A sucker for a challenge and determined to celebrate her birthday in style, Rhalou organised her own ultra.
After getting my heart broken on my birthday last year, to mark the occasion this year (and ensure I had a better time, which frankly wouldn’t take much) I was determined to do something a bit different. Having survived a difficult 12 months, I wanted to celebrate how far I’d come and also prove to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to.
As an avid runner, entering a race seemed like the obvious answer. Most of my friends are diehard runners and nothing makes me happier than skipping along in the sunshine. But I couldn’t find an event that appealed on the day in question, so I decided to set up my own! And to add an extra kick to race day, I made the race distance my age. At 35 years old, it was destined to be a birthday to remember.
Going for a run and inviting your mates along sounds easy enough, but organising a 35-mile ultra requires a little more groundwork. Having never run much further than a marathon, it was vital that I ran at my own pace. I also wanted to win, and the great thing about putting on your own event is you can guarantee a podium finish. But most importantly, I wanted to have fun. There’s no point putting your body through hell on a day you should technically just be eating cake if you don’t enjoy the ride.
Fortunately my good friend Simon Lamb, who also happens to be my sports massage therapist, agreed to run the full distance with me. I knew I was in good hands should anything untoward happen en route, plus I trusted him not to lose his cool and beat me to the finish line. A gang of my amazing friends also signed up to different sections, so I had something to look forward to.
The perfect route
To ensure I got to see friends along the way, the route needed to be London centric with accessible train stations, but the idea of running in circles didn’t appeal. Mentally I needed to head in one direction, with a good watering hole at the end.
A friend suggested I take the River Lea route starting in Ware, but 15 miles short of 35, I had to find a town with a train station that was exactly the right distance away. Royston was in roughly the right place, so I sent all my friends an itinerary of what time I expected to hit each town, baked a batch of flapjacks, and prepared to run 35 miles with a smile.
At 5.30am, we set off for Royston and started running an hour later. The 17-mile section between Royston and Ware was hillier than expected, but the cool misty morning made up for the tough climbs. Once we hit Ware the sun was baking hot, but a gang of lovely friends joined us and presented me with a crown and a helium birthday balloon, which I wore proudly the whole way.
The route from Ware into town along the river was an absolute joy with dance breaks, ice cream boats and incredible crowd support from total strangers. Despite my sore limbs and the beating sun, I loved every minute of it. And knowing I had more friends to meet further down the line provided a great incentive to keep on moving.
Finding water proved difficult on occasion, so we were forced to come up with original ways to obtain fluids including running into pubs, begging passing boats and drinking coke (which worked wonders) but it all added to the sense of adventure. The last section when we realised I hadn’t taken the winding river into consideration and had to run an extra six miles was physically demanding, but it was still great fun. After ten hours of running, skipping and hobbling, the race finished in a North London pub with tequila shots, birthday cake and smiling friends.
Organising my own ultra race was a real celebration and reinforced exactly why I love running in the first place. Even though it took me all day, I was always going to get a PB so the pressure was off and the focus was on the joy of running. And now with 41.3 miles under my belt I get to start a whole new year of my life knowing that I can do anything I put my mind to. Happy birthday to me.