This was the sound of my flight landing at Gatwick on Friday evening, I’d been in Budapest for a week enjoying the cultural highlights of the city – highly recommended is the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art.
It was now just short of 9pm and we were off to get the car – I needed to spin round the motorway and get to a Sainsbury’s fast as I had no running food supplies. My other half put her foot (legally) to the floor and by 9.38pm we were filling a trolley with falafel, malt loaf, lucozade and a gigantic lasagne thingee from their nicer tasting food range – it was going to be a long night.
I got home at around 10.30pm – the GingaNinja threw some lasagne at the oven and I started to get my kit ready for the National 100km. It normally takes about 2 weeks for me to prep for an ultra – this one took less than 40 minutes, it’s not that I’m getting faster it’s just I was being tired and sloppy. At 12.54am I was in bed and exhausted, my hip stinging gently in the darkness of the early morning hours and me with the knowledge I needed to wake in just over 4 hours to run my third ultra in a month.
At 5.00am I turned off the alarm of my phone and stood exhausted in a shower of steamy water and thought to myself why do I do this? Regardless I applied the usual liberal amounts of Vaseline to all the usually affected areas and proceeded to get dressed. I’m much happier preparing for trail ultras but I figured this would be much the same, albeit with the addition of my box of goodies from Sainsbury’s. When I arrived at the Gravesend Cyclopark I could see that it got treated very differently. The other runners were mainly in low profile racing flats (I’d gone for Hoka Tarmac) and nobody was carrying a pack, I felt that my inexperience on the track was now showing a bit.
At the off though there was a very nice atmosphere as the group of runners straddled the start line and Ian, the race director, gave us a few final instructions and the location of the toilets. And then we were off!
The leaders from the national teams set off at a blistering pace and while we watched on in awe I think it dawned on most of us the challenge that lay ahead – 48 laps of a tarmac track with a couple of bitchy hills. Now I’ll be honest this, on the face of it, wasn’t going to be as tough as any of my previous ultras and as I drifted along at 5.05 per kilometre I was perfectly happy. In fact things couldn’t have been going much better, the toe infection I thought would be causing me problems was nicely secure in my Hoka and the various blisters from the WNWA96 and SDW50 that still hadn’t healed were holding up beautifully thanks to some strategic strapping and compeeding. Even the exhaustion I was expecting from my late night exertions at the airport hadn’t kicked in and so by about 14km in I was a very happy bunny. I was even remembering to eat and drink regularly which is something that often kills off decent times on an ultra for me.
It was when I making my second stop at the feeding table and having a bit of a laugh though that I ruined the race. Here’s what I think happened.
1. Stuffed Jaffa Cake in gob
2. Told a moderately smutty joke
3. Set off wiggling my arse and throwing hand shapes around in the air
4. Wasn’t looking where I was going
5. Slipped off the tarmac
6. Twisted right ankle and knee
7. Cursed myself – may have dropped the C bomb a couple of times
Before the end of the lap I knew that the 100km was out of reach as I was hobbling pretty horribly and even the 50km would be a tough ask within the time limit of six hours – to say I was devastated is an understatement as I’d be running well enough to do the distance in 10.5hrs which was the Spartathlon qualifying time. As I meandered what would have been about lap 8 I decided that I’d risk further injury and give it everything I had for the 50km.
I was now much, much slower and the pounding of the tarmac was making my feet feel heavy and combined with the injury the wheels just started to completely come off. I stopped remembering to eat and drink properly, I was leaning away from the right leg too much which meant the weight was pressing heavily on my already destroyed hips and worse was the sun was coming out and I didn’t have any sun cream – nor had I put any on.
15 laps in and I’m a bit dazed and confused but still going forward having finally figured out a method of movement that didn’t cause too much discomfort, I was back to eating sensibly and drinking but my skin looked a bit like crispy fried duck – I’d burnt badly. However I stayed in good humour and chatted with runners as I passed them or they passed me.
As I passed into the final lap I gave a little jig or two to offer a bit of amusement to the crowds and then pushed on doggedly. Despite it having been a disaster of a race, the like of which not seen since the Bewl Water Marathon last year, I was feeling okay if a lot despondent. I approached the final ascent up the unofficially titled ‘Tourette’s Hill’ and crossed the line.
‘Are you okay?’ was the question
‘Disappointed’ I answered wearily
I took my medal but stupidly left behind my excellent goody bag, I wasn’t much in the mood to celebrate as I crossed the line. For a while I sat in the coffee shop mulling over my disappointment and my scorched skin and decided to leave both of these behind in favour of supporting the other runners home – probably the best decision I’d made all day as this really lifted my spirits seeing dozens of runners completing the race and achieving such amazing feats of endurance.
A few words about the race
The chaps at TZRuns are Amazeballs, they really care about racing, running and runners – it is all extremely well planned, well executed, brilliantly supported and reasonably priced. The National 100 was a race you could enjoy and while I had a personal nightmare that was nothing to do with the organisation.
The Cyclopark in Gravesend is a great course with great facilities, toilets, coffee shop, children’s playground – if you want a family friendly race location then this is it.
The supporters, photographers, medical guys and the marshals – epic. At every turn they offered a friendly face, a bit of a laugh and the right amount of food and drink. I wanted for nothing (except sun protection cream). In fact all the personal stores I took along with me pretty much went home because the feed stations were so well stocked.
Great race, with the 100km record time broken, stunning supporters, amazing organisation and great facilities. Add to this a course that was challenging and hard on your feet but fun to get involved in and you have perfect race conditions.
I’ll be going back for the Kent Roadrunner in a few weeks time (just 17 laps this time) also organised by TZRuns which I think says more about the organisers than anything I can possibly commit to my writings.
The only problem with this race was with this runner and I aim to fix that in time for the marathon.
Happy running guys