Back in the spring, I’m not sure what I thought the plan would be… maybe marathon distance both days… maybe a bit longer on Saturday… but with a few days to go, at my monthly physio check-up, BOP’s Dianne confirmed that my latest overtraining injuries were probably not terminal, and I got it in my head that I’d like to try and hit a (slow pace) 50 miles on Saturday, give myself some recovery time overnight, then slog out the Sunday marathon…
Saturday was a 7:30 start. Fortunately, the lodge was only 5 minutes’ walk from the ‘event field’. Race briefing at 7:15 (basically run in circles, with different start to the first lap to prevent a bottleneck at the start) saw a few hundred eager Frolickers in the morning sunshine ready to... Frolic.
The Frolic format is a really great idea. It brings together runners of all abilities into a little bubble of run-fest. There were runners who might only do one lap, runners who would walk most of the route, super-speedy relay teams, solo ultra-runners, and everything in between. Lots of company, different people to chat to, a festival atmosphere, and some great support every time you run through the start-finish. The format also suits experimenting. I never had more than 4.4 miles to think about at any time, and if I needed to stop for any reason, I wasn’t going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no support.
So, the klaxon went and I set off knowing I had 12 hours to do as much or as little as I wanted. Three laps was a half marathon, 6 laps was a marathon, just enjoy the day.
I breezed through the first lap faster than I’d planned. The lap was a variety of terrain and scenery, from deep sand and trail paths to tarmac, forest and heathland. And enough hills to keep things interesting without being too hilly… Despite knowing I’d probably pay for that later, I ran comfortably but didn’t really slow for the next 5 laps, hitting half marathon just under 2 hours and the full marathon in 4 hours. Not bad for a trail marathon!
Feeling good at 6 laps, and with 8 hours left, I knew I had plenty of time to get to 50 miles, and maybe get a couple of hours extra time to recover for Sunday. I did the maths, and 11 laps wasn’t quite 50 miles, so I set my target at 12 laps, and a double marathon. Seemed to have a nice symmetry.
The next 6 laps were much harder of course. A toilet break, refilling my back-pack and a torrential downpour that started just before I finished a lap (so I hid in a tent for 10 minutes while it passed), as well as starting walk some of the hillier bits, reduced my average pace, but I was still happy to be trotting out the miles. There was another downpour while I had nowhere to hide, and rain interspaced with sunshine for the rest of the day. The rain made the course much muddier and each lap became just that little more treacherous, but I was getting to know the optimum path to follow, so kept out of trouble.
I had wondered if the laps would get boring, but not at all. Lots of different scenery, different people running by, friendly marshals who you’d just get to recognise, then they’d swap, and even a few cows. There was a little oasis just over halfway round the lap – the love station. This was a beach party themed aid station with pumping music, great support, an array of food and drink (including cider and gin I think). Unfortunately, with my stomach shut down, I only managed a couple of pretzels or cocktail biscuits each lap, but the table looked enticing, and I loved the flat coke… One lovely lady from the love station ran a lap in the opposite direction, offering hugs and kisses to the runners. I managed to pass her twice and had two lipstick kisses on my cheeks which I had to explain to Annie! Early on in the sunshine, on one of the particularly sandy sections, a few runners had stopped and made sand castles, adorned with flowers and heather for flags. Made me chuckle each lap I saw them.
Quite a few solos dropped out after six laps (probably to do a marathon on Saturday and Sunday) so the field thinned and I found myself running alone more than I expected in the latter half of the day, and there were fewer and fewer runners as the hours ticked over and the rain continued to fall intermittently.
So, starting lap 12, I asked my support team to check the current standings. I was happy to do a double marathon but if there was a chance of maybe hitting top 10 solo with nearly 3 hours left, much as I wanted to stop and prepare for Sunday, I might be persuaded to put in an extra lap. I met the team walking the lap in reverse to give me the news that I was in second place. Couldn’t believe it! The leader was 10-20 minutes ahead, and the race statisticians thought if I stopped, I’d lose places. Bitter sweet! Fantastic to be second, but it meant I’d probably have to keep going to place, and balance that with a thought that it might impact Sunday, as I was very tired by now. I weighed it up, and decided I’d kick myself if I stopped and lost a chance at a top 3 place. So… one more…
Finishing Lap 13, it looked like I was guaranteed 2nd place with the 3rd place runner 2 laps behind. I couldn’t quite get my head around the maths, and with the chance of 2 more laps (you can finish a lap if you start it before 12 hours), I decided to make sure and started on lap 14. That would take me over 60 miles (a decent milestone!), and be as many laps as I could complete within the 12 hours.
Knowing I was probably safe in 2nd, I didn’t (and really couldn’t) push very hard on lap 14, and walked a lot of inclines. I roughed it out and although I could have started one more lap before the 12-hour deadline and gone for 15, I knew I needed to stop, and was, by then, guaranteed 2nd place. 11:21:50 run time… and apart from the storm and refuelling, I kept moving for all of that. My Garmin clocked exactly 62 miles… If I’d thought about it, I’d have realised that by running around the field for a hundred meters or so, I’d have clocked 100km… Next time!
Checking the results later in the evening, it turned out that 1st place was 15 laps in 11:58 (I couldn’t have beaten that), I was second – 14 laps in 11:21, and 3rd place was 12 laps in 10:57… After all that, I could have stopped at 12 laps and stayed in 2nd place! There were 194 solo runners, and my lap total was also more than all but 2 of the pairs, all the 3’s and would have got me 5th place in the 4’s
So, having finished at 7pm, I had to eat (support team were great at looking after me), spend some time in the hot-tub (yes, I had to!), and I even managed to get in a bit of foam rolling and massage, before getting my kit ready for Sunday, and sleeping (interspaced with waking up every time I rolled over with very achy legs!).
Fortunately, Sunday was a more traditional 9am start, so I slept until 8am. My legs were so tired, and my quads really tight. I considered a DNS, but in the end decided I should give it a go and see what I could do. After all, the weekend was all about seeing what my body could cope with (without breaking!). It was the same 4.4-mile laps, so I had options to drop out if I needed to. I wasn’t at all confident I could finish the marathon but maybe I could do half… and even one lap would be an achievement.
The klaxon went, and I started off with a really stiff jog. I warmed up after a while, and kept a steadyish slow place for the first lap. I was so very tired at the end of that lap, but, I decided to just go one lap at a time and see what happened. On the second lap, I really slowed down, and a niggle in my achilles started to get very painful. I could have done a third lap, probably walking most of it, but with the weather worsening, and a real chance of an unnecessary injury I decided my running weekend was over. Whilst I didn’t exactly finish on a high, I finished before I didn’t want to be out there anymore. I think I lost Sunday’s marathon to those extra two laps on Saturday, but in hindsight, it was the right call on both days. Interestingly, my marathon time for day 1 would have got me 18th place on day 2, as it was, I was third from last in the marathon 😊
More hot tub (I just don’t understand why people don’t like camping!) and lovely meal in Corfe Castle rounded off the weekend, and we had a chilled evening in the lodge in front of the TV.
All I need to do now is recover for 1st October when I do my first real, proper ultra in the STE Downslink ultra… It’s only 38 miles! And yes, 3 weeks isn’t enough time to recover… I miscalculated how much time I’d have between races, c’est la vie. It’ll be fine 😊
To put things in context… We drove 70 miles from Worthing to Dorset for the weekend… Almost exactly the distance I ran over the 2 days… And now on Monday, I’m walking pretty well, (but might leave it a day or so before running again), and Facebook remined me that almost exactly 6 years ago to the day, I was really proud to have just completed couch to 5K… If my 6 years ago self could see me now eh?