With races coming back online I am increasingly finding myself signing up to ones I’ve done before. I know, I know, I used to question why you ever would. After all, there are so many races out there. What I’m finding is that, despite hunting high and low for new races, I am having to come back to Freedom Racing (for Hurtwood 50, North Downs Ridge and Serpent Trail), Ultraviolet Running (for Run to the Sea Brighton and Round Reading Ultra) and, surprisingly, Threshold Events (for Race to the Stones next month, and this, the Race to the King).
I’d run Race to the King in 2016 as, alarmingly, my first trail race. Four years into my running journey and it was my first time on mud. I am a little embarrassed about that. And I hated it. I had heavy, clompy, untested trail shoes that weighed me down. I was 7th male overall. Which isn’t bad, but I wasn’t a fan. It was solely a tester for what would follow at Race to the Stones and 100K overnight.
Now mud has become my default. 50K on trail is my go to race format. I have run more muddy 50Ks than marathons in recent years. 23 of my 55 marathons and above toward the 100 Marathon Club are now trail 50Ks, and by the end of the summer, they will be in the majority, as they are in the ascendency. But to this year.
Race to the King 2021
I was ready. I had run five 50Ks and above on trail in the preceding 8 weeks leading into the weekend. A carbon copy of 2016? No. This time around I would do it right, starting with staying in Arundel close to the buses to the start, and I would also be running two days, and camping in between. Or, that was the plan. The reality turned out to be very different.
For one, the start moved to Goodwood racecourse from the customary farm. It wasn’t a massive issue, as the buses from the station would still go there. But I couldn’t find where to order the bus trip on the race website and so asked fellow runner Jade for a lift. She duly obliged.
Second, as I would discover, in 2016 each day was a marathon. It was a double marathon. This is a double marathon weekend. Race to the King, much like Race to the Tower, is a double marathon. Nope. The change in start meant the basecamp at half way ended up being at mile 23. Which meant the whole thing would only count as one.
Third, I took two pairs of shoes, roads, and trails. The roads were my trusted Nike Flex and the trails, my former favourite, the On Cloudventures. So I had my bases covered. Or did I?
Arundel to Winchester along the South Downs Way. Simple as. The eponymous King greets you outside Winchester Cathedral at the end. This was something missing from my first running. And I was determined to get that photo. As well as any half way photos, which again, were missing from the 2016 experience.
After a night at the oxymoronically named Comfort Inn, supposedly a short walk from the station, but actually nearly 20 minutes of dual carriageway, heavy with traffic coming off the motorway away, I was met by Jade and her husband, who whizzed us down country lanes to the race course.
Sporting a new hat (yellow day one and orange day two to help me spot myself in the photos) it was far better organised than the farm. After a temperature check on the way in, and a simple bag drop (where your race bib colour denoted the van that would carry your bags to halfway or the end), I was ready to go ahead of time, so stepped up, zigzagged my way around the starting area, kicked off my Coros watch, turned on my RTTK Day One playlist and was off like a Jewish foreskin.
Thing were going quite well. I wore the trusted Nike Flex on the day, proven Ron Hill Shorts, Scott pack, Creamax in one bottle, SOS in the other, calf sleeves if I needed them, which I didn’t, waterproof if I needed it, which I didn’t, and a Rockstar Sports tee, which I loved.
Lumpy hills and luscious green vistas greeted us. None of it seemed familiar until I hit the second checkpoint. I sat down on one of the yoga mats scattered around, had a tuna and mayo sandwich and a cup of tea and took it all in. It was then that I noticed (after reading a sign at the CP) that day one would be short. Massively short. It would be 23 miles. 23!!! That sucked balls for nickels. I was by a huge hill that I recalled from 2016. It just went up and up and up, and I grumbled for the whole ascent about the loss of yet another 100 MC point. And as I hit the other side, to piss me off even more, my watch went ping. I had set it to buzz at 800M for running and 200M for walking. It was 19 miles and it just stopped, giving me an annoying message.
Long story short, the Coros Pace has a small hard drive, a design flaw they freely admit. With race information, pace, distance, splits, times, elevation, GPS, and biometrics, energy consumption, calories, heartrate, for each and every run the watch fills up. At 19 miles mine filled up. I turned to social media for help. Some agreed that the watch should keep going but just not save it at the end. Others asked if I had updated the firmware. Mike said he saw this on a Facebook forum and that he synchs his watch with his phone all the time. I do not synch it with anything. But I worked it out in the end. The good old factory reset did it. It cleared all settings, and all workout data. I was ok with that, and it did mean that I could continue to base camp, the camp site formerly known as half way.
I was not a happy bunny. I was on to smash the day one 2016 time (one of my targets, along with, and in no particular order, double marathon record, finish day one, finish both days, and a trail marathon PB) but it was now 3 miles short. I dumped my sleeping bag and mat into my tent and then went and attempted to eat. I say attempted, but this was no reflection on how hungry I was. The food was atrocious. Imagine pasta, say fusilli, boiled to death. Add a can of tomatoes. Not the cans with Italian herbs, just plain. And barely enough to cover the vat of pasta. Mix in some frozen broccoli. I had two small spears. It was the highlight. The rest went in the bin.
Luckily there was a pizza truck outside, so I got a pepperoni pizza and garlic bread, a bar from which I purchased 3 pints of San Miguel, and a crepe van, from which I purchased a banana and Nutella crepe. Despite the best efforts of Threshold, I was fully satisfied with my din dins.
I then saw Jo Fraser Wise. I won’t go into the detail here but her phone had crapped out. Keeley (who I must apologise to for calling Kimberley on the Podcast) was trying to help, and my discoverable portable hotspot didn’t work either. You can read about her adventure here.
And all that palaver before a godawful nights sleep where every zip, toilet door slam, fart, snore, word and then torrential rainstorm kept me from sleeping.
People were surfacing at 4.30am. I listened to their plans the night before and 6 became 5 then 4.30 was agreed upon. It meant I scrounged 3 hours sleep from midnight until then but fine, it is what it is. I packed up everything as people stumbled like zombies to the shower units and toilets, tooth brush in mouth, bed head, or rather tent head, and a faraway stare. I dressed in the day 2 kit, including my waterproof, as it was cold, damp and dewy. And then I was out, bag dropped, a bacon and hash brown roll and a cup of tea in the tent and ready to go with the first runners at 6.
I knew it would be a 50K and it would end at the Cathedral. The rest was a plod as a fog descended and a Scottish runner, resplendent in his kilt, taped silver electrical tape around his shoes by the side of the road before stumbling headlong into the misty haze.
I just kept going, even in the face of adversity. My feet, you see, had swollen overnight as the tents were set up on a slope. I know, right? My feet looked even more like Hobbit feet now. With the torrential rain overnight I erred on the side of caution and wore the On trail shoes. This was a partial mistake. I say partial because they were good on some slippery downhills, especially those on chalk but, and I mean this, they squeaked on the road so much people would laugh, and they were uncomfortable. At one point, just to give my feet some respite, I stopped and took out the insoles. And that extra couple of millimetres of room made one hell of a difference. It got me to the end, and all the way to Winchester Cathedral, and my photo op with the King.
Pretty good. Am glad I did it.
I was very disappointed with the distance of day one. But overall I beat my double marathon PB (from Race to the Tower 2018) by two clear hours. That is good. I hated the camping and by the time my train pulled into Waterloo I had cancelled the second half of Race to the Stones, so I would be just running 50K on day one from Lewknor to Didcot, and booked hotels for either side and overnight at the South Coast Challenge in September. Fuck camping.
The Race to the King 2021 was better by far that 2016 inasmuch as I knew what I was doing. I run trail all the time now. Multiday races and long, long, days on my feet in the woods and hills make up most of my racing year. When your shoes make your feet hurt, the food is so disgusting you have to throw it away to stop yourself throwing up, you have no sleep, one of the two marathons is no longer a marathon, but you can still cross that finish line with a smile? Well, that makes it all worth it. It shows you who you are and what you have become.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE RACE TO THE KING? YES
WOULD I RUN THE RACE TO THE KING AGAIN? NO
NEXT UP: SERPENT TRAIL
And you can listen to the Race to the King 2021 Podcast here on Apple podcasts and Buzzsprout.