As I write this blog post, my legs are still aching and my feet are still blistered. Most importantly though, I’m still smiling, and the post-race pain is worth it.
On Saturday, I completed the Serpent Trail 50k ultra. It was my first attempt at completing an ultra-marathon and the first endurance event I had done for quite a few years. I had one expectation going into the event – get to the finish line. The week leading up to the event hadn’t got off to the best of starts as I damaged my left foot and, on the start-line, it was still bruised and sore. My race vest felt fairly heavy as I had the mandatory kit plus nutrition as well as 3 litres of energy drink and water. I was fully aware going into the event that this was going to be tough, and I would need to dig deep, both physically and mentally.
The weather leading up to the event hadn’t been ideal, and much of the course was really muddy. The course was stunning. I don’t think I’ve run on a course as varied in terrain or tougher than that. It was hilly as well, and my strategy was to walk some of the hills to converse energy and take on nutrition.
The start was quite congested in the first couple of miles and being on single track it was difficult to pass other runners in places. I also managed to go off course within the first couple of miles – I was flying down a hill and missed one of the course direction signs and only realised when I got to the bottom of the hill with another runner closely behind me that I was off course. Not great, having to run back up hill to get back on course. Several miles later I managed to go off course again for around 150 metres after misreading a direction sign. I decided I needed to pay more attention for the rest of course.
About halfway through the trails became a bit clearer which was ideal, and I managed to get a good rhythm going, but this was soon broken by muddier sections and more hills. 20 miles in and I was feeling good, feeling positive, and feeling focused on getting to the finish line. I was moving through the checkpoints as quickly as possible after refuelling and topping up my water bottles.
The weather was strange. When we started, it was raining, but it was also muggy and humid. The sun did break out a couple of times, but then it also rained again – the joys of racing in the English summer, I guess.
Around mile 26 was the last checkpoint, another packet of salt and vinegar crisps, an energy gel, plenty of water and headed off again. Up and down hills and only 3 miles to the next aid station. Mile 29 and I hit the last water stop on route still smiling and still laughing and joking with the volunteers and marshals. Only 2 miles left and it felt like the longest 2 miles I’ve ever run in my life – it seemed more like 10 miles if I’m being honest. With 1 mile to go I tried to urge my legs to pick the pace up a bit and as painful as it felt they did respond……….just!
Through another woodland trail and then suddenly a left turn and I could see the finish line. I picked the pace again, it felt like I was sprinting, though in reality I was probably shuffling along. Crossing that finishing line felt amazing. I felt shattered, and my legs felt painful. It was worth it though.
So after months of training, I achieved my goal and feel pretty pleased with the effort that I put in. I also learnt quite a lot during the event – about myself and what I would do differently in future. My head is saying do some more ultras and my legs are in total disagreement - I’m sure that’ll change very soon.
The plan is to build on the training I’ve done and do a few shorter distance events (Great South Run (10miles) and Portsmouth Coastal Marathon (26.2miles)) and then build up to a 70km next June and hopefully a return a month later to the Serpent Trail 50k and a quicker time (mud permitting!).
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.