant write up, well done (and to your Pa). Made me chuckle that everyone missed your finish!!!

  3. cheers Nick. thing is I wasn't even thinking about getting near 9 hrs. i thought 9:30 was more realistic but it all feel into place on the day so pleasantly surprised... I saw your post on runnerworld... Devon 100...27hr cut off!! really.. I hadn't spotted that :-O nice!

  4. Nice work Stu, great race and a great write up. It almost makes me want to have a go. Almost.