Saturday morning, 5.20am. I had left the alarm as late as possible for the Fox Ultra Marathon. A 38 mile race starting in Godalming following the Fox Way trail in a ring around Guildford to the finish back in Godalming. I’d had a relatively decent sleep considering.
At the moment the wife and I are usually joined in the marital bed by one of the 2.5yr old twins from midnight onwards. If it’s George more often than not one of us will choose to evacuate to the spare room for fear of being kicked repeatedly, asked for a snack and milk half way through the night or being jumped on for his amusement. Also with George comes the guarantee of a 6am start or earlier along with the demands to go downstairs to watch Choo Choo Train (The Polar Express to you and me and a film I have seen every day for the last month) whilst tucking into a Scotch pancake or three.
The problem with the alternative of tapping out to the spare room at George’s arrival is that you are left to roll the dice with Theodore. Whilst not as active as George in the night, his moods are less predictable and favouring his mother at the moment it can lead to a lively night if I have to attend to him. Luckily the boy didn’t stir and the spare room strategy had paid off for me.
Having finished the 10in10 (262mile) race the previous Monday the idea of doing an ultra was a bit bonkers but with an offer of a free place from fellow 10in10 runner Katie I could hardly say no. I also did this race in 2017 and enjoyed it so wanted to carry out a fitness test against the 2017 time. That said I was physically tired, questioning why I had decided to turn up to the start line after such a heavy few weeks. This was to be my 11th marathon in 14 days.
I had packed light the night before, probably forgetting a load of stuff. The conditions were cold and windy to start and I had turned up in shorts and t-shirt. After arriving at Godalming for 6.15 I joined the registration queue.
No sooner had I joined it did the person in front of me ask “Did you do the Phoenix track marathon? I’m sure you are at every single event I do”. Guilty. I had attended that one. Talking to the stranger made the long queue to the registration desk dwindle quickly as we exchanged a few brief running stories.
We both agreed that 60km (38miles) is a bit of an odd distance in Ultra world. The usual distances you see are 50km, 50miles, 100km and 100miles. The extra 10km on top of a 50km race made it hard to judge what sort of pace we should be going for. I have a finish time of 8hrs for 50 miles (80km) and a finish time of 4hrs 12mins for the 50km (31.1miles).
This information is pretty useless to go on as the 60km falls in the middle of these times and this doesn’t take into account the terrain of the race. I decided to aim for a 4:15 marathon time and then keep going for the remaining 12 miles and see what happened.
The stranger also wanted a chat on the profile. A bit hilly he thought. I told him that I didn’t remember there being any show stoppers from 2017 but I may have been getting races confused.
The race itself is incredibly scenic and broken up by some sections of road running that I very much welcomed at times. I didn’t really strike up conversation with anyone throughout the race which is unusual, just using the time to relax, grab a few recovery miles from the 10in10 and listen to other conversations around me. The usual topics were being discussed and I could list these out as discussions heard on most marathons:
- The watch conversation. Usually overheard at the very start by plonkers saying “ooops forgot to start my watch”, “I don’t know how to work this thing”, “mine measures in kilometres”, “no, I don’t know my heart rate” or “what minute/mile do I need to do for a 4hr marathon?”, usually responded to by “I dunno, I work in kilometres”.
- The excuses. People getting these in nice and early. The earlier the better to mitigate any immediate poor performance on the upcoming run. “Didn’t sleep well”, “I’ve had this injury”, “I’m recovering from”, “I’ve only just done this other run”.
- “That’s mile 1 done! Only another xxx to go”. This genius is at every blimin race. It gets a small ripple of laughter each time. He’s probably the same chap who says “Just the park run to go” at the last 5km of every race!
- The running CV. Everyone does this one where they go through each other’s credentials in order to find some common ground. “Ohh yes, I did that one”. Depending on who you’re lumbered with this can go one of two ways. A new found friendship that will last forever or the overwhelming sense to either dramatically speed up or slow down to get away from the nightmare.
I have to admit to probably doing all of the above. But not on this one. This race I was merely an observer wondering what the hell I was doing here half-awake running around the Surrey hills. The first 10 miles went quick and without any issues. Wasn’t till mile 19 when some plumbing issues that I had been carrying for the last 4 miles had to see me use the facilities at the aid station in a village called Send. My apologies to any local residents who may have been effected by the emergency visit.
I made the marathon distance in 4hours and 9seconds. My OCD went nuts to have missed out on a sub 4 marathon. Bit pathetic as this was a 38mile race!!! I jogged in the extra 12 miles where I started to notice the hills the stranger referred to. My knees playing havoc on the downhill, particularly the decent to Silent Pool from the North Downs Way. I can’t express how crap I am at downhill running. I’m always overtaken by runners who have a genuine concern I may suffer from vertigo. I don’t, I’m just really crap at downhill. I make up for it on the uphill though, one chap commenting at the end of the race, rather astonished that I “ran the hills”. Running the hills is just something I have always done despite this being against the average ultra-runners rule book.
I made the finish with a 6:10. A whole 2 minutes slower than 2017!! But I did go the wrong way on one occasion, I had just run the 10in10, not been sleeping well and….. ohh the excuses!
No, in honesty I was of neutral opinion with my time as I was with the whole race. Not really there or with it for the whole thing. The Fox Ultra for me was just a passing ship in the night and an attempt to get another quick ‘fix’ off the back of the overdose the 10in10 provided.
Tips for the Fox
- Local street parking is in abundance. The race notes advise parking at the village hall for £10. Don’t listen.
- The checkpoints are incredibly well stocked. Pack light
- The second half of the race is tougher than the first. If you are there for time bank some miles early, push yourself on the road sections and the bank of the River Wey.
- There is SWAG at the end but it’s not offered on a plate, reach out and take it.