Where to even begin! I love Salisbury 54321, hence this is the third consecutive year that I’d entered. It’s the perfect mix of trails, hills and wonderfully pretty countryside, all brought together by great organisation, excellent marshalling and a selection of cake at the finish line. What more can you want from a race? Oh, right….. a top three finish! Let me tell you about the first time I raced a race.
First and foremost, I just want to put it out there. If you’re looking for a fast, flat course, then this one is not for you! I finished third with a time of 1:54:46! That’s more than 15 minutes outside my half marathon PB. The course elevation is a whopping 845 feet, spread over the 5 big hills you can see above. But for me, that’s all part of its attraction.
The very beginning
I entered Salisbury 54321 purely as a training run. It’s a tough course that I knew would be far more fun that yet another solo long run. The 21K (there’s also 33K, 42K and 50K options) begins at a leisurely 11am, which is another ‘marmite’ feature that I happen to love. So at 10.55, having parked easily on the designated field, picked up my number from the helpful marshals in the fire station, and gone for a last minute wee in a clean port-a-loo with no queue, we headed to the start line.
Then, I did something I’ve never done before. I positioned myself at the front. Well, not the very front, I’m not that brave, but as close as I dared. Usually I’m far too wimpy and spend my first few miles working my way back through the field. Having run Salisbury before though, I knew that by the first hill people would be walking, and on the single track path there would be no opportunity to overtake. It wasn’t that I was aiming to run fast, but I did want some continuity.
The first mile is dead flat and heads out along a split pedestrian and cycle path. A cycle path, that at that moment in time, a very disgruntled cyclist was using. I do understand that in shared spaces runners don’t have any special priority, but you would think that rather than ploughing head on through the centre of 308 runners shouting ‘get off the f*****g cycling path you tw**s!’ you would have waited two minutes for them to pass. Each to their own I suppose.
After that first mile, there’s nothing flat about the rest of the first half!
5 rivers, 4 hills, 3 country estates, 2 castles and 1 cathedral
The majority of the race was fairly uneventful. I picked up a lemon squash from one of the aid stations at one point thinking it was water, but that really was about it! The highlight of Salisbury 54321 is undoubtedly the variety. The course is really well marked and some of my favourite sections are the downhill technical trails and sweeping country estates. Believe it or not, I actually even like the hills. Where others were starting to struggle, it turns out I’m something of a mountain goat! I was making up places that, as it turned out, were more important than I realised at the time.
‘Well done, 3rd lady…. I think’
By mile 10, I was starting to struggle. There’s a really pretty section through a village called Britford, but it was dragging. Then, just as I was thinking about easing off and cruising the final 5K, I heard those 6 words. ‘Well done, 3rd lady….. I think!’ I knew that I was reasonably high up the field, but I thought I was probably 5th or 6th based on how many people had overtaken me in the first mile. Either way, if I gave up and it turned out I had been in 3rd, I’d never forgive that moment of weakness. So, I dug in.
My least favourite bit of Salisbury 54321 is that the last mile is actually a mile and a half! I could see another lady ahead of me, being paced by a guy. Just in case the marshal had been optimistic, and I was actually 4th, I had to try and close the gap. Suddenly, for the first time EVER, I wasn’t just running a race, I was racing. And I loved it.
The last 20m
Unfortunately, no matter what I did, I’d left it too late to move up, but I did at least manage to hold onto my current position. After a long slog along the river, you eventually turn onto the grassy finish straight. And, as I think you can see from the picture above, the level of fatigue outweighed the excitement still at this stage!
At the finish line I was greeted by an array of goodies. A medal was hung around my neck and I happily set about ploughing my way through the selection of cake, sweets and chocolate bars on offer. A bounty, is a post race win, as it turns out! It wasn’t until a friend finished 40 minutes later and I mentioned to her that a marshal had said I was in 3rd place with 2 miles to go, that she frog marched me to find the race director.
When it was confirmed that the marshal could in fact, count to three, and I was 3rd lady, I almost burst into tears! 3rd lady. Me! I know Salisbury is a small race, and in a bigger field, I would never stand a chance of placing, but it still felt like such a huge achievement. Many people think running comes easily to me, but it’s more a product of years of perseverance and determination that go unseen, and so this reward was huge. I think my shock was evident, as I’m fairly sure there were no prizes for the runners up. But, a HUGE thanks to the race director for whipping out a fireman bear as a prize, which absolutely made my day!
So, there we go. The first time I raced a race. It’s sparked a real fire inside me that has re-ignited my competitive streak. It’s also made me wonder why I keep signing up for road marathons, when I get a far greater buzz from spending time on the trails. I’m not sure what this means for my plans next year yet. But one thing is pretty much guaranteed…… Salisbury 54321 2020, I want to be on that start line. The only question, is what distance?!