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Winter 100

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No matter how prepared you are you can never tell what will happen on the day and I’ve had some epic failures in running. Off the back of my most recent failure I wanted to revisit some of them to try and better understand how I’ve achieved responsibility and hopefully get myself back in the right headspace for MIUT.

Perhaps also in light of the awesomeness of John Kelly and Gary Robbins last weekend I think it’s ever more important to understand that ‘I’m responsible for me, nobody else’.

With that in mind this is what I’ve learnt…

What: No training, still injured
Race: Winter 100
End: DNF
Distance: 45/100 miles

It’s one of the few races I’ve never reviewed in full because this one still rankles nearly 3 years later. I’d been running injured for months and months prior to the start line – making the hip injuries I had ever worse and my physiotherapist made me promise that if she could get me to the start line that I’d have a few months off after this.

It didn’t help that UltraBaby arrived 6 weeks before the race and so I turned up to the start line having not done any training for around 8 months, having completed, badly, a handful of ultra events in that period and having had a very busy time as a first time parent in the run up to the start line. I managed to run the first 25 miles reasonably well but the second leg was nothing but agony and at around 45 miles the pain in my hips was so severe that I had to quit.

I recall sitting quietly in the village hall as the volunteers discussed their upcoming races and I found myself filled with rage that I wouldn’t be able to join them on any of these exciting adventures. I remember seeing Susie Chan coming through the door at the main central aid station and greeting me, sympathy being poured upon me, but I just wanted to leave and get away. It wasn’t that I was ungrateful I just knew that I was responsible for the mess I was in, I alone had caused this and I alone could fix it – but not here and not while I was so filled with rage at myself.

The Winter 100 caused me to understand that running while seriously injured has long term implications and it took a long time to return to being able to to run even halfway well again (and I’ll never recover properly it seems). Intensive physiotherapy and lots of rest allowed me to return to running only six months later and I’ve been much better at seeing the signs ever since but these and this race are mistakes I do regret.

What: Titting about
Race: National Ultra
End: Completed
Distance: 50km

Six months prior to the W100, having flown in from Budapest less than a dozen hours earlier I rolled up to the National 100km, in the early days of my hip injury and on a third of four ultras in 42 days.

I was tired when I heard the bell sound at the start and I decided as it was a cycle track I’d take it relatively easy. By about 20km I was bored and started messing about, joking with the spectators and basically being a bellend. In hindsight it comes as no surprise then that at about 27km I slipped off the track and twisted my knee in a bizarre and ridiculous accident.

Expletives rang out around the track but this was own stupid fault and so rather unwilling I dropped down a distance and cried off at 50km having hobbled slowly the 23km to the finish. The GingaNinja had no sympathy for me when I relayed my sorry tale of woe to her and quite rightly she let me stew on my own juices.

2014 was a year of massive mistakes and huge learning but it wouldn’t be until 2016 that I’d learned to mostly cut out the self inflicted mistakes.

What: 12 inches? No just a foot
Race: White Cliffs 50
End: Completed
Distance: 54 miles (and about 6 extra miles)

This remains my favourite ultra marathon story – probably one that has been embellished over the years but is very much based in truth.

  • I did roll my foot at mile 14
  • I was titting about for the cameraman
  • I did break my toes
  • I did hobble 2 miles to the checkpoint
  • I did change into Vibram FiveFingers
  • I did then manage to finish the race

The incident here would set an unfortunate precedent that no Ultra would occur without incident, injury or plain old poor fortune. I probably should just have retired here – become a ‘one and done’ but I didn’t and when I reflect like this it drives me mad at the level of stupidity and lack of respect I’ve shown to the races I’ve attempted. It’s only in more recent times that I’ve found myself turning up to events and showing the required level of dedication and mostly this is being rewarded with better running and better results, although still with a huge chunk of improvement to be made.

What: Shoes too small 
Race: The Wall
End: Completed
Distance: 69 miles

The Wall was a bit like ‘I know best’. I didn’t need fitting for shoes, I didn’t need help sourcing kit, reading routes, I didn’t need any help at all. Well the truth of the matter is that having done one ultra marathon when The Wall came up I was in no way prepared to take on a jump of nearly 20 miles in distance.

And when I rode in at mile 47 to be greeted by the GingaNinja I knew that my feet were in a bad way – we removed my shoes Adidas XT4 (or something) and inside, screaming out in agony, were two feet with more than 25 blisters adorning them in every possible place. It turns out I was wearing shoes that were 2 sizes too small and about 6 inches too narrow. My arrogance and self belief ensured that the final 22 miles of The Wall were simply the most painful I’ve ever faced. It’s fair to say I probably deserved those 22 miles.

The lesson was learnt – being assured is one thing but over confidence will chew you out!

What: Slip sliding away
Race: CCC
End: DNF
Distance: 55/110km

12 miles in and I was confident that after I had conquered the first major ascents that the race down to CP1 would be fast and carefree. Sadly the race to CP1 was fast but it wasn’t so much carefree as ‘loose’. I lost my footing once, then twice and then with control out of the window my legs buckled under me and I flew down the descent on my back, arse, head. I rolled and slid far enough for the runners around me to stop and check I was okay and while the immediate agony was my ego I knew I’d hurt myself. I stumbled along for another 25 miles before calling it a day but once more my over confidence had been my downfall.

What: Blisters, Blood, Vomit, Poo
Skye Trail Ultra
End: Completed
Distance: 75 miles (and a few extra)

I don’t want to paint a picture of a tortured ultra runner in this post, I’ll ultimately take responsibility for my own failures and hopefully find strength from the times I overcame adversity.

Skye is my ultimate triumph of overcoming that adversity. Even if you take out the hideous travel sickness I had on my 18hr journey up to the island and my efforts to recover from that with just 12hrs before the race started and only focus on what happened in the race – then my finish at Skye is still one of my greatest achievements.

However, it all looked likely to unravel when at 25 miles in I stopped running, I simply couldn’t continue – bent double in pain. My stomach had become what Obi-Wan might describe as a ‘wretched hive of villainy’. I made the assault of the final climb (or so I thought) of the ridge and I lay dying in the sunshine. I puked up the contents of my stomach and a few feet in the other direction my arse exploded a putrid green and neon yellow Jackson Pollock. I used the last of my water to clear my mouth out and simply lay back waiting for the DNF to take me.

Thankfully that fateful moment never came and I proceeded to spend nearly two hours lost looking for checkpoint one, but having survived the nightmare of my own body rebelling against me – I ploughed on with a determination to finish.

And I did… finish that is, I was finally starting to understand what it would take to be an ultrarunner.

What: Burning Balls
Race: Ridgeway 86
End: DNF
Distance: 54/86 miles

My infamous bollocks of fire where an issue at the Ridgeway and is second only to the even more infamous burning bullet hole of ultras when we are taking about running pains. Stood on the trail in the dark with my shorts round my ankles attempting to Vaseline them up and place a buff around my red raw testicles is something I’ll never forget.

I plan on returning to the Ridgeway to complete this event as I enjoyed it a lot, was well organised and genuinely scenic event – I simply made some poor kit choices and that’s easily remedied.

What: Turd Emergency
Race: Mouth to Mouth
End: Completed
Distance: 28 miles

The need for a poo on the trail is something that has dogged me for a while, so much so that a decent amount of toilet tissue always joins me for a race.

When possible I use the ‘Pre-race Flat White Coffee’ solution, as for some reason this delicious hot beverage has the ability to offer the clean as a whistle requirement my bowels like pre-race.

I digress…

The lack of cover at the M2M meant I needed to run several kilometres before nature overtook me and I had an urgent rush to the worlds smallest spikiest bush and created a mountain on the South Downs!

In subsequent races when I’ve felt the urge I have resolved that little problem more quickly and found that doing that has incurred better running – lesson learnt.

What: Head torch failure
Race: UTBCN
End: DNF
Distance: 73/100km

I was running really well at the UTBCN, strong, relaxed and, while unlikely to win anything, I would go home with a medal I could be proud of and a feeling that I was on the right road to my ultimate running aims.

The debacle with my head torch failing at the start line is an annoyance and, while I was angry with Petzl, ultimately it’s my fault for not carrying sufficient spares (I did have a spare head torch – it just wasn’t powerful enough). I let myself down by and while the kit fail shouldn’t ever have happened – it did.

The solution has been to buy new head torches and they will be fully tested before they go into battle and more importantly there’s two of them, both over 200 lumens, both adequate to see me through most ultra marathons.

The future?
By accepting responsibility for my actions I’m hoping that I can go to MIUT and beyond, giving my all as I run. I’m trying to drive myself to accept that I can do The harder races, the real challenges and that if I fail then I simply need to pick myself up, find the useful parts of whatever happens and continue my running journey.

I’ve found this post quite therapeutic, reminding myself about failure and the lessons I’ve taken from them (and indeed the successes). I’m hoping that information I’m gathering is influencing my performance and enhancing the recent progress I’ve been making in distance, endurance, speed and attitude.

So, with the disappointment of the UTBCN all I can say is, ‘come on MIUT – let’s see what you’re made of’.

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  ‘I’ll DNF at mile 58 and just party down with the awesome volunteers there’ I said this to several people and I meant it.

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.

 
 I bounded up the steps in haste to see Shaun and Susie to offer my congratulations but also to offer my number up – 58miles was the furthest I’ve managed in a centurion race.

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.

  They also insisted I wasn’t allowed to DNF – certainly not yet.

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.

Thanks Centurion.

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. 

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The end of 2014 and the first eight months of 2015 look like it’s going to be race busy – not as hectic as 2014 has been for racing and hopefully not as injury filled but as I head into my fourth year of running I’m hoping to learn some lessons and adopt a quality over quantity approach to racing.

However, I’m hoping to add St Peter’s Way (February), CCC or TRA Ridgeway (August), the Saxon Shore Marathon (November 2014), possibly the Winter100 or T184 (October) and one of the Ramscombe Challenges, probably the summer one (July). That would then be about one long race per month – which should have been my 2014 schedule but havoc was caused by the inclusion of events I couldn’t turn down – no such problems for this coming year – I’m focused.

So what’s on your list for 2015? What have you got booked in and what have you missed out on? More importantly which races that I’m not considering should I think about?

See you out there.

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I’ve played this game before where I plan out my playlist for an ultra and then post it here and then don’t listen to it but this time I’m going to have four playlists. Why? Well one for each leg of the out and back.

I go through phases with songs but there are a few classics that will probably make all four legs ‘for once in my life’ and ‘signed, sealed, delivered’ by Stevie Wonder will be two of those, melancholy songs such as ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ will be restricted to leg one because you don’t need to start looking inward as your counting down those last few miles.

I’ll probably start with ‘Everything is awesome’ from the lego movie and then drift straight into an hour of 70s classics with the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy – there’s some hum dingers in there such as ‘Escape (Piña Colada)’ ‘Want you back’ and ‘Spirit in the sky’ – that will hopefully set my mood quite nicely for trundling along at the back of the pack.

The Moulin Rouge soundtrack will feature during the darker sections of the route as I enjoy the tempo and the generally romantic and comedic story. There will be some stuff from James Blunt too, songs like ‘Stay the Night’ and ‘Bonfire Heart’ always give me a huge lift – now I realise my song choices are reading like I’m some sort of wet blanket but it’s simply that I enjoy running to up tempo music. And given that all the indicators suggest the Winter100 is a bruising and potentially miserable run then I’m going to need to hang onto the big gun disco tunes.

But there will have to be some big rock songs from the Foo Fighters, most of the Soundcity album and even some feel good Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers – it won’t all be inspired by Glee 🙂 the other big change will be that I’ll take some podcasts like Desert Island Discs, the News Quiz and even a bit of Andy Hamilton’s ‘Old Harry’s Game’. Hearing coherent human voices in conversation I’ve discovered helps to keep the night terrors away.

So all in all I’ve got a plan, it’s a musical plan and hopefully I can choreograph some nifty footwork to match as I prance round the 100 miles of Ridgeway and Thames Path!

Now the question is ‘what will you be listening to?’

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I recall pulling out of the NDW100 earlier in the year and thinking that it was the worst moment of the last 3 years of running. Rolling on 6 weeks and I’m now at the foot of the staircase to the Winter 100. My training had been going okay post injury – I’d been building myself up – 10, 12 and then 15 mile runs, couple of shorter back to backs and then BOOM – hamstring.

And that was just a few weeks back and there’s that little matter of the Winter100.

Why this ultra?
Centurion Running are considered to be one of the finest organisers of ultra distance races in the United Kingdom and I’d be foolish to argue, the Winter 100 will be my third time doing stuff with them and I’m already booked in for a further three next year. However, all the evidence leads me to believe that no matter how well organised and well supported it is, this is going to be one bitch of a race, therefore why this ultra? Well that’s easy, because I love the challenge … but I’m beginning to wonder if I’d struggle when I was 100% fit and in good form – which brings me back to the hamstring …

The Physiotherapist
Rosie, my amazing, amazingly realistic and honest physiotherapist (just ask me for her details if you’re in Kent) has been working my body into the ground to get me ready to race. Her efforts have meant that I’ve managed to successfully race the last couple of weekends (10 miles and a 10km) but she tells me I need rest too – bucketloads of it. Despite her efforts though she believes – quite rightly – that the Winter 100 has come too early for me. However, the good news is that she will help me make the best of a difficult situation – the sessions with her have also helped to mentally prepare me for the possibility of a hamstring flare up and what I would need to do in that event.

Looking for positives?
But aside from a hamstring injury and very limited training I’m feeling pretty good but the Winter 100s reputation as a bit of a ball-breaker is terrifying. It’s already been moved from November to October to give people more of a chance against the weather and the course (4 out and backs in different directions) looks merciless. It is guaranteed to be a test of tenacity both physically and mentally, a examination of run strategy, pacing, fuelling and kit.

Physically I’m currently ill equipped but mentally I’m prepared for that level of not being ready! As for a run strategy? Well I’ve got one of them – slow and steady, with an aim of around 4 – 4.25 miles per hour, it’ll be tight and with no capacity to mess about but I believe this is the way my hamstring will get round. Obviously in the sections I can go a bit quicker I’m going to but not at the risk of an injury that could bring my race to a premature end.

Fuel me up buttercup!
As for fuel I’m going to go down the route of real food and isotonic drinks – gels don’t work for me but I often crave real food, particularly savoury bits, my new Oxsitis bag should offer ample room to carry anything I need. I’ll probably add Kinder chocolate too as this has become something of a favourite on the trail.

Kit ready?
As for kit I think I’m pretty much ready. I’ve bought Pearl Izumi Trail N1 and Inov8 Race Ultra 290 for this event and they’ll be teamed with Hoka Stinson Trail and probably some Trailroc 245 and/or Vibram FiveFingers – basically one pair of shoes per section and a spare if it all goes tits up! I’ve made the transition completely to Drymax socks from Injinji and I’ve replaced my Ultimate Directions PB with the Oxsitis Hydragon. The new pack benefits from being able to handle my Z fold poles as well, which for the first time on a race will be going with me – I realise I’ll look like an UltraWanker but do I give a fuck? No.

Pacer?
I’m wishing I’d thought more carefully about this – I decided I wouldn’t need a pacer because if I could make it to the 50 mile point then I could death march my way to the finish and there would be no point annoying a pacer by forcing them to trudge next to me. And if I don’t make it to the 50 mile point there was no point having people on standby waiting for my arrival. However, on reflection, I wish I’d had a little more common sense about this and arranged a pacer, thinking back to the NDW100 and those who had pacers in that middle of the pack part of the race looked fresher and more likely to go on. Something to think about for future races.

Worried?
There are concerns, injury is the most obvious but there are others … the arrival of UltraBaby is having something of an effect but only half as much as my new job which has a more significant element of travel (my commute can be as much as 3hrs each way) and coupled with the need to carry 2 laptops in each day means that running to work is a bit of a non-starter for me. Also unlike some of my fellow runners I’ve never been on the Ridgeway or the Thames Path (well not that end of it) so each step is going to be something new – which is both exciting and terrifying! Ultimately all I can do is my best but I’ve been looking forward to this and I would really hate to fail. I’m also going to have my daughter there on the day – I really don’t want to fail in front of her, especially after her trophy winning exploits last weekend – little monster, making me look bad!

Final preparations?
I feel a bit like Diego Costa of Chelsea at the moment – limited training and just turn up to the game. But my final couple of weeks of preparation will be gentle runs to get me back used to running and then a looped marathon in a country park not far from the Kent coast (my aim will actually be 11 laps) and therefore an ultra distance. If I can manage that kind of distance then I’ll go into the Winter 100 feeling more confident – but ultimately it’s a case of here we go again. So good luck to all the Winter 100 runners – you’re all awesome.

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