Thursday, 17 August 2017

Salisbury 54321 - 50k revisited

There are many races I would never return to regardless, most often I don't feel the need (or want) to retrace my steps, but some races I've either got "business with" or I just like the route - Salisbury 54321 I'm in love with.  The race gets its name from the various routes that can be run - 10k, 21k, 33k, 42k and 50k, this year run on 13 August 2017.  Each race costs the same and runners can switch between races on the day (for a small fee) and all proceeds go towards The Fire Fighters Charity.

From the quirky maps, that require a maths graduate to decipher, to the stunning route that meanders around the outskirts of the city, through housing estates, the grounds of a private castle, through woods and fields, around an ancient city's walls and past an iconic cathedral.  I'm in love.

The various routes
Course elevation - best newcomers ultra around.

This was the third year I had returned, the first year (2015) I completed the 33k, in 2016 I completed the 50k and so in 2017 I returned (without Matt) to compete in the 50k yet again.  Well, I needed the training miles.  The weather had looked good all week and promised not be as hot as the previous two years, but as the weekend drew on the predicted temperature for the day gradually increased.  The morning brought a clear, sunny, morning and the temperature rose quickly before the start at 9.30am.

The route is multi terrain with many road sections and shoe selection is either cushioned trail or road. I used Altra Olympus with injinji socks, with the usual result of zero blisters or black toenails.

I met some friends from FAC off (Frome and country off road) running group in the car park decided to start with them.  We lined up at the start line and the horn sounded for the start, shortest race brief in history.  Becky Webb and Lucy Gaffney's were both running their second ultra's and I was in no hurry so decided to stick with the girls for the duration.  Roger Devereux and Marcus Gaffney were crewing the girls and did an amazing job having food and water prepared at their improvised check points - note to self, get a crew as good as these guys!!!  I digress.

We looped the field and then headed northwest along the River Avon on the springy raised wooden walkway, tree covered pathways and finally a short section of road to then turn east along private land at Little Durnford.  We passed 3 miles as we crossed the River Avon again and spotted some camels in a field! At the next crossroads we turned right and a long drag up to Old Sarum castle at 5 miles.

Heading down from Old Sarum

Following a loop around the top of Old Sarum we crossed the A345, Castle Road, and followed the overgrown footpath behind Paul's Dene down through housing estates towards Laverstock and the countryside.

Up until about this point, Lucy had been bothered by a stone in her shoe, even after removing the shoe and checking her socks there was no sign of it.  She sat on the side of some steps, as runners from shorter distance races streaked past, and was determined to sort out the problem by swapping her socks.  Becky took the shoe from her and immediately identified the issue.  A stone had got under her insole.  Quickly rectified Lucy laced up and ran on with a new lease of life.  Lesson learnt. 

The temperature was gradually rising and the wooded stretch of trail between 10 and 11 miles gave some cooling cover.  We crossed the A36, joined the old  Southampton Road, and headed southeast until the outskirts of Alderbury where we headed west into the grounds of Longford Castle.  The castle is surrounded by acres of grounds and an inviting shallow river, complete with large trout.  The boat house alone could pay for a fleet of cars.

The aid station within the castle grounds (at 13.5 miles) was the first station with any type of food other than jelly babies.  Although for the three of us this was not an issue as our outstanding crew kept us fed and watered, for those relying on aid stations this would be very late in the race to be fuelling properly.

Eating well!!
The sky was clouding over at this point, lowering the temperature slightly and making the running a little more comfortable.  I run happily in the heat but both girls preferred not to have the sun on their backs. The previous two years had been extremely hot and I was prepared.

We passed through the castle grounds to be met by our crew for some flat coke and amazing flapjack, before crossing the A338 then through the village of Nunton, into the fields and nearly a mile of climb before a few miles downhill and farm track before entering the Great Yews woods.   We passed the Swiss cottage before stopping briefly at the checkpoint.

Bet the broadband is rubbish though
Approaching the crew at Coombe Bissett

From this southern most point the route heads north, crossing fields for a 2 mile downhill section into the quiet village of Coombe Bissett to meet the crew briefly before climbing again (for the last time) to the race course at 23 miles.  The crew were dutifully waiting at the race course entrance where we refilled bottles before heading through woods and a mile downhill across crop fields towards Wilton.

Me, Lucy & Becks
Downhill into Wilton.
At 26 miles we arrived in Wilton, finding the checkpoint was in a corner of a carpark.  From there we headed along the A36 for a short period before cutting in and through the village of Quidhampton and then Bemerton at 28 miles.  Once through the villages we were cutting our way over rivers and streams using the small bridges, being careful to avoid the nettles, but enjoying the shade of the tree canopy.  Becky was starting to suffer at this point, mostly fatigue, and I tried my best to encourage her over the last few miles.

The footpath led into the back of a housing estate and onto the A3094 into the heart of the city.  Over the River Avon again and left into the grounds of the cathedral, much to the amusement of onlooking tourists.  Once past the cathedral grounds and past few shocked shoppers we joined the footpath that follows the River Avon through the town for the last mile back to the fire station.

We passed medal wearing runners walking back from the finish, all wishing us well and reminding us "it isn't far".  I am sure Becky was biting her tongue hard at this point.

We ran under the last bridge, crossed the road and entered the finishing funnel.  The girls held hands as we completed the last few metres and crossed the line.  We had a team hug.  It had been a wonderful journey.

In the funnel

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