On Sunday 30th April I am running the Three Forts Challenge, a 27.2 mile off road marathon. The second of the thirteen marathons I have planned over the next twelve months. This is going to be a hilly one people!
From the title of this blog post, you would be right in thinking that I am a bit nervous about this race. This assumption would be perfectly valid. In fact, I had an anxiety dream about not finishing the race last night.
This is not due to the distance, or due to the hills. It is due to the cut off time. I did not check this when I booked; however upon reviewing the race website over the weekend I noticed that the race must be completed in 6 hours. That is 27.2 miles (or 43.5km) of tough hilly off road racing in 6 hours. Bearing in mind that it took me over 5 hours to complete the totally flat Brighton Marathon just 3 weeks ago, and you can start to see why I am feeling nervous.
Over the weekend I met up with my friend Tom, who is running the Race to the King (my 53 mile June Ultra-marathon) with me. We went out for a 3 hour run on the South Downs, starting and ending in Amberley. The terrain is extremely similar to what I will face at the marathon. The Three Forts Challenge has 1050 metres of elevation spread across the race distance. On Sunday, we covered 22.7km in 3 hours, with 554m of elevation.
Using simple mathematics (thank you Mr Hyden and GCSE Maths), we can work out that if I match the exact same pace I managed on Sunday at the Three Forts Challenge in 6 days time, I will cover 45.4 km in 6 hours (allowing for 1108 metres elevation).
So the race itself is 43.5km in 6 hours with 1050 metres of elevation, and I am theoretically capable of 45.4km in 6 hours with 1108 elevation. Easy, right? Nothing to worry about. I will be back with plenty of time to spare (well at least 10 minutes).
Except sadly there is plenty to worry about. I will need to stop at aide stations and get water and perhaps some food. Though this will not take long, it will eat into my time. As will the inevitability that I will not be able to maintain the same pace I would run for 3 hours over 6 hours. This is twice the distance, twice the hills and twice the time on my feet. Alas, I am more confident of returning from the race on Sunday with a DNF (Did Not Finish), than a medal.
This will mean two things. One, I will need to fit in another marathon over the next 12 months to make sure I hit my challenge of 13 marathons in 12 months. Two, the realisation of how far away I am from being able to run 53 miles non-stop (on the exact same type of terrain), will hit me like a tonne of bricks.
That’s it for this blog post. Very cheery I am sure you will agree. I am going to finish my glass of wine, watch a bit of TV and then go to bed. Perhaps overnight I will metamorphosize into Scott Jurek, or Charlie Engle, or one of my other ultra-running heroes? Or perhaps I will turn into somebody who simply doesn’t bite off more than he can chew and knows his limits.
Whilst both of these outcomes is equally unlikely as the other one, what I do know is that the human body is capable of some remarkable things when it is pushed. The Three Forts Challenge will push me, probably right to the edge, but one thing is for certain. If I don’t make the 6 hour cut off time, it will not be through a lack of effort!