June 2021: a month of mainly glorious hot weather and a last-minute entry to a nearby race that had caught my eye, the Sihks in the City Dawn till Dusk Ultra! I first heard about the Sikhs in the City races from my local parkrun friends and quickly became enamoured with this running group and their unusual history. The Sihks in the City running club was founded some years ago by a group of five Sikh runners aged at the time between 79 and 88 years old, the most well known of which being Fauja Singh, now aged 111! Fauja’s personal history is particularly fascinating, and I even ended up buying the children’s book called ‘Fauja Singh keeps going‘ to share his inspiring story with my children. Fauja was born in India in 1911, and was unable to walk for the first 5 years of his life due to an undiagnosed leg condition which also prevented him from making the long walk to school each day. Something of a late bloomer(!) it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 89 when Fauja completed his first marathon in London. Since then, he has set numerous records including the fastest marathon time by a 90+ year old (which at 5h40 minutes is not too far off my debut London Marathon time!), and records at distances from 100 metres to marathon for a 100 year old runner!
The race I had signed up for was the Dawn till Dusk ultra race, normally held on the shortest Sunday of the year (but rearranged to June for COVID reasons), where you have all the daylight hours to complete as many laps of the course as you want, up to 50km. I had been having a difficult month running-wise; after breaking both my 5km and 10km PB’s earlier in the year I spent the past few weeks plagued with strained knee and ankle ligaments and a frustrating chest infection that hampered my breathing in the hot weather. I would need to play it safe today and set my sights on the 11-lap distance that would earn me a 22km medal.
The route was a 2.014km officially registered circuit around the local streets of Woodford, known as the Fauja Singh training route. I naively assumed that any run around here would be totally flat, but instead there was a substantial long slow hill for all of the first 1km, followed by a welcome gentle fall down to the start/finish area. It gave the race an interesting rhythm as I settled in, listening to my audiobook. 1km up, 1km down. Up through the houses, down the main road. And repeat. By lap 4 my left foot was completely numb and I couldn’t quite understand why until I remembered the timing chip that we had tied around our ankles earlier which was now too tight! Loosening the anklet was a big relief and I continued round, enjoying watching the live scoreboard update with our names and positions. The hill finally started to take it’s toll, and after a strong first 16km, I had to ease back a bit and have the odd walking break to allow my breathing to get back under control. I was very happy to finish after 11 laps and take my 22km medal!
There’s absolutely no way I was ready complete the full 50km today but I think it remains firmly on my bucket list for another time when I am in better health and well trained! And on my long run training in the future I will make sure to bear in mind the message and spirit of Fauja Singh – and just keep running! Huge thanks to all the friendly and welcoming volunteers at SITC for hosting this lovely local event full of excellent food, great support, and happy smiles!