Sunday, 31 October 2010

Caesar's Camp 50

I had heard of only a few ultras – two of which were in New Zealand and the other which was probably Badwater. They were further than a marathon and that was as much as I could comprehend. I considered doing a 60km shortly after my 22nd birthday but organised my flat warming for the weekend of the race instead. Ultras were forgotten about; I completed a few more half-hearted marathons and moved to Scotland. 

Whilst taking over the planning on my parents impending UK visit, I suggested to the father-figure that we complete an ultra together. Caesar’s Camp 50-miler in Aldershot fitted in with the road trip and we began our respective training on opposite sides of the world. Dad sent me a training schedule for a 100km road race which he had found on the internet. That was a long way to run and we were running a long way so it seemed like a sensible idea to me. I can’t remember how closely I followed it but probably not very. 
I ran my first (and only) half marathon with my dad a few years earlier. Well, I ran with him until half way and then left him chugging coldrex at the turnaround.  Despite this, I wasn’t concerned about running together the whole way. He did teach me to run after all.

Pre-race
A midday start was an odd idea to me at the time. Dad carried a wee bottle belt and I had nothing. We had five 10-mile loops to run, with an aid stop half way round where I usually drank a little water and ate a few sweeties. We got lost a few times on the first loop as we were too busy catching up on the last eight months of our lives. Naivety meant we probably didn’t walk as many hills as we should have either!

Mum was the solo crew member for us and managed our bags at the loop start/finish. There was a selection of food that the organisers had put on but I didn’t know how to eat and run so I never entered the tent. 



Our legs hurt much sooner than we expected but neither of us wanted to mention this. Probably should have walked those hills at the start :) I enjoyed the first half of the course more than the second half and I’m quoted at the end as saying ‘we ran out of conversation after the second lap, and then it just got awkward.’ During these conversations I did fail to mention to my father that I had developed a new courtship with a Scotsman… 

I bargained with myself on the third lap to walk the last two laps rather than quit.  By the end of this lap we had both run further than we had ever run in training before and our legs knew it. Dad perked up after having some of the race organiser’s beer and I tucked into a BLT sandwich making the other runners jealous. It was the only food other than sweeties that I remember eating! Dad demolished the entire race’s supply of jaffa cakes throughout his run.  

Pulling Dad through
We got lapped by some superstars on our fourth and fifth (final) laps. Some of those superstars are running the full 100-miler. I didn’t even know that distance existed. That’s like jumping off the ferry in Picton and thinking ‘I fancy a bit of whale watching in Kaikoura’ and jogging down the coast. I go on to have Christmas lunch later that year with the main superstar Richie Cunningham (claim to fame!). The leading woman (Gaynor Prior) for the 100-miler comes past giving us some support. She informs me that I’m second female in the 50-mile race. I’m feeling better but still just aiming to get through. 

During the fourth lap it starts to get dark. I’ve borrowed a head-torch off my distant cousin’s girlfriend who works with my dad in New Zealand (it’s a small town ok?) I’ve never run in the dark before. Feet go in the wrong places and it starts pounding on my morale. Dad spends his energy adjusting his headlight to keep me on my feet. I don’t enjoy running downhill but my memories of the descents from this point in the race are humorous. My quad muscles don’t feel like holding my body up on the rocky descents anymore so I shuffle down on my bottom instead. I’m probably making better time than my usual downhill pace! 

Towards the end of the fourth lap we close in on a light ahead and power up the nippy incline towards the start/finish. We pass the light belonging to the leading woman. She’s understandably having trouble with the trail in the darkness. I detour to the ladies’ room. Excellent, no queue. One of the top ten things about being a lady ultra-runner I’d say. 

I don’t know where dad is and I’m not waiting around to find out. I never had any intention of placing but now that I’m in the check-point with the leading woman, it’s a race. She leaves ahead of me but I tear out after her leaving dad to sprint (probably wishful thinking here) after me and I pass her before the first incline. I can’t really remember much of the final lap. We zip up the last little steep climb; overjoyed to finally be finished in 10 hours and 28 minutes. 

I broke the women’s course record by 40 minutes and currently sit on the Caesar’s Camp Hall of Fame – probably not for long though!  Dad gives the local vouchers I won to the second placed lady as we are off on the road the next day. I struggle walking along the Brighton promenade the next day and the parents appear embarrassed by me so walk ahead. I loved the loops, the low-key atmosphere and winning my first ultra. I still have the safety pin from my race number attached to my vest. It's my good luck charm.

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