First, Second and Last

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Sunrise-to-Sunset-2014-StarHow can a race be first, second and last?

Well I’ll deal with the easy one first, the Sunrise to Sunset Challenge was my last race of 2014.

The Sunset to Sunrise Challenge is held round a small loop just less than a mile long on a pretty country lane just south of Telford. It is held annually the day after Boxing Day. There are three race distances in this event; an ultra, from which the race gets its name, the challenge being to see how many loops you can complete between the early race start of Sunrise (8:20am) and Sunset (4:01pm). The other races distances are a marathon (32 laps) or a half marathon (16 laps). You can possibly guess, I opted for the marathon distance.

I’m often asked don’t I find it boring doing multi-lap races but no, it is nice lapping and getting lapped as you get to see all the runners who are taking part whether they are faster or slower and the opportunity encourage each other along.

This course isn’t easy. It has 2 small hills in each lap, one quite sharp and the other longer with a more gradual climb. When you multiply this by 32 laps, you have 64 hills! At first you don’t notice them but as the race progresses they start to grind you down.

The day didn’t start well for me as I mis-calculated how long it would take me to get to the race. I had no excuse as I’ve done the race before. This was made worse by a sharp morning frost costing me extra time to clear my car’s windscreen and a slow careful drive in the snowy and icy conditions. I reached the race start just as the runners got under way but I still had to register and collect my race number. I did this as quickly as I could and started about a minute behind the rest of the field.

My adrenalin was flowing and I was all fired up so I focused on chasing down the runners, soon catching them one by one. The field of runners was fairly small, around 70 and within 3 or 4 laps I found myself at the front! Was I going to pay for this later in the race? During the middle part of the race I settled into a more sensible, comfortable pace and wondered were any runners catching me or was I holding onto a good lead?

Shortly after half way, sadly a runner did catch me while I was at the drinks station. I tried to keep with him but slowly he pulled away. It looked like my chance of a win was over. To make my winning chance even worse another runner seemed to appear from nowhere into the race. It was Adam Holland, I know him well, a very fast marathon runner who holds the world record for running 10 marathons in 10 days. If he was running I knew I had no chance of winning but where did he come from? Over the last third of my race he lapped me 3 times! Coming past too fast for me to ask him exactly what was going on. I must admit I was tiring after my early fast start and he seemed to be in the early stages of his run. These two runners had dented my mental state and I resigned myself to the fact I was going to come in third. The very cold weather was also not helping as we had endured some wintery snow showers and heavy rain which had made me feel very cold. At this point I must thank Denzil for opening one of my gels because I couldn’t feel my fingers to do it myself. Luckily towards the end of the race things dried up a bit.

As I came to round to start my final lap Denzil (the race director) rang a bell and cheered me on for the start of my final lap and mentioned I was first, which I couldn’t really understand. I picked up my pace and polished off the last lap to be congratulated by Denzil as first to finish! What about the runner who had over taken me? He was doing the ultra. What about Adam? He had started about an hour and half late so even though he was running the fastest, I had finished first!!!

The official results have Adam first with his faster time and me second so in a strange sort of way I came both first and second.

I’ve never finished a race first before and it was a lovely way to end a marathon mad year.

Happy New Year everyone, here’s to a fantastic running 2015.

Sunrise-to-Sunset-2014-Fini

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