• Wed09October 2013
  • The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra Marathon 2013 (otherwise known as the day I became an Ultra-runner)

    After months of preparation, the day had finally arrived. Yes, on Sunday October 6 2013, I was up bright and early heading towards Hyde Park for the start of the Royal Parks Ultra Marathon.  Would my split training pay off? How would I feel when I ran past that marathon marker? Was I really as crazy as my friends said I was? Well, it was the day to find out all the answer to all these questions and more. Here’s my review of the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra Marathon 2013.

    The night before nerves

    To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement. I had been training for months for this, the Big One – a 50K dash around the Royal Parks – and I was (or so I thought) going to leave nothing to chance.  I had already laid out my kit a few days before, alongside the number 333, dug out my bum bag (much to my boyfriend’s horror) and even located my granny compression socks. If I was going to do 50km, I wanted to ensure that I had everything in place beforehand.

    All the threes....

    All the threes….

    If it’s a 5K or a 10K, I just grab my kit and number, have a swig of Pepsi Max and go.  For longer races however, say half marathons, marathons and my one duathlon, I always like to prep my kit the night before. It just makes it easier when I hit the sack to know that all I need to do is get up, brush my teeth, smear on my SPF and head to the race. The Ultra was no different. In fact, I paid extra attention to ensure that I packed the usual stuff (Nuun electrolyte tablets, two water bottles – one for electrolytes, one plain water, sweets, my race number, instructions on the start line, and a spare change of clothing), alongside a towel and wash bag for the free shower later, a pack of jaffa cakes and the bum bag. All that I had to do now was make sure that I slept well.

    Pre-race jitters

    I hit the sack at around 10pm the night before to ensure that the 6am alarm on a Sunday was not too much of a shock to the system. Then headed out, with my boyfriend in tow, on our journey across London to the Hyde Park starting line. I must have been nervous as I was jabbering nonsensically to my poor suffering boyf’.

    This was also going to be the first race, where I used my TomTom Runner watch properly and I’d only gone and left the ruddy thing on charge by my bed. Not wanting to feel too disappointed with myself after all that careful prep, I decided to turn this to my advantage. I mean I’ve never raced with a gadget before, so why would this be any different? All I need to do was keep my pace steady without going too fast at the start.

    It didn’t take us long to find the”Food and Fitness festival” in Hyde Park. In fact, it felt like everyone on our tube was heading there. After a quick pit stop at the loo, I headed to the Great Ormond Street tent as I’d agreed to be interviewed on camera for them. The place was buzzing and I was itching to grab a few packets of Popchips but by the time the interview (in the VIP tent where I spotted ultramarathoner Scott Jurek) was over, it was 8:13am – only 17 minutes to go until the gun fired. And guess what? I needed the loo again. I had to ask if I could jump the queue as there was no way I was missing the start of the Ultra.  A bundle of nerves and excitement, I headed to the start line, disrobing as I went (it was chilly) and fastened my bum bag around my waist.

    Now I know my boyfriend hates my bum bag and if he had his way would probably burn it but his comment that my bum bag was too full and it would annoy me during the race was not far off the truth. I made the last-minute decision to run without it and hastily grabbed a handful of Liquorice Allsorts out of the pouch and stuffed them down my bra, then shoved as many mini jaffa cakes in my mouth as it would accommodate, and used my teeth to break a Nuun tablet in half so I could dissolve it in one of the mini bottles of water provided by M&S. I then shoved the bum bag in my boyfriends’ hands and raced to the start line.  So there I was, Becs the chancer standing at the beginning of an epic race with  just an iPod,  small bottle of water infused with electrolyte and some congealed Liquorice Allsorts down my underwear. Nice.

    The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra race

    With only a minute to go, it was all to play for and after waving adieu to my boyfriend and shouting “love you” like I was off on some long distance voyage across far-flung lands, I was off. I don’t know whether it was the adrenaline or what but I was beyond excited as this was the moment (or a hell of a lot of moments), I had been waiting for.  Alongside three hundred or so other runners, I would be going west, towards the beautiful parks of London, crossing the river numerous times and then heading towards the finish line. And for some reason, the first list of music to come belting out into my headphones was opera? Not some boom boom drum’n’bass but the high notes of a soprano. The famous aria from La Boheme to be exact and this was playing as I ran past the Houses of Parliament at exactly 8:45am, when Big Ben chimed. It really happened like this and I couldn’t have planned a better way to set the mood for the entire race.

    In the week up to the marathon, I had asked experienced Ultra-runners Cat from Diaries of a Marathon Widow and Liz from Write This Run for any tips. and by golly, did I take heed of their advice. Liz said to break the race down into chunks, which made it feel more achievable. I thought of the race as a series of 5Ks rather than 50K, looking out for the next water station or small gathering of supporters. Every time I felt my body start to tense up, I remembered Cat’s wise words to focus on the present, the scenery around me, the ‘fresh’ air, the feeling of just running and my shoulders instantly felt looser and more relaxed.

    The route itself was really diverse. There were steps and winding paths, trails along the bank of the Thames, traffic lights, dogs, walkers, in fact, everything you expect to see on your usual Sunday morning run. In a way, the lack of competitors around you made it easier for you to set your own pace. I also loved running along the river and seeing the rowers (which reminded me of my time at Durham University). It felt like you were part of the landscape and the river life rather than running an Ultra. The route itself was so well organised, with markers every 5K and volunteers who had given up their time to ensure we, the Ultra-runners, were going the right way.  People who were walking beside you or going the other way would clap as you ran past. What it lacked in crowds, the Royal Parks Ultra made up for with the diversity of scenery. I kept my sugar levels up by popping some resemblance of a Liquorice Allsort every 10K in my mouth and sipping on the Nuun solution. It was a small, intimate race and a group of us stuck together until around the 35K mark, then I was pretty much running by myself.  Not that it’s a bad thing to have a bit of leg space to find your own pace and get in the zone. In terms of supporters, there were people at around every 10K and I saw my folks at 15K but it wasn’t until 40K when Liz from Write This Run appeared that I saw someone that I knew.  She told me I was doing so well and this really lifted my spirits. There was only 10K to go and I was going to do it in style.

    I’m of the opinion that no matter how long or short your race is, you always feel the last few miles. If you don’t then you haven’t pushed yourself. The last 10K of the Ultra was bearable but only just. My legs were cramping, my toes were sore but there was no way I going to give in, let alone slow down. I knew that I still had it in me to push myself through to the bitter end for GOSH and all those people who had supported me.  The thought of the glorious finish line, where there was free food, a hot shower and the all-important medal spurred me on. And even the the vision of the white tent, where all these goodies could be found, and then being told you needed to run in a loop until you can reach it did not dampen my spirits. I was going to complete this ruddy Ultra with a big grin on my face.

    And that’s exactly what happened:

    Smiling at the finish line

    Smiling at the finish line

    My verdict

    I had few expectations about the Royal Parks Ultra Marathon. I was running as a personal challenge for a charity that I care about. The time wasn’t something I’d really thought about (honest). But, here it comes, when I found out that I did it in 4:08:07 and was fifth woman, 25th overall, I was over the moon.  I was so surprised that I ran an 8-minute mile for 31 miles.

    All the training, the early morning, the countless showers, the rucksack permanently attached like a tortoise with its shell, had been worth it. I did glance with envy at the beautifully-designed trophies for the winners though (one day maybe). Designed by Mark Wilkinson, the naturally-shed antler trophies really captured the ethos of this race. Everything from the medal to the technical t-shirt was environmentally friendly, which as a bit of  green warrior, I love.

    I had a complimentary massage in the tent to release my muscles and, of course, I’m a wee bit tense. Generally, however, I’m not in too bad a shape now. The adidas shorts were so comfortable and I did not suffer from any thigh or underarm chaffing. My kit did the job pretty well, so I could concentrate on the race.

    Me and my medal

    Me and my medal

    Fifth female

    Fifth female

    Any setbacks?

    The only problem I can think of with this race was my boyf’ and family weren’t there to see me finish.  I only saw them once during the race because I’d only gone and underestimated how fast I would be.  The didn’t download the tracker, which was available. When I crossed that finish line with a huge grin on my face, I also didn’t have a phone on me. Thankfully, the kind GOSH representative lent me her mobile so I could buzz through to my boyfriend, who wasn’t too far away. Next time, I’ll make sure that I have my phone on me. Uh-oh, did I just say NEXT TIME……

    I ran the Royal Parks Ultra Marathon 2013 for Great Ormond Street Hospital. If you would care to give a kind donation, please find the link to my VirginMoney page here.

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