RUNNING INTO THE UNKNOWN
Peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, apples, lucozade, snickers, water, money, railcard, watch, phone, long sleeve top and my camelbak for it all to go in.
I usually only need a day of doing pretty much nothing before I feel I have to do something that gets the blood pumping and the brain firing. The hip injury I’d picked up somehow back in April has been rested over the last few months and slowly I’ve been pulling the miles back in over the last few weeks. Crossing part of the city to get to the route didn’t take too long, as soon as I was on the trail the chaos of the roads disappeared and my whole brain and body relaxed. The green tunnels began and I put one foot in front of the other and enjoyed the journey.
A few days after that run to Winchester along the Itchen way I kept thinking about where else I could go that isn’t in the city, what other trail routes are there close enough to manage in a day? The Test Way popped in my head, as I know it finishes in Totton, which is only a few miles from home and my dad has done it so knows the route. I decided with dad as support to give it a go. 42 miles. What I thought and still think is, if I really want to enter the UTMB, which is over 100 miles with over 30,000 feet of ascent and descent, then I must be able to manage 42 miles at this stage. My thinking is I try and enter the 2017 UTMB, which gives me about 2 years to get ready. Seeing as you need 9 qualifying points to enter from just 3 races means it’s not going to be easy in any way, it’s in fact going to be by far the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted…EVER! I don’t physically and mentally know if it will be possible but it’s something I have to try.
So Wednesday it was, after a skinful with friends on the previous Sunday I was glad to be feeling good with the aftermath of tequila, ale, rum and then sausage and chips on a park bench now in the faded distance of my head and stomach. Strangely I was feeling a little nervous as if before a race or gig. I guess the looming distance of near on 50 miles was the culprit of the butterflies. We left at 6.30am and drove to Inkpen in Berkshire where the route starts and or finishes depending on what way you are going. Now I’m not gonna write out the route place by place as to be honest I don’t remember all that sort of stuff very well. I can say though that some of the route was truly beautiful and running through metre high cornfields alone under the British summer sky was a highlight that brought on a wonderful feeling of content and thoughtful loneliness. The route was marked well in some places and not very well in others, in fact it wasn’t marked at all which caused me to add a few miles to the journey. Main roads made me stressed, as nobody really likes running with the traffic. I got lost quite a lot to be honest and getting lost at around 43 miles didn’t add to my tired mood. But then a giant rainbow appeared after a heavy downpour, I could see the start and finish so that helped ease the mind a bit and I had to smile, I didn’t find any gold though. I would have taken a photo but by this time my phone had died due to the battery drain of Strava and GPS tracking my route. I was out of contact for the last 7 miles or so and was slightly relieved to see Dad waiting with the car as I came to the end of the route.
I learnt a few things on this run. I had to walk some of the way, which is part and parcel of doing such long distances for someone like me. Only the few elite can run non-stop and those men and woman are true athletes. I was very happy that I did manage to make it running and walking. It was hard at times but for most of the journey I was in a good place in my head, which is the most important thing when it comes to such long distances. The legs will hurt that’s a given but if I can keep my mind at ease then I stand a better chance. As much as I don’t like them, the 2 isotonic gels I took really helped. I couldn’t stomach chocolate very well though, the one snickers made me feel sick. Apples were very good which was something I’d never had before whilst out covering long distances. Having a support team was brilliant and cheers to my Dad for being at the different places with supplies and guidance, I think he’s gonna have to help quite a few more times over the next couple of years.
The legs were stiff for a few days after but nothing more than as if I’d run a road marathon so recovery was good. I burned around 7300 calories and was out there around 10 hours. Burning that many calories and being out there that long, both a first.
A week later whilst on a couple days off on tour I was in Switzerland so thought I’d try and get some miles under the belt up in the hills. I managed 24 miles with not much supplies and a lot of rain. But again I thought in my mind if I cant handle some of these hills then how am I going to handle running though the Alps?? Again my mind was in a good relaxed place and I realise it has to be to achieve what I want to do over the next 2 years.
On returning home from a recent musical jaunt to France and Switzerland I have entered my first 50 mile race along the South Downs Way and will attempt to enter the 100 mile race as well. These are certified qualifying races to enter the 2017 UTMB but they operate on a first come first served limited amount of runners basis. The races aren’t until next year, which gives me time to train and focus. I will have to run more qualifiers to stand a chance and then its potluck if you do get in to the UTMB. It’s one of the most popular trail runs in the world and entry is a lottery (for runners like me). We’ll have to wait and see.
This journey will take some time. Step by step. Onwards.
I am Dave Pen