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Guest Blog: Race to the King...it started with a text

In this guest blog, Carly Soffe tells us about her gruelling grapple with the Race to the King ultra-marathon!Photo of Carly and Alister at the Race to the King challenge

I came out of a meeting in mid-January and had a text message from my good friend and Tysabri buddy’s husband, Alister... ‘Are you up for this?’ he said, sending a link to the Race to the King event, a 53 mile trail ultra-marathon.

I’d been running for about 8 months and had a few 10k and a half marathon runs under my belt, including the Brighton Marathon. I thought about it, albeit briefly, and replied ‘You know what? Yes! This sounds fun, happy to do it in a day too’. There was an option to do it over two days, but that was far too sensible…

And then I kind of forgot about it. I ramped up my training for Brighton and managed it in 4hr 30m. It was tougher than I’d hoped but I didn’t stick to my race plan and went too fast too soon. Alister assured me that a marathon was far harder than anything else I’d do… I was doubtful.

I signed up for a walking event, which the organiser agreed I could run if I was fully self-sufficient. So I ran 45km of trails on my 32nd birthday. Running offroad was a real eye opener. It took far longer than I expected but was really enjoyable and, as the only runner in a walking event, I won!

Alister was following a 12-week training program, but I was struggling. With a full time job, three dogs, multiple sclerosis (MS) and awful time management skills, I wasn’t getting the miles in. Seven weeks before the ultra, Alister and I hadn’t even run together – how were we going to manage 53 miles in each other’s company? I was starting to worry. As if he read my mind, Alister invited me to join him on a 13.1 training run around town. It went well but there was work to do. Not long after that, I managed to start using the program. It meant some early mornings and late nights, but soon I was racking up 25-40 miles per week, and Alister and I were running every Sunday together, exploring the South Downs between Chichester and Eastbourne. 

At this point we discussed fundraising. We should raise some money, but who for? I volunteered that I would like to raise money for MS-UK, and Alister could join me or choose another charity if he wanted to. I explained that the MS-UK website and chat rooms had been beneficial for me post diagnosis, and I’d like to support them. He was keen to join me, and the race begun!

Both of us are fortunate to have very supportive families, friendship groups and colleagues, and our JustGiving pages started seeing a lot of visitors. Whilst my close colleagues are aware that I have MS, it’s not common knowledge, and as I’m field based, I often don’t see people for months. Whilst my email was nonspecific, my JustGiving page was honest and held nothing back, which felt liberating. The email went to the entire business, and I let out a deep breath. Within minutes my inbox was full of kind, generous and supportive messages, some from people I knew reasonably well, and others who I’d only met once. It felt amazing.

Alister and I went on to raise around £1,700 each and proudly wore our MS-UK running vests as we took on the ultra-marathon on 23 June 2018. We set off from Slindon at 8.15am and ran (yes, we were still running) across the finish line in Winchester at just gone 10.30pm. It was an amazing experience and I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it. Our time was a little slower than hoped, but we had a headtorch malfunction, and both agreed we need to coordinate our toilet stops better in future. And yes, there is a ‘future’, Alister and I have only managed a few Parkruns together since but will be tackling at least one ultra-marathon in 2019 and aspire to complete a 100 mile ultra at some point.

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