I covered distances from 1mile to 100miles, road, track, trail, day and night. I raced with my dad, the GingaNinja (and her mum) and UltraBaby and I had a great time. Above are the awards from this properly awesome year. How was yours?
My year of running: I remember January arriving and I’d been allowed a single solitary run in the previous 3 months. My physiotherapist seemed to believe that I needed a complete rest from running but by January as I was climbing the walls she told I should start running again – remembering that I had to take it easy.
I neglected to mention my race list for 2015 but that didn’t stop her asking. I explained that 2015 was less manic than my previous race years but still pretty hectic. I explained to her I’d build up sensibly and I would actually do some training – and I did.
During 2015 I put in more than 2,000 training and racing miles but 2015 was about more than covering a decent amount of distance – it was about completing new challenges and recovering from injury all while being new to parenthood.
My first few races were build ups to the SDW50 and ultimately the CCC but I returned to racing with the Vigo 10 which is perhaps my favourite non ultra race and it’s relatively local so when I was looking to return to racing this seemed a no-brainer. I was painfully slow as I trudged round the course and climbed the final ‘knee wobbler’ hill but I did complete it and I really enjoyed it – it was great to be back. I came away from the race thinking that I was cured of my injury woes and I could have kissed my physiotherapist I was so grateful.
Obviously it didn’t all go to plan – not by a long stretch, I followed Vigo up with the Brands Hatch half and this was a full on nightmare. My leg started to break down within about 7km and although I held on until 14km I knew I was going to have to hobble back to the finish line and this was very much what I did. It was a grim day and I was staring down the barrel of the gun again but my physiotherapist took a slightly more realistic approach and explained that setbacks do happen. Additional work revealed lots of physical problems that could do with correcting and we were able to identify that tarmac and hills are the main things that bring on ‘The Attack of the Glutes’. And with a prevention strategy and further work I progressed nicely through the year. Yes, its true that I was in agony for the SDW50 but in the run up to that both days of the Ranscombe Challenge had gone exceptionally well.
I also managed to go to my final Centurion Running event for a while and complete the Thames Path 100 therefore getting the monkey off my back regarding my failure at the Winter 100 when all my injuries did finally gang up on me and leave me in a bad way. The winning of a Centurion buckle has been something I’ve been looking for a while now and I’m glad its done because it will let me focus on other things in 2016.
Post TP100 I took a bit of time out and did the Medway 10km with my dad, Bewl 15, the Great London Swim with no training whatsoever and the Westminster Mile with UltraBaby (running an 8 minute mile with a baby strapped to my chest). I banged out a slow Marathon at the Kent Roadrunner again as its my local marathon and I always enjoy the medal if not the course and its always a nice affair as there are usually lots of runners I know there – my sprint finish against Traviss Wilcox was a delight. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jools and Kat – along with a proper introduction to Ed Catmur at the inaugral Twilight Ultra in Ilford, this was supposed to be the final warm up for what would be my first proper foreign race…
I suppose 2015 had always been about France and my double trip to race on the French trails, in December it would be the SainteLyon but first up was my dismal showing at the CCC. I wasn’t quite up to it, it was much too hot for me, it just went badly and I fell during the race and came away from it feeling like I did after the Brands Hatch Half Marathon. However, despite my complete deflation I decided to get straight back on the horse and upon returning to the United Kingdom entered the Saltmarsh 75. With a month to recover from my exploits in France I rested perhaps a bit too much but I rolled up to the Essex saltmarshes and gave it some welly. I’d been incredibly lucky to discover that ultra runner extraordinaire Ian Brazier would be competing in the same race and that provided a real boost as Ian is the the kind of hardcore runner who inspires with his effortless charm. So thank you Mister B!
The end of the year was working out much better than the start of it!
Into the home stretch of the year and I added the Ranscombe Challenge for the third time in a year with Jools, Kat and (I finally met) the awesome Emma (mk1) finally. A very happy marathon distance was covered and I’m looking forward to next years ultra in her company. There was also time to have to pull out of both the Tolkien and Hugin Challenges but replace those with the Thames Meander over in Kingston-upon-Thames where I felt very fortunate to meet Emma (mk2) and run into several old friends from my London Social Runners Meetup Group.
As November wore on I grew in confidence for the Virtual Runner UK Poppy Challenge which encouraged me to add more and more distance to my November total and there was the best finish in the universe to November when UltraBaby joined me for her fourth race of 2015 at the Greenwich Movember 10km and we bullied our way round the course to being the fastest buggy runners – even if I did nearly flip the buggy as we raced over the finish line.
However, it was December that brought the highlight of the year and the SainteLyon which was an awe inspiring race through the French hills from St Etienne and Lyon.
In review: If that’s (SainteLyon) the last race of the year then this was a properly awesome 9 months of running. I’m hoping that I might be able to go the entire year in 2016 without any injury breaks. It’s fair to say that my injuries have not cleared up completely but I am at least managing them and I’m now actively avoiding races that I know will set them off.
2015 was a great year of racing, true I didn’t race nearly as much as I did in the previous years but I think that was very much in response to my body telling me to pick the races I do more carefully and know my own limits.
My original aims for 2015?
- Get a Centurion buckle
- Run at one of the UTMB races
- Race with my daughter
- Cross the line of a hundred mile race with the GingaNinja and UltraBaby
- Race with my dad
- Successfully recover from injury
- Complete 5 ultra marathons
- Complete 1 marathon
- Enjoy running
- Engage with more of the running community
How did it finish up?
- Well I did earn my Centurion buckle (just the one, I’m no Bryan, Dan or Louise).
- I did race at the CCC but this ended up being my DNF of 2015.
- I raced four times with UltraBaby and had a great time at each event.
- I crossed the TP100 line with my family and it was an awesome feeling.
- I raced with my dad at the Medway 10km which was one of my favourite races of the year.
- Injury was a little more complex, I’m still in recovery and that may never change, however, I now have a management strategy and I take a more considered view of the races I’m doing.
- I completed 7 ultra marathons in 2015.
- I completed 3 marathons in 2015.
- For almost every second I was out on the road or the trail I had a great time and never once felt like I didn’t want to be running (well maybe during Brands Hatch, that was depressing).
- I had the honour to reconnect with lots of great runners I’ve previously met but also had the opportunity to meet and run with lots of new and exciting runners.
Below is my full race list for 2015
- Vigo 10
- Brands Hatch Half
- Ranscombe Challenge Day 1
- Ranscombe Challenge Day 2
- Virtual Runner March 10km
- Darent Valley 10k
- Thames Path 100
- Medway 10k
- Bewl 15
- Great London Swim
- Westminster Mile
- Kent Roadrunner Marathon
- Twilight Ultra
- Virtual Runner June 10k
- Ranscombe Challenge Day 1
- Saltmarsh Day 1
- Saltmarsh Day 2
- Poppy Challenge
- Thames Meander Marathon
- Greenwich Movember 10k
The future: Now the focus is on my plans for 2016 – I’m already booked in for Country to Capital (with EmLa) then I’m going to try and defer my place for TransGC to 2017 in favour of The Green Man Ultra over in Bristol before I step things up a gear with the second running of the Skye Ultra Trail in May.
I suppose though that next year is all about my entry to the Leeds – Liverpool Canal 130 (if I get a place), this will be my toughest challenge to date and will be the furthest I have ever run. If I don’t get a place though I will finally go and run The Ridgeway with the TRA. Sadly I won’t have room for my regular marathon next year either (Kent Roadrunner) and I’m a little sad about this but you can’t keep doing the same race over and over again.
For the end of the year I’ll be looking at the ultra distance for the Haria Extreme in Lanzarote and if time allows I’d love to go back to Lyon and rerun the SainteLyon but that might have to wait until 2017!
What about you? So how about everyone else’s 2015? Did it go well? Did you avoid injury? Did you achieve thousands of PBs or did you focus all your energies into Parkruns? What plans do you have for 2016? What races should I consider adding to my calendar?
I’ve now taken part in over 120 races and I’ve loved almost all of them but I’ve loved some a little more than others. Below are my favourites in each distance and event type and why you might fancy it yourself.
There’s been a glut of self styled ‘hardest mud run in the universe’ pop up in the last few years but the grim challenge has a good pedigree in putting on ‘hard as fuck’ runs on an army vehicle testing track. The grim was my first race – I trained for three months for it and at the end I felt like I’d died as I crawled, ran and scampered through a variety of natural and man made obstacles. When you add in that it takes place in the middle of December this is a challenge to really raise that festive cheer in your bones.
‘Dear Traviss, I’ve been injured for quite a long time, have you got a space on your Fowlmead Challenge as I’m doing the W100 the week after’. This was the begging letter I sent to Traviss Wilcox to ask him for a place at a event to try out my severely injured hips. The course was muddy, a bit hilly, multi-terrain and just plain old fun. The fact I ran a lot of it with my beloved Spaniel means this race holds lots of good memories for me.The laps nature of the event mean that lots of people wouldn’t fancy it but this makes it easier to get access to cake. The final selling point would have to be the amazing medal though – like all SVN events the medals are both gigantic and incredibly decorative. Sign up to one today!
Just a single mile – The Mall to The Mall. It’s a party atmosphere, it’s fast, it’s furious and in my first ever single mile race I had an eight month old baby strapped to my front. I launched myself round the St James’s Park course and flew like my life depended on it and for a few spectacular minutes this felt like the London Marathon might (if I ever get to race it). The medal and race village added a new level of brilliance to proceedings and for £8 you couldn’t really ask for anything more – and then you check out the goody bag and its filled with stuff you want! Ace
Ashton Gate Parkrun
I’m aware that this isn’t a race, doesn’t involve any medals and shouldn’t really be here but the thing is that the concept of Parkrun is fundamentally a good one and though it took me a long time to come round to it I rather enjoy it when I attend and the Ashton Gate Parkrun is a great course. 2.5km slog upwards and then a superfast 2.5km downwards. If you’re a Parkrun tourist or happen to be in Bristol anytime soon then this is the run for you.
Southend Reindeer Run
The Southend Reindeer Run was a glorious little five mile race that saw a few hundred suitable attired Santa Claus’ bimble around this delightful coastal course. It was a race, as you might expect, filled with festive cheer – and by the end I was filled with festive pies. Delicious.
10km was once my favoured distance, I could hammer out a 10km in about 36 minutes – I felt fast and I was fast. Sadly injury and ultra running has all but killed off my pace and I’m not so interested in getting back to my speedier days but from time to time I’ll enter a 10km for kicks and to give myself a push. The Medway 10km saw my dad and I drift around the delightful sights of the Medway region of Kent. I wasn’t expecting anything of this race but it offered a stunningly attractive course, some killer hills and a nice challenging, athletic track finish and winding route – highly recommended.
Vigo Valentines Run
The Valentines Run put on by Vigo Running Club isn’t just my favourite 10 miler it’s also my favourite race. It has everything, a cannonball start, glorious wet mud, trees to clamber over, every kind of shit covered and coveted terrain, epic downhills, grinding uphills and a fast finish. This should be number 1 on everybody’s list of races to run.
I had no idea what to expect from the Summer Breeze half marathon but what I got was a properly hard trail half marathon. It has a lovely race village, a brilliant atmosphere and most of all a race that felt worthy of your time. The course was a couple of laps around a boggy Wimbledon Common, winding its way through some pretty dense and mucky ground, it was an undulating course and properly killed my glutes. However, despite this I bloody loved this race and I treasure my Tshirt and medal, both of which were awesome
13.1 – 26.2
I suffer with ‘the Curse of Bewl’ but while the marathon and the half have chewed me up and spat me out each time I’ve run them the 15 mile I hold in high regard because despite it being a similar course it’s just so much nicer (I like the marathon there don’t get me wrong) but the 15 mile is fast and furious, it’s a proper grind through proper mud. This is a race that gets the blood boiling and you want to give it everything and more. The medal, organisation, Tshirt, beer, cakes, on course treats (including sponges) all make this a glorious and guilty treat for runners everywhere!
My first marathon remains my favourite, it brings back good memories, my dad was there, the GingaNinja was there and I gave it everything. The course as was is no longer running from BTR and it’s the Rock n Roll marathon now. A shame as it was a corker of a course and incredibly well organised.
26.2 – 50 miles
St Peters Way
45 miles of slipping, sliding and bouncing round Essex. This was a real race, run by real runners and nothing more than a shining example of what happens when you put less than a hundred runners in the middle of winter through their paces. The harsh Essex coastal winds make this a real challenge and the short day almost guarantees you’ll be running some of it in the dark but it’s a real demon that you’ll appreciate completing. The finish line at St Peters Church was a spectacular sight (running past it recently on the Saltmarsh 75 brought back good memories)
Thames Path 100
Take a race, underestimate it, let it destroy you and then fall in love with it. The TP100 had a Stockholm Syndrome style relationship and I felt kidnapped by it. No hundred should be taken lightly and this one is a proper foot destroyer but the effort is rewarded with a course to keep you mentally challenged and a buckle reward to keep you motivated. As its a Centurion event it also benefits from excellent organisation and a thoughtful approach to the course. A good hundred to run but don’t underestimate it.
So that’s my current favourites, but what races should I be doing to topple these glorious events? Happy running.
My next few months of running already taking shape, my failure in the CCC hasn’t dampened my spirits for running and has actually only hardened my resolve to run in races I think I’m going to enjoy and to run them my way (probably talking too much and taking too many photographs – if I listen to the criticisms often levelled at me).
To help me overcome the disappointment of CCC I’m a late sign-up to Saltmarsh 75 – my first multi-day adventure – taking place in October and I’m thoroughly looking forward to taking 75 miles of mentally challenging flat running – this hopefully will put me in good stead for training for what I hope will be a successful ballot entry to GUCR (but that comes later). Post Saltmarsh I’ll be joining the ever awesome Traviss Wilcox at the Ranscombe 8hr timed challenge event. Here I’ll be hopefully be joined straight off of Kilimanjaro by @chiltondiva as she moves from mountain mastery to ultra running starlet. I’ll be hoping to wend my way round enough laps to run 40 miles or so but we will see.
Staying with Traviss Wilcox and his oversized medals I’ll then be bumbling my way round the November Hugin Challenge looking for another 30 mile ultra distance and a 1:1 scale Viking ship sized medal – well I think that’s the scale!
Winter continues to be my favourite running season and I’ll be finishing the ultra year with the Saintelyon – my absolute ‘A’ race – this is the one I’ve been working towards and the one I’m looking forward to. I might even squeeze in a bit of pre-Christmas shopping while I’m there. I think failure here would be quite crushing but I really do have to turn up for this one as everything about it rings out ‘spectacular’ – well except the lack of medal. That should be the end of longer distance running for 2015, if it all works out that will have been 10 ultras attempted this year and 9 of them completed (fingers crossed).
However, I’m not leaving it there, January brings with it my second pop at Country to Capital (and I’ll be being joined again by the awesome @chiltondiva). I’m planning on this being an easy jaunt to get 2016 underway, perhaps run a better time and simply enjoy it a bit more. C2C is a personal favourite at a great time of year and it’ll be excellent to go back – though I’m hoping the toilet won’t be blocked this time around.
With C2C in mid-January I’m leaving February light on ultra distances as my own stupidity is likely to catch me out on the first weekend of March when I look to conquer the magnificent TransGrancanaria. I signed up to TransGC in a moment of madness the day before the start of the CCC when I saw Wendy offering a few euros off and a very blue t-shirt. Now I’m running the risk of another major ultra going a bit Pete Tong because of a lack of hot mountain experience. However, having examined the profile, done a bit of research and a ‘don’t give a fuck attitude’ I should at least make a passable attempt at TransGC.
And that’s my next six months sorted – obviously there will be an assortment of other races involved in keeping me active – I’ll probably do a Movember run, more than likely the awesome Vigo 10 miler and I’ll see if I can find a marathon to chuck in there too. But then what happens after TransGC?
I have some ideas – the Isle of Skye Ultra looks properly amazing but is at the same time as GUCR, Devil of the Highlands also runs into conflict with other races. My favourite ultra St. Peter’s Way would be a lovely addition and if it runs the Leeds-Liverpool canal run might make an excellent replacement for GUCR which I doubt I would get a place in anyway. However, I might get a London Marathon place which would make the Hoka Highland Fling a problem but of the two I think the Fling would be more fun. There’ll be no Centurion races either in 2016 so I could try the 12 Labours of Hercules and some other 50 or 100s but the big decision would be between the 86 miles of The Ridgeway and Ring o’ Fire (both of which have been on my hit list for a while). There’s just so many and I don’t want to be trying to run them all.
So which should I run and do you have any good quality recommendations that are a bit out of the ordinary, probably not that many competitors and have awesome medals? I’m curious to see what’s out there.
I knew before the TP100 kicked off that I was not ready for it, I knew that it was likely to give me a bloody good kicking and I knew that this would be me final Centurion event for a year or two while I explore other event providers and therefore potentially my final opportunity to nab one of those buckles that I have been coveting for the last year or so.
I prepared much of my kit on Monday as I was off work waiting to start my new job on the Tuesday and this afforded me the luxury of a bit of time, new shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0) also arrived in the post – but too late for any significant testing. I’d learned lots of lessons over the last few ultras, finally got my food strategy roughly right and trusted most of my kit.
Oxsitis Hydragon 17 litre was my first choice vest, my favourite old Ronhill vizion long sleeved top, Salomon compression shorts (teamed with OMM Flash 0.5 tights) and Runderwear thundercrackers covered my legs and my Snowdonia Marathon tech T-shirt was in play as my awesome base layer. I opted for Altra running shoes as I felt the width of the fit would play well with the constant pounding I believed my feet were about to take. Optional kit like compression calf sleeves and hiking poles were also added because I felt I needed to go into this race as secure as possible to ensure I finished.
So with kit sorted and nutrition done (mainly pulled pork pastries, chocolate milk and beef jerky) I felt in control.
Then the week started to unravel a little, the new job was excellent but exhausting and the 10hr days were a rough introduction to the company but I’d expected it to be a little bit like that, what really caught m off guard was the test run of my Altra LP2.0 – on the Wednesday (on a 3.5km run) I was thundering through Soho and while throwing fairing glances toward my reflection (to check out the Altra) I punched a street sign for a shop – and I really hit it. The sign lurched backwards, hitting and cracking the shop window and I in my cowardly way just carried on. In my defence the sign was taking up most of the pavement and it was an accident, however, the sign had the last laugh as it broke my finger! The worst thing though was the return of constant pain in my glutes – this was the most worrying because I’d never tested running above 50 miles … If it came back then this could be the W100 all over again …
Basically it looked like my good prep work would be unfurled by my own stupidity, however, I managed to get some sleep in the run up, UltraBaby managed to get some through the night sleeping, injury calmed down with extensive battering by my rumble roller and I was even sensible in my food choices up to race day.
I woke up on Saturday worried only about the race and nothing else.
The UltraTeam packed up the car and we headed over to Richmond once our youngest team member was fed. I’d had Weetabix and chocolate milk which was the breakfast of champions in my opinion but I topped this up with a Cadburys Twirl and some diet coke.
Arriving in Richmond I jumped out the car and the GingaNinja went to find a parking space. I darted into the check in point and looking down to my left I saw the legend that was Sarah or @mia79gbr – we’d never met and she didn’t know what I looked like – so as I approached her with a ‘Sarah?’ she looked at me with a pleasant suspicion, ‘hi, I’m ultraboy, just thought I’d introduce myself’. The suspicion was replaced with recognition but unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop and chat and given she had companions this didn’t seem the right time, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be disturbed.
I ran up the stairs and joined the first queue of madness … Centurion had a great location but it was much too small for the runners never mind the bevy of volunteers, crew and family who had come along to help or hinder, but this was put from my mind by seeing the awesome Dan @ultrarunnerdan – both a gentleman and a bit of a legend in my eyes given his grand slam attempt. The queue moved swiftly and when James Elson joined in to move it along and thankfully my kit review was swift and problem free as ever.
With my ‘Permission to Race’ chip in hand I joined the queue for my number only to be joined by the awesome Louise @abradypus – another potential grand slammer and we chatted about stuff – mostly me apologising for being a dick at SDW50 – again. Finally I reached front of the queue and grabbed my magic number and darted out to see the sunny streets of Richmond and of course deposit my vitally important drop bags.
Outside I caught up with @RozGlover who introduced me to (at long last) @no1blakester and I caught up with the awesome Traviss and Rachel as well as meeting my potential duet partners in a ‘Wicked’ tribute medley @toks and @jillydavidson – I had intended to terrify them by approaching them singing but I didn’t want to make them shit themselves. Instead the start was a rich of meeting people, being nervous, having a pre-race dump and kissing your girlfriend and the baby goodbye.
I turned at this point to the GingaNinja and queried, ‘can I actually do this?’
To note, the ginger one is always honest about my race chances – for example she told me that Winter100 looked way to much for me given the way my training had gone and the way that my injury was, but today she simply said, ‘you got this’.
I stepped into the crowd and looked over the runners and thought, ‘maybe’.
We set off down the rather bright towpath and swiftly found our rhythm only for a small gate to prove our undoing. Hundreds of runners trying to squeeze through a tiny gate, many of the sensible ones drifted over to the side and either jumped the gate further down or went around. I was in no rush but in the midst of my moving the awesome @naominf managed to clip my heel with gate – ouch. She shouted out an apology but I wondered if I’d cut it open, thankfully my brand spanky new Altra had enough on the heel that they had taken the impact – phew.
The view along the towpath was actually really rather nice and as we passed through locks, weirs and little towns I could feel a really positive energy swelling inside of me. The positive feeling was enhanced at seeing ultra runner extraordinaire @cat_simpson_ on the course accompanied by what I assumed was her trusty Triban 3. The running was going well and I was running at a slightly too speedy 10kmph and so slowed down a little bit knowing that CP1 was still some miles away.
The speediness though had allowed me to make up a little bit of ground on other runners who hadn’t been quite so unlucky at gate one and feeling fresh I allowed myself to get involved in a conversation or two. What I realised pretty quickly was that the TP100 was going to lack variety in elevation and that it was going to be a slog rather than a test, you could feel that TP100 more than any other ultra I’ve taken part in, would be a test of mental mettle.
I came into CP1 feeling surprisingly tired, but the well stocked aid station was full of good cheer and laughter and I loaded up on Pepsi (5 cups) and reloaded the bladder (from which I had been sipping consistently) and also used the first of my quarter tablets of High 5 isotonic liquid using a 150ml Salomon soft pack. Pre-race I’d decided that on the whole I wouldn’t be eating the food that Centurion provide, I was trying to avoid sweet things as they make me feel sickly and the savoury selection is a little bit too tasteless. Therefore, I’d be reliant on my own supplies and as I left CP1 I allowed myself some beef jerky, a mini toad in the hole and a delicious cheese and bacon bite.
I was also looking at how much time I could build up, because I knew I might need it later in the race.
Aid 2 22m 16:10 Aid 3 – 30m 18:30 Aid 4 38m 20:40 Aid 5 44m 22:25 Aid 6 51m 00:15 Aid 7 58m 02:30 Aid 8 67m 04:45 Aid 9 71m 05:50 Aid 10 77.5m 07:45 Aid 11 85m 09:50 Aid 12 91m 11:30 Aid 13 95m 12:40 Finish 100m 14:00.
Between CP1 and CP2 there were two lovely things that happened, the first was that UltraBaby and the GingaNinja were on the course at the crew point. It was lovely to see them and it a nice viewing spot in Staines, I also got to meet several of the other crews (whose cheering and support through the night section was invaluable). At Staines I was able to refuel with chocolate milkshake (lifesaver) and Lucozade, which helped to lift my slightly flagging spirits. I also met for the first time Lynne, we only spoke briefly but it was cheery and lighthearted and I had no idea how influential this lady would be later in the race. Anyway I cantered off without her knowing that CP2 was nearby and so feeling energised I ploughed on. Arrival into CP2 was quick and leaving was equally swift with just a few words of flirting for the volunteers and then off to CP3.
I was keen to ensure that I was making up time on the cut-offs and so with each checkpoint I reached I made sure I knew when the sweeper was due. I was building a commanding lead over being timed out and my resolve was strengthened further when the route to CP3 and Dorney looked rather pleasant, rowers, walkers, hikers and bikers adorned the route and everyone was interested in what the hell we were doing. I continued to come across runners from previous races and this provide a different dynamic to normal, one pairing remembered me from my misery at the SDW50 and were pleased to see that I was in a much better mood and infinitely better form.
As the checkpoints fell one by one so did the daylight and one my way to Henley and CP6 the light was finally lost. It was a long slow road to Henley, the path looked gloomy and as I was concerned about my timings I chose to run without my headtorch. On the other side of the river was a large mansion or hotel and in it music was blaring out and was audible for most of my journey down the river to Henley – seriously kids, mind your ears.
I dipped on to the bridge crossing the river and was greeted by the drunken revellers of Henley at around 9.20pm and they offered a helpful suggestion that the route was ‘down der mate, keep going’ and I did as instructed finally pulling into the halfway point after 11hrs 31minutes – however, someone at Centurion must have been trying to predict my future because on the live timings somebody decided that I’d had enough and put me down as a DNF. Hmmm, naughty Centurions.
I was rather desperate for the hot food that had been promised but all that as available was vegetable chilli and I’ll be honest I’m an ultra runner that isn’t a friend of the vegetable and so despite being offered it by Batman, I had to turn it down.
Dejected I picked up my drop bag and looked for the chocolate milk and Lucozade. Swigging swiftly I began dreaming because I knew that if I could keep up this pace then I was looking at a sub 24 time. I looked at my food options and opted for some pulled pork pastries, beef jerky and dry roasted nuts – delicious, but not the hot tasty feast I was hoping for. Finally at Henley was checklist 1) are your feet fucked? 2) Are you wet? 3) do your socks need changing? 4) is your Suunto still charged? 5) is your phone still charged? 5) do you need to restock front pocket food supplies? I answered all my questions, threw out some general thanks and I was off – Lucozade in hand.
I’d plugged in my headphones for a bit to keep me amused in the dark – Smokey Robinson, Glee, Foo Fighters, Katzenjammer, Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim, Blur, Michael Jackson, James Blunt, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley ABBA … Songs from every generation and all super upbeat. I pulled my headphones out only when I needed a jimmy riddle, lucky I did as I only just whipped my cock back into my awesome Runderwear when Joanna came around the corner.
‘Ladies first’ as I held the gate open.
Joanna or Jo as she introduced herself was a young lady on a mission, not only did she make me look sane by virtue of the amount of long distance ultra she ran but she also made me smile at a time in the night when that as kind of obligatory. We covered lots of topics on our way to mile 58 and CP7 but the thing that will stock wi me forever and a day is out open and frank conversations about ‘turd’. Oh Jo … and I apologise for sharing this, it only got mildly weird when I ended up hanging round for you as you went and deposited your solid state number two into the undergrowth. The journey from mile 51 to 58 was a speed walk, Jo wasn’t in any condition to run as she felt pretty sick and I needed some respite from the running to try and conserve some energy for a pop at the second half of the race. It made sense that we would buddy up and it was a truly awesome part of my race, I hope Jo can say the same. As we departed the wooded area we came back to the river bank and in the distance we could see the steps that Susie Chan had been threatening us with but I was feeling cheeky.
As I entered I slowly took in my surroundings – there were a lot of bruised and battered bodies and lots of sitting down, but I was feeling pretty okay, mainly buoyed by warm welcome from the volunteers, who to me appeared to be in slippers and PJs (deny it if you like Miss C). All of a sudden the crazy shit just happened, I started dancing with one of the lovely female runners, I was wiggling my bum in the air and I was leaving messages via Periscope to goddesses of running Susie Chan and Kate ( @borleyrose ). Between them Shaun and Susie were able to tell me that @UltraDHC and @naominf were running awesomely. @mia79gbr had pulled out early on due to illness and they hadn’t seen @ultrarunnerdan @toks or @jillydavidson.
So I left, it was a great CP, it was lively, it was fun and it was everything I could have wanted and seeing the worlds best MdS running couple only made it worth the journey.
I left 58 feeling like the following 42 would be a challenge but ultimately very achievable and that with about 15hrs left I should have nothing to fear. But I could feel the first blisters arriving on my feet and I could feel them underneath silicon gel caps – I decided that removal would be the worse of the two possible options and moved on. Just outside 58, having lost Joanna I picked up Lynne and I think James. I’d met both earlier in the day and we decided that this would also be an easy section with running happening between the further checkpoints.
James was a youngish chap, desperate to finish, being ruled by the timings on his watch and not the faith in his ability and you could see he was chomping at the bit to get us moving but also didn’t want to lose us as he wasn’t sure how long his battery would last and he was very unsure about following the very simple and effective Centurion markers. I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t be affected by other peoples running this time out and for a while I stuck to my guns but my new young companion had a way of making me feel uneasy and panicked.
Lynne was the polar opposite and when asked if she was too warm replied that ‘I’m of an age where I generate an inner warmth’. Lynne was laid back and pragmatic, her approach to ultras was brilliant and I very much enjoyed yomping through the grass and the trail with her. We discussed Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock and every kind of topic and it eased the tension I was feeling from my other companion. To be fair he was a lovely guy but I didn’t want to be racing someone else’s race.
However, we all hit the hall at Whitchurch with relative ease but James indicated that ‘according to my calculations if we don’t pick up the pace we won’t make it, we need to be running’. He was of course correct but I decided to give him some rather stern advice, ‘listen fella, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, run your race and your pace, not somebody else’s. If Lynne and I can’t keep up then you’ve got to leave us behind’.
Whitchurch allowed me to reacquaint myself with several runners including the awesome Matt (may have his name wrong but don’t think so) – his knee had gone and was covered in a warm blanket. ‘You’re looking great fella, keep going’ he said. I wished him well, offered a few dirty words of encouragement to the volunteers about the power of masturbation and then off.
Lynne, James and I had agreed that this being a short section we should try and pick up to a running pace in the approach to Streatley but the hills were making this more challenging. For the first time since the W100 I cracked out the Black Diamond Ultra poles and used this strategically to get ahead of the other two and act as pace setter. Lynne quickly dropped back but James for a while kept pace and with me a few metres ahead we thundered along the dark and narrow path. Here it became a little more daunting in the dark with upended roots and slippery rocks underfoot, but my Altra coped with this brilliantly, I felt sure footed in my steps and happy to have my Lenser at full beam.
In truth this was probably the most exciting stretch of trail on the whole route and it’s a shame it didn’t last longer but then I saw a sign of what happens when things go wrong and in the darkness I saw a runner covered in a foil blanket with his or her pacer by their side. I called out ‘do you need anything?’ But his reply was ‘fine thanks mate just waiting for the medical support’. I asked again to make sure he wasn’t being polite as this was a very isolated spot and it might take the medics some time to reach them but he was categoric and so I set off again at pace – James now nowhere in sight.
The 5km and a bit into Streatley was a good run and I’d made up a bit of the time I had been eroding by walking. Crossing into the town itself was filled with slit lay distressing memories as this was where the W100 ground to a halt for me – however, I dropped into the CP and I was simply grateful for the opportunity to sit down and grab some more chocolate milk. As I sat there pondering the rest of the race I could see the procession of runners that I had been leading here – Lynne, James, Rob, Jo and more all came in with differing tales to tell but there was a look of determination on their faces – no drops here.
At this point I waved goodbye to Lynne, little did I know though that our story was far from over. James though – I couldn’t shake. He wanted to continue running and after my sterling efforts up to Streatley he’d picked me as his buddy. I did as I did before and set at the fastest pace I could manage. I was largely invigorated by two things here, the first was the knowledge that I still had good energy in the tank and my legs, nor my head felt fatigued at all. The second thing was that daylight was just around the corner and I’d be able to feel daylight breaking and that feeling is a good one. Despite being a night person when the dawn comes I know that I’m likely to make it. This was especially good news as there are a couple of points here were you had to take care because of the winding nature of the course, thankfully my W100 experience paid dividends and I was thundering along – even stopping for a few photographs along the way.
What was troubling me was that James was nowhere to be seen, I turned to look for him but I had clearly lost him further back at one of the turnings. What if he had missed a turn? I considered turning back a little to look for him but knew that time was against me and so continued forward.
Then something awesome happened: thick mud. Well yellow Altra here we go.
In seconds my beautiful Lone Peak 2.0 went from sparkling yellow to shitty black.
Thunder, thunder, thunder, I raced through the trails as quickly as I could then I had a ‘fuck me’ moment. A runner who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are) was perched over a branch, naked from the waist down having a poo. Wow, I never want to see a milky white arse and cock perched again, in fairness I didn’t want to see it the first time. As I flew by I decided to leave a little comment to his pacer, ‘well at least we know he doesn’t suntan down there’.
Thunder, thunder, thunder, at the moment I was in good form and when I came across some runners who were DNFing I felt smug, the pacer who was waiting there with them told me to keep going as I as looking good.
But I was picking up problems with every step and was discovering now that the Altra where not built for thick mud and in the grip the mud was gathering up. By this point I could feel the variety of blisters that now adorned my feet, on my toes, between my toes and underfoot, I made the call once again not to risk taking my shoes and socks off (as my support crew was safely in sunny Wiltshire) and decided that with not much more than a marathon to go that I could probably just drift this one in.
How wrong I was.
A little earlier I had been hearing the pinging of my telephone and so now took the opportunity to see what was going on in the world. The GingaNinja was showing signs of worry and Twitter was too – I had been pretty silent through the night. I didn’t reply as my panic about not finishing in time was growing and I was desperate to get to the next CP. With a bit of a thrust I pulled into Wallingford with the early morning, the volunteers here were awesome despite the cramped conditions and they had something magic that no other checkpoint had contained – houmous! Eureka! Smell the houmous! Finally savoury food at a Centurion CP that I could actually stomach. I had a couple of big juicy dollops of houmous and wrap with a hot, sweet tea. This was the breakfast of the gods, this was ambrosia.
I stayed here for a few minutes, just long enough infact for a couple of my fellow runners to catch me and then with a cheery goodbye and a check on the distance I set off for mile 85 and the home straight.
I returned to trundling down the course and prepared an answer to earlier text messages when a ‘supporter’ told me to ‘get off the phone and get running’. Cheeky fucker. Despite the advice I finished my call and cried down the phone to the GingaNinja – big weepy tears but she told me to get my poles out, eat some paracetamol and hold on in there, I was going to make it.
I hung up, I unfurled my poles and I started tracking down the runners in front of me. Bang, lift, shift, bang, lift, shift – this was the process I went through as I used the poles as my point of impact and not my feet – trying to save them for the final 15 miles. But I was now going faster than I had for around an hour and I was gaining on the other runners.
I continued to make headway through the fields but the mud was taking its toll on my speed walking and the poles became as much a hinderance as a help. I was churning up the pathway like so many of my fellow ultra runners over the last few hours and I was finding it heavy going. Without the support of the poles I was reduced to painful, tiny steps and I knew that with each slow movement forward the sweeper was moving to time me out.
For several miles the ground remained much the same, wet, churned and with long wet grass and my feet were in agony and then the first disaster came. Inside my beloved Drymax sock I could feel the hot bloody liquid seep under my foot – one of the blisters below my feet had burst. Raging, blinding hot pain erupted around the base of my left foot and I stopped moving. I looked around the great green expanse, there were no runners either in front or behind that I could ask for help – I simply had to decide whether this was game over or not.
In the now heavier rain I could feel the droplets forming the letters DNF on my Montane Minimus, I was going to have to retire, I wasn’t going to make it to Clifton Hampden.
However, after a few minutes I took a few steps forward and gingerly moved on, worked with the poles – even in the dense mud. This was a tough section and it was made worse by the feeling that the record of the distance was wrong. The distance said about 6 but my Suunto and several other peoples GPS devices read this as significantly more than that, or at least significant enough to make it soul destroying when the CP is where you are most desperate for it to be.
As I came into the town I was probably a bit rude to the lady giving out directions when she called out ‘well done’ but it felt far from well done and I told her so, but that was a mistake and when I finally went past her again to rejoin the race I apologised profusely.
Prior to me getting to Clifton Hampden there was a surprise for me and parked just outside was the GingaNinja and UltraBaby – while they were a sight for sore eyes they immediately made me burst into tears. I whined, ‘I can’t stop, I’m not going to make it’ and ran past her and straight into the CP. I called out my number – loudly and then ran straight back out, no new supplies, no coke, no nothing – if I was going to make this I needed to push harder than I had been.
Down the hill, speedy turn to the towpath and off and even when blisters 2 and 3 burst (one between my toes and one on a toe end) I didn’t stop, I just kept moving forward. Runners were starting to amble past me as my speed eroded further and in my head I was working out the calculations for speed and distance I would need to achieve to finish within the 28hr cut off.
As with much of the Thames Path 100 very little happened on the route, the path thankfully dried out a little and I was able to gather up some pace using my poles but it was turning into something of a final slog. Only the turning up of the sun made for a change and it was a burning sun, so the Minimus finally disappeared into the back of the Hydragon and there it would stay. I finally came into Abingdon with the GinjaNinja meeting me a few metres ahead of the checkpoint and she wished me luck, telling me I had ample time to do the remaining 9 miles. The problem was my head was a now a fucking mess and my feet were 100% fucked
I put on my best showing for running as I came into Abingdon and the crowd responded with the kind of cheers reserved for winners. Here as with the last checkpoint I called in my number and then ran straight back out again but my body was rebelling and once through the tunnel I stopped, started crying and then started hyper ventilating. Breathe UltraBoy. Breathe.
Managing to regain control of my breathing I set off and for the next 9 miles I prayed for the end to come, I looked long into the face of a DNF and contemplated it even as I passed through the final checkpoint. But I could now smell Oxford, I crossed a couple of small bridges, I admired the scholarly and middle classness of the people on the towpath and I cried slow super heroic tears as I realised I would finish.
Only one more thing happened that I need to mention and that’s my final on the course encounter with Lynne – it went like this.
‘I just won’t make it’ I said, ‘I’m done and in agony’
‘You’ll make it, we’ll make it’
I got the feeling Lynne was going to see me in and so I needed to push her on incase I didn’t make it.
‘You’ve come all this way … I will not carry the guilt of making you miss out on a buckle too. You need to go and go now, you need to tell the ginger haired one with a cute baby that I’m on my way’
‘Promise you’ll finish’ came her reply
‘I can’t promise that but I’ll do my best, now go and give them my message’
Lynne did give my message and her words to me, some of which are not transcribed here were the thing that would see me reach Oxford.
400metres before the end I was greeted by @abradypus – a lady with a magnificent track record at Centurion events and ultras in general and she calmed my desire to DNF at 99 – probably a Centurion first had I done it. She told me that the GingaNinja and UltraBaby were coming and in the distance I could see them, the pain drained away and was replaced with relief.
I smiled a little bit – though the photographs suggested I was grimacing and I asked if I could carry UltraBaby from the start of the home strait to the finish line. I passed my poles over for the final hurdle and replaced them with an inspirational bit of kit – my daughter.
We strolled down the finish line having very smelly hugs and kisses and to huge cheers. In the distance I could see Traviss, Rachel, the GingaNinja, Nici, Stuart (armed with his camera) and lots of amazing runners. I crossed with a baby and I’d done it.
Course Tough, flat, unending and despite the overall pleasantness of the surroundings a little bit dull. Perhaps that’s part of the challenge – forcing yourself to complete this when your body is crying out for a hill. The course was well marked and well marshalled in the places that it needed to be and you would be head pressed to go wrong. For my liking there’s a little too much tarmac and I felt it would be easier on your feet if the trail was real trail but then I understand this is the Thames Path and not the middle of nowhere.
Checkpoints The checkpoints are pretty evenly spread and the quality of them is generally very high in terms of locations, venues, volunteers and facilities. The food is a little ‘meh’. When I first started Centurion ultras I was told I was in for a feast of kings – well it’s not quite like that and it does vary considerably between aid stations. I’d urge more dips at checkpoints as they were brilliant and perhaps a slightly higher quality selection of sandwich filling and savoury. My other food gripe was the lack of a meat option at Henley for those running at a slower pace. However, these are minor grips and the Centurion remain pretty damn good.
Support and Volunteers You can’t really fault the 90 or so volunteers and you can’t fault the countless supporters who lined the course for up to 28hrs supporting their runner and every runner that went past them. Special mention of course goes to Susie and Shaun and mile 58 for being awesome but the truth is that every single volunteer was awesome, they all went out of their way to make sure that we did something spectacular with our bank holiday weekend.
Fellow runners I loved my fellow runners, I loved the conversations I had with them, I loved the stupidity, the poo stories and the shared experience. Everyone from Lynne, Rob and Jo right through to James all provided me with memories that stay with me until I die. Centurion has a kind of big family vibe to it and I hope as they get bigger and even more successful they don’t become more faceless and anonymous – that would be a shame
Goody Bag The revisions to the buckle made it one to have and the T-shirts are always reasonable quality from Centurion Running, although that said whatever the process they u for the graphic transfers means that as far as I’m concerned these aren’t shirts you would want to run in – but I’ll be proudly wearing mine this summer alongside my SDW50 shirt. Aside from that there is nothing else (bowl of chilli at the end?) but I’m not convinced you need anything else. So while the goody bag isn’t exhaustive I’m not sure it hurts the reputation of the race.
Conclusion The TP100 is a good race, I think it’s one that people underestimate because they think a flat 100 is easy – let me assure that the monotony of the flat is draining both mentally and physically and takes a lot to simply keep going. The route is a little too tarmac for me but it would suit lots of people and I think this makes a great introduction to the hundred mile distance. Centurion make excellent hosts and are well oiled as a team and keep things going even when it isn’t as smooth as they would like, it is easy to understand whey they are often people’s first choice for an ultra. If you decide to enter the TP100 then prepare properly for it, don’t take it for granted and accept that you might not finish – drop out rate was reasonably high – as it is on every hundred but if you apply yourself and have the stomach for it then you’ll have a great time here. I have no problems at all recommending the TP100
What have I taken away from TP100? 1. I’m a very ordinary runner, but if I could get my feet right then I might be an ordinary runner who runs much better times 2. I’ve finally figured out my nutrition and what I need to do to stay in the race 3. A support crew and pacers are so useful, you really miss them if you don’t have them 4. My body wasn’t tired even after the full distance but my feet were wrecked 5. The most severe aspects of my long term injuries is being brought on by hills 6. I need to have more faith in myself 7. I was better for mainly running my own race this time out and trying not to worry too much about what other competitors where doing
And finally thanks to … every single person who turned up, in whatever capacity you came, in whatever capacity you saw.
I was 47 miles in at Winter 100 when I finally had to say ‘the pain is too great’ or ‘fuck me, I’m soooo fucked’. I had burning rods of lightning running up and down my right leg, it was truly horrible – the result was several months of complete rest and then a race to be ready for the Thames Path 100.
The getting ready has been happening, Vigo, Brands Hatch, Ranscombe Double, SDW50, Darent Valley – more than 700 training miles and 120 race miles since my return to running in late January – but it’s hit and miss. One day, fine; the next day, agony and even my excellent physio is stumped by the intermittent nature of the pain.
Annoyingly, in the lead up to the Thames Path 100 my glutes are playing up and making me feel tense about running but my Winter 100 failure makes me more determined to do this than ever. So ready or not I’m coming.
‘That’s right Kathryn … just like a bear I like taking a shit in the woods’ – these were the words I left my boss with as she went on to her annual leave. She’s American, not 100% sure about my deadpan style of humour and it amuses me to tell her I leave big pooey deposits in the woods and then simply hang up the phone. You may call this childish and in fact it is but talking about it brings me to a problem that has been causing me nonstop grief for my last few races … that’s right the pre-race poo and the effect of not having it.
Now this is the final warning you’re getting, this post may contain words like poo, dump, turd, anal sphincter, streaky, sloppy or worse, you have been warned.
So far in 2015 I’ve raced 7 times and of those 7 races I’ve had problems on 4 occasions.
Let’s start at the Vigo 10 where my lack of ability to use the facilities (in this case because of forgetfulness) caused me to squeezing my arse cheeks together from about mile 2. There is no doubt that my need to keep my peachy cheeks pursed will definitely have had an effect on my time at the race.
The Brands Hatch Half came next and this time my need to use the facilities wasn’t seemingly needed until about mile 3 of the race – thankfully I was able to pull in at one of the facilities later in the race (but I had already used the facilities fully that morning). I mean seriously body, could you not hang on?
Next up was the SDW50 – the good news is that on an ultra I’m always prepared for this eventuality (poo bags and shit roll) but I was lucky that I wasn’t caught short until well beyond mile 40 and actually it would be more problematic to stop and shit than simply keep going. The bonus here was I’d managed to visit the little boys room at the start and despite my fear that my deposit was simply an uncorking it proved just the tonic to get me most of the way around. However, I had been concerned that very much like the 2014 edition of the SDW50 I might have to find a discreet place and do like the bears do. Weirdly I had a little smile as I went past the place I had stopped last year, not so much happy memories as glad I wasn’t stopping there again.
And finally to the Darent Valley which despite only being a 10km proved that ‘poo’ can fuck you over whenever it wants. I knew it was going to be a problem because it was an 8.30am start, I needed to leave the house by 6.40am and I was cycling on rough roads and toughish hills – all these things have a habit of making me need the loo.
I was aware on arrival that my morning visit to mr armitage and mr shanks would be due shortly but the brewing of my morning offering would be incomplete before the race commenced. What to do? History has shown that running and needing to have a crap causes all sorts of physical and mental problems but trying to force Mother Nature is probably never a good idea 10 minutes before the race begins.
There was no compromise I was going to have to run with ‘the urge to go’. With a bit of luck and a fair wind (poor choice of words) I’d be back in 45 minutes or so and could then avoid the large crowds of people queueing and make my call of nature.
However, more than on any other race this year the pain was excruciating, stomach cramps, sphincter clenching and a mental fear that I was going to douse myself in filth going up or down a hill was my only thought as I hit the second kilometre marker. You will of course be pleased to hear that I made it back to the finish without leaving any UltraBoy fecal matter on the mean hills of Kent but there is no doubt that the pain I was in and the urgent need to go is having an effect on my times and at the Darent Valley it was noticeable.
What’s Happening? Undoubtedly I get nervous pre-race and know that a lot of runners do and the galloping trots is not unheard of. Also not unheard of is the fear of using the portaloos/toilets – myself included. I will never forget the state of one of the toilets at C2C in the pub at the start line, the poo was poking above the toilet seat line – if you saw that you’ll never forget it, nor did you want to use it (additionally though I’d like to praise the organisation of the C2C team, the toilet issue was beyond their control).
Then there’s the shaking and the jiggling of the running (and in the case of my last 10km the cycling) which just makes everything that bit more mobile in the colon! And sometimes the effect of this is that you’ve simply got to go in public. My experience at my first SDW50 was so mortifying that it brings tears to my eyes simply thinking about it, but the worst bit was it took me more than 5 miles to find a discreet spot not too far off the course that I could relieve myself with some modicum of privacy.
What do I do? Well no chilli, no curry, nothing spicy, nothing too salty or sugary in the days leading up to a race – I eat bland food, increase vegetables and avoid things I know will upset me. I try and rotate my day round a little bit so that I can hopefully visit the little boys room earlier in the day without it feeling unnatural and I try and sleep more than I do in a normal week – all of this helps but I believe that my preparation for races in 2015 has been less structured and this might be the cause of my race day toilet disasters.
Curious? I’m somewhat curious about other peoples poor pre race toilet experiences and how they have coped with them? Not out of some weird fetish but more to see if there is something else I can do to resolve getting to the start line with stomach cramps or the need to be clenching inside! I can believe this is a post that won’t be to everyones taste (poor choice of phrasing again) but it is one of those topics that we have pretty all been affected by but avoid talking about because it is pretty grim.