A few months back a friend of mine told me about a run he had entered – the 9Bar9x9 ultra, which was a running festival day out in Loseley House near Guildford. Runners have a choice of four runs ranging from half an ultra, to what they called the ‘super ultra’ which was 50 miles. The race was set as a 9km off-road run (hence the name 9×9 for the 50m run) and took place around Loseley House grounds and up and down the Hogs Back (for those that know the area?). I decided to enter the run too as it was four weeks after the New Forest marathon, and would be a great experience, and also a good run to keep me in shape for the Portsmouth ultra marathon in December.
Training for the run went smoothly because I’d just finished New Forest. Legs had time to recover and I even had one last near marathon training run the week before the race. The only bad thing that happened in those four weeks was pulling my hamstring after going out twice in a day. I’m an idiot at times, but it added a bit of edge to the final week or training. I spent a good few days hobbling around at lunch time trying to ignore it and a few runs I quit early. Still, it got a bit better and was no trouble leading up to or including the run. The day before 9Bar I was feeling a little tight in the legs so I even managed to get through a very quick paced 3 miles. I was ready! No wait !!! What’s that? I’ve left my Garmin charger at work in Winchester and it’s 10pm the night before. No matter – neighbours to the rescue with a spare charger (thanks Col & Lou!). Ok, now I was really ready! Bed.
Email communication for the run was great. I was well aware of where the event was, the timings, the parking and all the facilities. The day started early. I punched in the post code on my phone and I was off. Unfortunately, my mate could not join me due to a nasty back injury but he was there in spirit egging me on in my head (Thanks Jason!). When I arrived, I drove up the long drive way and parked up near Loseley House itself. Easy and smooth and plenty of friendly staff to help out.
I wondered up to the registration area and was immediately hit with that pre race feeling. The cold air, the freshness, the buzz of everyone getting ready. Registration took place in an old converted, heated barn which had a cafeteria selling breakfast and teas, coffees and the usual stuff. Lots of freebies being given away by 9Bar which was great. I managed to pick up a bag and a couple of edible bars for after the run. All the staff were friendly and helpful. I chatted to the lady who was dishing out wrist band timers that we needed to wear which were all spread out in numeric order. We had a chat about the Marathon De Sables which she had done. It’s great turning up to the run where you can talk freely about running and not feel like you’re boring everyone to tears After that, I took a seat with a coffee and met a few other runners. Two of them were from Kent who had traveled over the night before, and another guy from Kent too who was starting his run early due to being roped into a rugby game by his club, so he needed to be back. After a few conversations about the World Cup and various football things, we went our separate ways to gear up.
As I’d never run a race before that was made of laps, I took a last minute decision to try something new. I headed over to the bag drop tent near the finish line. The route took you past it every lap. The idea was, you could leave your stuff there, and just run in and grab what you need, and when you needed it. I took a last minute decision to leave everything there, and only come through there on each lap and grab what I needed for that particular lap. Best decision ever. Less weight to carry and no falling gels and bottles. Nothing to worry about. After a few last toilet breaks (quite a few actually), I took a waddle over to where the 50 mile runners were kicking off. They had a few minutes of briefing after which they set off in the fresh air with the sun just trying to peer through the clouds. Epic day for it.
Once they had gone, it was time to get ready myself. I re-arranged the food in my bag and just left it open so I could do a quick grab and go. Oh, and just time for one or two more toilet trips. Half an hour later we were standing in that very spot getting our briefing. A few final warnings of the style and a few chalky bits. Before long, the horn went and we were off. As usual, I started too quickly. I regretted that later. Big time
The route was very well marked, right from the start. Plenty of small yellow markers with arrows and loads of red & white tape hanging from the trees to point out the route ahead of you. There were friendly and encouraging marshals at the major junctions of the run where runners would back around, and pass each other coming the other way. Paths were large enough to get through with no problems and in fact it was great because you ended up cheering people on, and them you! There is always such a good vibe at these events. The route itself was downhill from the start for a while until you had passed through the car parks. You then climbed a fair while over a couple of fields. Then a bit of downhill again until you hit an off road and rather thin path going up and heading towards the bottom of the Hogs Back. It was there were you heart sank. The hill wasn’t easy. I managed to run most of it two or three times but after that it was a walk. Very steep. At the top of the hill it was flat along the ridge and then back down to the bottom of the hill. That downhill bit was lovely twice, but the third time and every time after that, it hurt a lot. When you are 20 miles and up into a race, the steep downhill sections really hurt badly. In fact, I’d say they are worse than climbing because your body runs regardless.
Just when you thought you’d got through the worst of the hills, about a km later, you hit what can only be described as ‘a wall’ of dirt. It was an enormous hill. Very short, but not one you’d really run, although I did twice at my expense later on. It was ludicrously steep and I could almost see the race organizers having picked it, laughing their socks off knowing what everyone would think going up it. The runners I spoke to there all had a laugh with me about it. Brilliantly sore.
Going through the lap marker (finish line area) where my bag was, was pretty seamless. I’d dash in through the tent after hearing my name mentioned over the tannoy, grab my next bottle of drink and a gel, and dash straight out. The stopping wasn’t great, but as there were people there, it made you carry on. Each lap was just perfect – no extra time needed for crowds etc. It was all well spaced out. On my final lap, after having gone through nearly three laps of cramp, and after wanting to stop after lap 4 and 5, I was the most relieved I’ve ever been to finish a run. I sat for a while and soaked up that feeling. I then got told I had come in 3rd place!! I couldn’t believe it at all. After that, and all the running – yep, all 5 hours of it, I came over in a wave of emotion. Never done that before ! I then drove home, with a coke and my medal and t-shirt (and Strava trace)
Many thanks to the race organizers, the volunteers, Loseley House, the runners and spectators, mother nature for the ultra cool day and my family for putting up with my early morning runs and race days! xxx Much love.