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Race To The King

27/06/2016

Having recently been selected to compete for Team GB again in the Autumn, Jo Zakrzewski celebrated in the way you'd expect of her......with a run.

However, this was no ordinary run as it was the inaugural Race To The King, a 54 mile ultra along the South Downs Way from Slindon to Winchester. Part of the appeal to Jo was that it was an area where she had never run, but the main draw was that she would be running to her own "King and Queen" as her nephew and niece live in Winchester.

Unfortunately, the race organisers hadn't factored in the Goodwood festival happening on the same day, and some of the shuttle buses spent several hours stuck in traffic. Jo's bus was the last one to finally reach the start and so they were the last 32 competitors to leave Slindon, at 9:20am, some 80mins behind the rest if the runners, and 35minutes behind the walkers. They joked that they did not need to fear about getting lost as there were now well over a thousand people ahead of them taking part in various ways - the race options were to complete the journey straight through (as either a runner or a walker), to split it up into 2 marathons with an overnight camp in the middle or to do one or other of the two days.

This start meant that Jo spent the day running on her own, initially catching up people from earlier (late) buses, and then those that had set off on the walking start. Many of the walkers kindly let her pass, but it was not always possible when the trail became very narrow (as the ensuing nettle stings and bramble scratches show). It did prove rather a tough mental battle, to keep running while everyone around her was chatting happily as they walked along.

By the time she reached the checkpoint at 15miles Jo had worked her way past most of the walkers and caught some of the runners that had left at 8am. Initially she thought that she could now stop playing catch-up and find some running company, but on second thoughts realised that if she had caught these runners up, then they probably weren't travelling at the same speed.

The early sunshine turned to torrential rain with thunder and lightening, which is never the best when out on an exposed ridgeline. The wooded sections weren't much better, as it became so dark that Jo almost regretted not having brought a headtorch. At several points, the runners found themselves ankle deep in flowing water and mud.

The foul weather meant that Jo didn't regret her decision to run straight through, as the midpoint campsite was rather sodden, so she pushed on for the second half. The second seemed a lot harder than the first half, partly through tiredness creeping into the legs, but mainly due to the conditions. The clouds would part to tease the runners briefly, and then the heavens would open again. Jo wondered if she had gone off course as there were several sections of over 100m that were more wading than running, but the route markings assured her that this was all part of the race's "appeal".

As she got to the final checkpoint, with just over 7 miles to go, she heard that the first runners had reached the cathedral. A quick calculation of her time made her realise that if she pushed on, then she wouldn't be far away from their times for the course. Several more off-road uphill stretches made an 8 hour target seem nigh on impossible but a couple of sub-7 minute miles right at the end saw Jo "sprinting" into Winchester, to the amazement of a couple of runners that she passed.

The route markings seem to keep pointing away from the cathedral itself, but Jo finally rounded the last corner and made a dash for it, almost falling down the steps to the cathedral itself. Luckily her sister was there to catch and hug her as she crossed the line in 7:57:11, and they were stunned to hear that the lead man's time had been 8 hours 15. Unfortunately, her "king and queen" then tried to decapitate her with their swords.....

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