In 2019 as I approached the next decade I decided it was time to do something a little different.  Most people, I guess, would not choose to run 54 miles across the South Downs Way, but I did. I entered the Race to the King, so named because it ends “on the steps of Winchester Cathedral, one of the most historically significant buildings in Britain and claimed burial ground of twelve English kings, making it England’s first-ever Royal Mausoleum.” I was accepted, the date was set for June 20th 2020, at which point I would be a Vet60.

I started training started in November 2019 but it was to be short-lived. A family bereavement in January 2020 then a pandemic had its impact, the race was cancelled until 2021 (a small mercy given my lack of training). I deferred my place to 2021 and sat back as though I had all the time in the world. After all, how hard can this be?!

Fast-forward to January 2021. Despite the pandemic still rampaging around the world I had to assume this would go ahead.  So I got out the training plans I’d found earlier again.  I must have been alert at the time as re-reading them I could not understand why none of them went beyond 30 miles as a longest run. I have 54 to do, so could I really leave 24 miles as uncharted territory?  I think not.

I contacted a coach, Neil Wallace of Run Brave. A number of our club members (including me) have used Run Brave’s weekly structured training sessions to improve our running over the last couple of years. Many of us have gone on to have PBs and seriously improve. But the ultra required more. I signed up for a bespoke training plan with coaching support (Neil would regularly check in and discuss my progress). My objective? “Just get me round.” With this vagueness, he began to develop my training plan: a series of four to five week blocks.

The first one rolled in. A five-week schedule with a longest run of 19 miles. Great! I’ve got this. Once that was done, the second plan arrived then the third. In March I had planned to run the Lulworth Cove marathon, but this was cancelled. Undeterred I decided to do the same distance on the beautiful Yorkshire moors.  With advice from Neil, I decided a route that was twice around Simons Seat, clockwise then anti-clockwise. It was great to complete 28 miles and with the support of running friends I made it.  

How to get rid of a stitch, honest.

More training blocks arrived. The longest run was 45 miles. Yikes, I no longer have this. Four weeks before the event, I had a complete meltdown on my longest run, with only 38 miles done. The wrestle with emotions and fatigue took its toll. Was I going backwards? I settled with the fact my meltdown happened before the event rather than during.

Friday 18th June. I checked my pack several times, then some more, then tried to rest.  On Saturday 19th June at 5 am I was in my hotel room wondering what the hell I was doing. Can I do this? I arrived at the start about 7 am and as they were letting us go in 5-second waves I just decided now or never so off I went. Strangely it was very emotional.

As the miles ticked down I had my coach in my ear. “What are the three things you are good at?” I could only remember one: pacing. Think about the tortoise and the hare. Other runners en route were really nice and chatty but on a couple of occasions I felt I was being pulled faster than my pace so I dropped back.  After 10 miles I reached pit stop 1. Feeling good. Take on liquid and eat. Go.

I continued through pit stops  2, 3 and 4 still feeling good. At 31 miles I was greeted by [my partner] Julie and Jelly the Jack Russell just before Butser Hill. More local southern runners feared this hill and talked about it for the 10 miles before it. I looked at it and thought nah! we have much bigger. But after 31 miles it somehow seemed a lot more daunting.

I conquered the hill and pushed on. At 46 miles I still felt ok.  At the final pit stop 7 miles from the finish I was determined to get in before darkness fell. My quads were turning to concrete.

A young man had reached his limit and told me he could not make it. “Oh yes you will,” I told him. “We’ll finish together.” Off we trotted (it was more of a shuffle) to the finish where family was waiting, encouraging each other along the way.

I did it and it felt amazing that I actually finished in the same day I’d started. I spent the following day walking like the tin man from Wizard of Oz but it was worth it.

Liz and a King

Would I do it again? Yes.

Did I learn anything?

  • Don’t go into this lightly.
  • Enlist the help of a coach, there are lots of plans online but they don’t talk to you or support you. Neil’s continued support and encouragement was so worth it. I can’t thank him enough.
  • Plan your run and run your plan. Don’t get dragged along by others. Pacing is SO important.
  • Nutella sandwiches are the food of gods and my chosen nutrition.

It was HARD. The investment of time, long, lonely, unsupported (carry own food/water) hours running, the fatigue. The need to go out and train whatever the conditions, from freezing wind, rain and ice to very hot humid days. But I loved every minute of the race, even the painful ones towards the end.

Stats for the day:

  • Weather cool and overcast (excellent)
  • Time: 11hrs 33 mins
  • Category: First V60 [WHOOP WHOOP editor’s comment]
  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs on toast
  • Number of Nutella sandwiches consumed: 8. And a Kit Kat and a bag of plain crisps.
  • Litres liquid consumed: 9
  • Blisters: 0
  • New friends: 3

Liz Casey