2020 promised a lot. Multiple Ultra events, some familiar face races and the goal of getting my sub 3:30 Marathon. But the year quickly turned into a somewhat unexpected scenario of complete chaos, fear for our health, our. loved ones and our livelihoods and the stripping away of many of the things we take for granted.
Organised events obviously took a massive hit and by late March it was clear that the plans for 2020 were going to take a turn. This couldn’t be helped, we had. to just go with the flow, follow the rules and see when we got past the problem.
In 2019 I saw a new race advertised, the partner race to the Round Reading UltraMarathon. Run To The Sea, a 50Km trail race from Ringwood in the New Forest to Hengistbury Head east of Bournemouth. Nice! But I’ve got a load of races in March 2020 so maybe next time. As the year developed and things changed it became clear that trail events were well placed to be the first to return. Often lower attendances, less crowds and often run in areas. with few others in – a genuine possibility to hold an event with the rules that Social Distancing bring.
With all my October events (including those postponed from earlier in the year) cancelled out to 2021 I found that the Run To The Sea had moved to October, a new empty month of events for me. Oh dear! Thats a real tempting arrangement. It. took me about 30seconds to decide to sign up. Fingers were crossed, hopes were set at a modest level and a weekend trip to the coast with the family booked (youngest kids having inset days meant we got a nice long weekend away).
Before the race
The first thing to say is that UltraViolet (the organisers) were brilliant in their communication. Their social feeds were updated and very helpful. They sent out plenty of really useful eMail updates and overall they kept the participants well. informed on everything needed. This was obviously more important and more complex given the COVID situation, but hats off to the organisers. It was exemplary from start to finish.
Not planning for a 50K might be a silly thing, deciding with relatively last minute to take part might have otherwise be seen as a bad idea. Thankfully for me the summer had seen me take on some virtual events that got me putting some significant miles under my belt – this made the 50Km challenge one that I felt comfortable to make. A final few weeks of training with some structured plans based on the book by Krissy Moehl really helped.
It’s also worth noting that the Run To The Sea is a pretty flat course. That helps! I took to running some long training runs around the Thames Path in Oxfordshire. relatively flat, good variety of surfaces and – well simply a very enjoyable place to run – Im very lucky to have this on local running routes list.
This comes down to personal choice on most things.
The organisers suggest a road shoe os suitable due to the surface. So no need for aggressive trail shoes. Find a shoe thats comfy and one you like running a long way in! For me, I have trained on my Inov8 TerraUltra G270, so stuck to these.
The race starts in Ringwood, but being a point to point race there’s always the hassle of car parking, getting lifts etc as driving to the start, means getting back there to get your car afterwards. No Fear!! The organisers put on a free bus from the finish. So, park at the finish line, jump on a free (COVID-secure) bus service and get a lift to the start. All pre-arranged and allocated. This worked perfectly. the bus was great, everyone was using face coverings etc and there was plenty of space.
30 minutes on the bus and we found ourselves in Ringwood. All ready for my pre-booked 7:45am start time.
It’s COVID times so no surprise things are not as they would normally be. Starting windows of 5 minutes, up to 30 per window and a start every minute for up to 6. The ‘Rule of 6’ and social distancing. But well organised, clear and something everyone got stuck into. I had the pleasure. of not having received my number pre-race, so whilst I waited for my number, I was tasked with calling runners to their start gin pens ‘191 to 196 please come to the starting pens’. Clearly I have found my vocation in life 🤣🤣.
It’s 7:46 AM on 10 October 2020. A point I had waited a long time for.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go!
The race is a mixed terrain. The first half is mostly the Castleman Trailway. This is a 16.5 mile trail that follows much of the old Southampton to Dorchester railway. The race follows this trail from the start all the way to Upton Country Park, just shy of Poole.
Its a great trail. Mostly wide trails, firm ground, wooded routes, some muddy patches and some footpaths. But overall a very enjoyable trail to run.
From the end of the trail you enter Pool harbour area, running around the seemingly never ending eastern side of the harbour. That seemed to last forever !!
A quick stop in Poole at pitstop 3 and back out. Now we are running mostly streets and pavements, heading to the top end of Sandbanks.
As you hit the Sandbanks area, you cut across to the promenade and turn left, heading towards the finish line. At. this point 23 miles into a 31 mile race, the end is in sight – tantalisingly visible, but so far away!
The site of the sea and sand is great, running along the coastline, within the site of the sea is always enjoyable.
Now the only downside of running along the promenade in Bournemouth is that other people want to be there too! Who would have thought it 🤣🤣. Its a busy place. The weather on race day had been pretty much perfect, and of course perfect October weather at the coast, means a lot of people out for the day. So the promenade was pretty rammed with walkers, runners, families, cyclists etc.
That said, thats not exactly a problem. There was a bit of wearing around and the need to be respectful to social distancing at times which meant you had to drop the pace, but otherwise running along towards Bournemouth Pier was great. Around a kilometre shy of marathon distance checkpoint 4 appears. A quick stop for a drink and I’m off.
I had arranged to meet family near West Cliff Zig-Zag in Bournemouth. Turned out this was almost spot on the marathon distance. I had suggested I would arrive at 11:15 am, and whilst I ‘think’ I know what I can do, I still expected to not bet very accurate. So arriving at 11:16 am was pretty cool.
A quick hello and I head off towards Boscombe to tackle the final 5 miles and get that medal I was working so hard to earn.
To be honest. at. this point things were less then perfect. Up to meeting the family I was on good form. But then a dog happened. In the hustle and bustle of the promenade and dog shot across my path. I came to a pretty abrupt halt and in doing so my left thigh cramped briefly. Ouch. That bugged me for the rest of the route. That and the development of a right side stitch too. I can only put this down to drinking some flat coke, which I simply never do. Yes, I can hear you now. “Don’t try new things on race day. Stick to what you know.” I agree and always tell others the same. I simply have no idea why I didn’t head my own words of advice.
Anyway, Hengistbury head is in sight.
Now, having run 31 miles you kind of hope the finish line will be a nice easy final few hundred metres. So who decided to put a stretch of fine dry sand on the final stretch – Arrgghh. But seriously, the elation of reaching Hengistrbury head was massive. The UltraViolet flags were flying, the small groups of supporters cheering and the last 31.4 miles had come to an end. My first official 50Km Ultra event complete, in a little over 4 Hours 19 minutes.
In summary the event was brilliant. A great location, start and finish were really picturesque.
The organiser did a great job to make the vent COVID safe and at all times things worked like clockwork.
I was grateful to have the chance of taking part in an event in these tricky times and I wouldn’t hesitate to join more UltraViolet events in the future.