One Challenge to the Next

I ran my first marathon in 2002 (New York), and three more between then and 2009.  After 2009 I ran occasionally, because I thought I should, but I wasn’t really feeling it.  When I moved to Minchinhampton, I started doing Park Run when I could (Park Run is a series of free-to-enter 5km runs which take place in the UK and internationally every Saturday at 9 a.m.; it seems to be spreading in the US), mainly to get running out of the way before enjoying the weekend.  Then in May 2017 I tagged onto a 30-minute pacer at Park Run and it turned out that the pacer (now my friend Eileen) had started a running club—the Tetbury Dolphins—relatively close to me, for all standards and speeds. I joined straight away and now I run often and all distances, and always for fun.

We ran all through the winter, trail and road, often in the pitch dark, and I am so much stronger a runner as a result. In April this year I ran Newport Marathon and broke my 2002 personal record and in June the Brecon Beacons Midnight Mountain Marathon. Then I started looking for the next challenge. An ultra, I thought, just a mini-ultra, to see if I can, I thought I could and was curious—and it would be fun.

I chose the Salisbury 54321 because the date suited me and it wasn’t too far to drive. It’s an event with a choice of distances from 5km up to 42km full marathon—and a 50km ultra marathon. The route is over footpaths, bridle ways and quiet country roads in the Salisbury Wessex area, quite close to Stonehenge. You go past a variety of sites of historical and scientific interest and through three country estates not usually open to the general public.

The day started well. I got there in plenty of time, collected my number, got my coffee and pre-race snack. I had packed my hydration pack with a variety of snacks and water, and other things that I thought I’d need. I’ve found it hard running in the really hot weather so was relieved that it was a cool day with a slight drizzle of rain—perfect conditions. Was I nervous? No, cautious for sure, curious still, not nervous. I was relatively confident that I could do the distance, having done five miles less but up mountains in the Brecon Beacons and my plan was to trot round at a steady pace (I was thinking 11–12-minute miles but prepared to scale that back depending on how I felt). This is changing a bit now, but over the last year I have tended not to put any pressure on myself to finish in a certain time, it’s been more about trying something new and see what happened. But I was determined to finish…

We started at 9.30 a.m. and there seemed to be quite a lot of us doing the ultra, running along a narrow path to start with. I don’t know if that was the cause of what happened next or not but I stepped sideways to avoid a prickly bramble and fell into a barbed wire fence before I’d run 2km! My hands were quite cut but the worst injury was a three inch wide gash in my left arm. It wasn’t deep, wasn’t bleeding, and wasn’t painful, so I got a basic dressing put on it at the first drinks stop and carried on. I was a bit worried about it, though!

The route was beautiful, and quite hilly. I tried not to walk (because I thought I wouldn’t be able to start running again) and plodded on steadily, a mile at a time, distracting myself with the scenery and trying not to think about how far I had to go (that’s my top tip, don’t think about how far you going until you are very close to the end). I made myself eat and drink regularly and it was a very well organised event, with all sorts of good foods available at the many stops. The last two kilometres felt like five and even Salisbury Cathedral didn’t distract me enough to take my mind off it, but then I rounded a corner and saw the finish, hurrah! I finished in about 6 hours 10 minutes, average pace just under 12-minute miles, exactly what I’d hoped for.

It was fun and I am very proud. Curiosity satisfied, I think that’s the furthest I can run at the moment, but I am thinking about a double marathon in 2019, which I will train specifically for. Then I spent three hours in Salisbury Hospital being stitched up and drove home to my dogs. Next up for me is Loch Ness Marathon  in September and I am targeting under 4:15 which should be just about possible if all goes well. I get a T-shirt with a monster on!

Caroline is a UK rights agent specialising in children’s books.