The 50 mile Challenge - Canterbury, Kent

It has now been one week since taking on my very first ultramarathon (never done a marathon before either) and I have almost fully recovered from what can only be described as one of most enjoyable and toughest experiences in my life so far. It was called "The 50 Mile Challenge" -

My good friend Jamie drove me down to the event from my house and dropped me off at 5.15am just outside the car park. Many thanks for this Jamie as you did play a small but significant part in this whole adventure.

I found the "Gate Inn" pub that was to be the "Start/Finish" point for the challenge. I registered my name for the event and read the disclaimer on my health and fitness levels just in case I wanted to change my mind :-).

It was at this point I met Mike Inkster the event organiser who is a veteran of countless ultra marathons and endurance events (Gobi Challenge and Marathon Des Sables for example). He was very helpful and informative regarding the logistics for the event. I then went outside to arrange my race essentials that I had in my backpack (Mule Bars, Nuun Electrolyte tablets, Gatorade, Pretzels, Flapjacks, spare bottles of water, Running Jacket and IPod if required later in the race).

Having got a cup of much needed tea I started chatting to some of the other guys taking part about their race experience. Two great guys who I must mention, Barry and Dave had taken part in 26 marathons between them but this was their first ultra. They appeared quite shocked that I hadn't even completed a marathon (longest run was 17 miles in training).

The course was 6.55 miles long, and consisted of grassy tracks, tarmac paths and roads, each lap starting and finishing at the pub. The course was mostly flat, although the ground was very uneven. I had been concerned about the weather, as there had been rain predicted but it turned out for the most part to be a sunny day.

Things were feeling good after the first 2 laps (13.1 miles), I was eating and drinking well and I had pretty much got used to the off-road parts of the course but did feel that maybe later on in the race I would that my lack of off road (trail running) would start to take its toll on my feet particularly.

During the third lap however the field thinned out a lot and I started my run/walk strategy (standard 25 minutes run 5 minutes walk). My intention was to keep this up for as long as possible and then work downwards i.e. 10 minutes run 3 minutes walk, 5 minutes run 1 minutes walk and so on.

At the 23 mile mark (4hrs 30 minutes mark) I started to physically feel very empty and mentally I hit my first low point of the challenge. My feet hurt in particular especially my left foot which was feeling quite painful at that point and the weather started to turn nasty (wind and rain) so I decided to walk for about 10-15 minutes to recover and had a Mule energy bar something to drink. I then spotted Mike out on the course who said to me "Don't worry you are doing great in just over 2-3 miles you would have completed a marathon. Well done". This gave me a great boost and as I made it back to the pub I had completed 26.2 miles in 5 hours 10 minutes.

The rain moved on although the gusting wind remained and I started my fifth lap still feeling very sluggish and struggled through this lap at a much slower pace (a lot of power walking on this lap), the countryside that had been so great to look at now became monotonous and added to the mental challenge this even presented in the first place.

As I started the sixth lap I decided it was time to get the IPod out. I started to think about my daughters, wife, friends and family and felt a surge of emotion around the 34 mile mark combined with the music pushed me to pick up the pace (10.5 minute miles) and this lasted for the next 2-3 miles. Was this what people refer to as "The Runners High" who knows. As I completed the sixth lap (39.3 miles completed in 9 hours 15 minutes) I was feeling really tired and I had a couple of blisters on my left foot but then I saw my wife and daughters waiting to greet me.

Having seen my wife and daughters for the first time all day this was really uplifting and I decided to really plough as much energy into these last 2 laps as I could. The seventh lap was very hard as my feet were really uncomfortable forcing me to shuffle and walk slower than I wanted to. On the last lap I decided to leave the IPod in the bag and finish what I started no matter what pain came my way.

As I came into the finish line my family started to clap me and then I saw my boss from work who had come down to see me finish at the pub. I crossed the finish line in 12 hrs 31 minutes, collecting my medal and certificate.

It was a day of high and low emotions and I want to thank my family/friends who supported me and helped raise sponsorship for "The Shooting Star" Childrens Hospice. I look forward to the next challenge whatever it maybe. See you soon.