Kent 50 Mile Challenge
The Kent 50 is billed as a “challenge” rather than a race – the idea is that the clock starts at 6am (when most people start) and the aim is to run 8 laps of a 6.55 mile mixed terrain course within the allowed (and very generous) 15 hours. Competitors are free to turn up and start late if they wish, although times are recorded from 6am regardless. Being laps, it’s handy to leave food/drinks/etc at the start as you can pick things up after each lap if needed.
I was looking for a 50 miler to do in July in the run up to the 100 in August, and this one fit in the best. As it’s in Kent (north of Canterbury), it’s not far from where the Open was being held, so all nearby accommodation seemed to be booked up. The plan was to spend Sat night camping in the field by the start, but when it absolutely tipped down on Saturday, I was having second thoughts about that. I didn’t fancy getting up at 2am to drive there from home though! I was lucky to be able to find a room in a hotel near the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone and set off there late afternoon. Comfortable enough in the hotel – burger and chips and a pint watching the golf and then off to bed.
Alarm set for 3:30am, to give me time to faff, and have a coffee to try and encourage certain vital pre-race movements . Then the 40 minute drive to the start, with a lovely pink sky as the sun came up. I scoffed a couple of croissants supplied by the hotel on the way and arrived with about half an hour before the start. I’d brought a cool box from home packed with the following:
4x 500ml bottles made up with 4:1 mix, with hand holsters.
2x bags of crisps
6x mini sausage rolls
3x pastrami and cheese wraps
1x boost bar
No gels in sight. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well, it was actually far too much, but I decided I’d rather have stuff I don’t need than run out of stuff and struggle. As it turned out, I only ate the bananas, 1 wrap, the boost bar and a mars bar from the organisers. I ate half the sausage rolls on my way home I also had a little bag with essentials there – vaseline, compeed, ibuprofen, phone, keys and so on.
Anyhoo.. 6am, a quick talk from Mike (RD) and off we go. For some reason I found myself standing near the start line (tree) and everyone else buggers off back into the pack. Oh well.. myself and another chap set off leading the way together, following the safety car round the course for the first lap. After a mile or two, I let the other chap go ahead, and settle into a comfortable pace. And that’s the way it stayed for the first 4 laps – firmly in second place. The lad ahead had built up a good lead and although I was stopping for a minute or two at the end of each lap to grab a bottle or a banana, or my cap, I was doing well and nobody appeared to be right on my heels. As a result, I found myself running most of the first 3 laps mostly by myself, before starting to lap people. At the end of the 4th lap (26.2 miles), 3 other runners had caught me, and after a quick stop, I started the 5th lap in 5th place, I think. First 4 laps (times include stops to refuel etc at the end of each lap):
1) – 6.6m – 55:26(8:24/m)
2) – 6.73m – 1:01:20(9:07/m)
3) – 6.62m – 1:02:25(9:26/m)
4) – 6.62m – 1:06:59(10:07/m)
So, that’s the first marathon in just over 4 hours. I’d had a short chat with one of the fellas who passed me – this was his first ultra and he didn’t seem to be taking on much food/water. In fact, at the end of the 4th lap when I stopped to fill up my bottle, he just kept on going. I caught him a few miles later – he was walking and looking very much like he’d hit the wall. I asked if he was ok and he just said yes – he seemed very much to want to tough it out so I left him to it. Not far after, I caught and passed one of the other lads who’d passed me earlier, so I thought I was back up to 3rd place. Still a long way to go though, and I kept expecting people to pass me.
The day had started cool and cloudy, but by now it was warm in the sun, with showers blowing in an out. By the 6th lap, I’d been soaked through and dried off in the sun twice – the rain had a nice cooling affect, but soaking wet shorts means chafing
The route is mostly around farmland tracks, some stretches of concrete slab ‘roads’, plenty of gravelly paths and grassy tracks. The last mile or so of each lap is on road. It was mostly flat, just a few minor undulations really, but some stretches running along a raised grassy bank with fields to each side. It was very exposed here and in the last few laps, the wind really picked up.. when it rained too, it was horizontal in these bits. I started putting my “strategy” into play.. I’m not one to do a 25 min run, 5 min walk sort of strategy – I tend to let the conditions and terrain dictate things. For example, if you’re on a rough track and you know there’s concrete or tarmac coming up, walk now and run on the more runnable stuff. Likewise, I wasn’t going to waste my energy running into a strong headwind – I’d wait until the route turned away from it, or had a bit of shelter from some trees. This worked pretty well and kept me going.
In the 7th lap, a young lady who I hadn’t seen yet seemed to come from nowhere and passed me – she was absolutely flying and looking very fresh. That totally confused me – if she’d started at the same time as the rest of us, she’d surely had passed me much earlier. I assumed that she’d either started later and had now caught me, or had really been saving herself for the last couple of laps. Another lady caught me about 5 miles into the last lap and we started talking. We ended up running the rest of the race together, encouraging each other along and setting little “let’s run to there and then have a walk” targets.
In the last lap, it started pouring down again and was really windy by now, but we battled on. The lady who came from nowhere lapped us (still confused by her) but nobody else caught us and we ran all of the last mile and a half, with a nice sub-8 m/m finish.. we crossed the line together in 9 hours and 12 minutes.
We soon discovered that we’d finished in joint 3rd place! I was second male and she was second female. I think someone ahead of us must have dropped out, or maybe I just had things wrong in my head, but it turned out that I had actually been in second place for the whole race until she who had come from nowhere overtook me (she finished second). Last 4 laps:
5) – 6.64m – 1:10:37(10:38/m)
6) – 6.61m – 1:16:11(11:32/m)
7) – 6.6m – 1:20:25(12:11/m)
8) – 6.62m – 1:19:34(12:01/m)
So there you go.. 3rd place There were no prizes, and it seemed that a lot of the faster ultra runners around were elsewhere, but apart from once coming 3rd in a school sports day Dad’s race, this is my first placing