Hidden among the trees of the Hurtwood, deep in the Surrey Hills lies one of my biggest running defeats. Back in December 2018, when Corona was still just a beer, I was utterly destroyed by the ultramarathon; Hurtwood 50k. I may have finished but in my eyes I failed. I struggled beyond belief and it scarred my confidence for many months, to put it bluntly the race destroyed me in every way. After the blisters and chaffing had subsided, I vowed to go back one day and rewrite the scarring memories woven into it’s trails.
In the weeks leading up to the race back in December 2018 I had been worn down, both physically and mentally. The passing of my grandmother, Nain, a week before the race weighed upon me heavier than I had anticipated. While she was 97 and she had the perfect passing, surrounded by family and at peace in her own home, the grief had taken its toll on me. I felt the shadowed squatter crawl through my weakened resilience and my depression returned. This was twinned with a step up in my training for Marathon des Sables, which had tired me out, meant that even on the start line my legs felt like lead weights. I had booked this race in simply as a training run (and only my second ever ultra) and because I was thinking in that way, I failed to respect it and it punished me for my disrespect.
Those dark, mud filled final miles were an endless torture and even though I finished I felt no sense of pride or achievement. I had survived and that was all. I wrote at the time that; “The Hurtwood 50K reflected the worse in me, the grumpy, self-loathing and self-doubting version of myself”. I reverted to the man I was before I discovered running and I hated that race because of it.
I vowed to return to it. To replace those hateful memories with something better, to prove to myself that defeat is a comma not a full stop. So, I entered this year’s edition which would be my first race after the lockdown had eased here in the UK.
Ultramarathons have taught me more about myself then I care to admit. With 6 under my belt now, I went into Hurtwood with a lot more respect for the distance and understanding of what my body needed to do. My game plan was simple, try and keep my speed below 12:30 minute miles. Any extra time under that would be timed banked for those tough climbs to come. I also aimed to use the aid stations as little as possible; with my largest pack on I could carry all the nutrition I needed and with it’s larger water carrying capacity I worked out I could skip one entire aid station and not suffer because of it. This decision definitely paid dividends as I was overtaking a handful of people at every aid station as I breezed in refilled my bottle and was out again.
My way of conquering those demons of the 2018 race was simple, absolutely demolish my previous finishing time of 8 hours and 13 minutes. I knew I was fitter than before, I knew the weather was going to be better and most of all my head was in the right place. I set myself two very ambitious goals of; attempting to cross the finish line two hours faster and with a smile on my face.
I arrived at the start line an absolute bundle of nerves; not just because of the race but also being near people again. Having spent the pandemic living a semi-hermetic life I found even the well organised and covid safe start area anxiety spiking. Thankfully it wasn’t long before I kissed my partner goodbye and was in the queue to start. With one person heading off every thirty seconds there was little time to comprehend what was about to happen and suddenly I was running an ultramarathon for the first time July 2019.
With 50km of hills, forest and heat ahead of me I ran onwards ready to rewrite history.