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This season I’d already run three ultra marathons and a full marathon in the snow. The CTS Sussex ultra was my fifth race of the season and I had to admit, I was feeling pretty, pretty confident. I stayed at a guesthouse in Eastbourne Sussex the night before the race to get in a solid nine hours of sleep. My friendly hosts woke up early to serve a full breakfast. The real main course was the CTS Sussex Ultra, a 55 kilometre (34 mile) trail race on the sexy, sexy Sussex coast. I would burn more than 6,000 calories during the run, so I needed all the fuel I could get. It was easy to find other runners traveling to the race. We took a public bus from Eastbourne, out to the starting point at Birling Gap. The CTS Sussex Ultra registration was smooth and quick, as usual. I was ready to run this coast. 122 runners would start the race, but only 98 runners would finish. It was cloudy and breezy. Perfect conditions for a trail race on the coast. Downhill sections are harder on your muscles than uphill parts, but I let myself go with the gravity. I blasted past more timid downhill runners. This boosted my confidence. Early on, I experimented with push myself harder, to warm up faster, and find my natural pace sooner. I pushed myself early on to not walk the hills, even though my heart rate was sometimes over 170. Okay, this was probably too high. The coast of Sussex was less extreme than my previous races this season, and I noticed a difference in my faster pace. I was less worried about how I would feel later in the race. My body felt lighter, and I was in a flow state. I didn’t even bother to re-fill water at the first-aid station. I forced myself to keep running the inclines, but tried to keep my heart rate below 165. When it went above 165 I slowed to a power hike until my heart rate dropped below 155. Once my heart rate was back under 155, I started running again. I did stop and re-fill at the second aid station. I was trying Nuun dissolvable salt tabs in my water bottles instead of the concentrated salt drops. This was faster than measuring the drops, and it added some satisfying sweetness to the water. On previous races, I noticed an overwhelming urge to walk questionable inclines, if I could see someone else walking ahead of me. This time I fought every urge to walk and instead harnessed my competitiveness to run past the walkers. This worked well. I tend to find my strength later in the race, when passing other runners gives your reduced confidence a boost. The salt tabs worked very well. There was no muscle cramping, even later in the race when I could see other people were having to stop and stretch. I reached the finished area for the marathon loop. The ultra course I was on had an extra loop. For me, this small loop was the real race. This is usually when things fall apart, but I noticed the effects of my strength training. My shoulders didn’t ache from hours of swinging my arms and carrying the pack. My stronger back and core allowed me to maintain better posture. Which resulted in more efficient strides and no pain in my lower back? Don’t get me wrong, this race was hard, my body and my mind were in pain. I was counting each full kilometer as a victory. It made the pain more manageable to focus on smaller distances. My fear of failure fully faded when I first fathomed the familiar lighthouse for the finish. So close now. This time… This time… I would definitely stop running… Just… As… Soon… As… I… … Finished! I accepted the medal, but declined the Clifbar. I already ate about 8 of these during the race, so it was the last thing I wanted to eat now. My time was 5:48:02 I finished 19th out of 122 runners. I was happy with my improvements, and planned to continue the strength training in addition to running. I still had energy after the race, so I wanted to push myself even harder next time. Irina’s parents had taken Charlie camping in a motorhome. They arrived near the finish and took me back to Eastbourne train station in their new toy. I traveled back to London with Charlie. He said he wanted to go running with me. I wanted to go running with him too. Soon, Charlie soon.

James Carver

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