Try and run 100 miles they said, it will be fun they said, and you know what, they were right.
My first attempt at a 100 miler, DNF, timed out at 85 miles at Clifton Hampden aid station, very emotional having trained for so long and so hard but almost a week on perspectives change and it’s amazing what a good night’s sleep or two can make.
The weekend of 4th and 5th May were without a shadow of a doubt the biggest running challenge I have ever undertaken and other than actually crossing the finish line nothing could have made it better. Runners are strange breed, the thought of running such a distance is something my long suffering better half Sam will never understand but for some reason it’s something she seems to accept and despite moaning about what I might do to myself it’s something she seems willing to follow me into to pick up the pieces at the end.
The day started on Richmond riverside, having gone through mandatory kit check, something that is not taken lightly in these events I was issued my race number and a very sincere “Good luck” and I found myself stood alongside Greg and 312 other hopefuls cursing that the weather had turned so damned hot again. That said as there was nothing we could about it other than perhaps go a little slower to conserve energy nobody moaned about it they just accepted it was going to be a tough day until the sun went down. Tough day doesn’t really do it justice, off we set at 10am heading towards Kingston where a huge contingent from the club and Kingston parkrun were waiting to cheer us through (thank you guys) and already the temperature was in the early 20s and set to get much hotter, so much so by the time we reached the 12 mile mark at Walton aid station those of us towards the back of the field suddenly found that the fuel situation was going to be hard as the faster runners had already depleted the food and tailwind leaving slim pickings for us behind, this was going to be a tough day.
Shortly after Walton I started to cramp and by the time I reached Thames Court in Shepperton I was struggling to actually run, I pushed Greg on as I knew I would only slow him down if I couldn’t rid myself of the cramp and didn’t want to be responsible for him losing time. Trying my best to get into a walk / run routine I was soon really struggling to do anything other than walk, the moment I lengthened my stride the insides of my calf muscles locked up and I had to seriously consider dropping at mile 22 Wraysbury if I wasn’t able to run by that point. Thankfully a fellow runner handed me some salt tablets, something I had never used before and had already turned down from Greg for fear of using something new that might not agree with me, but by now it made no difference, it was shit or bust time so down they went. Well blow me if they didn’t work, happy days were here again and despite having lost quite a bit of time I was able to start pushing on after Wraysbury and was feeling quite confident once again, maybe, just maybe I could do this thing after all. So having restocked my hydration and some scoff I set off from Wraysbury and immediately fell into my tried and tested routine of Run 100 steps, walk 50 and on the 5th walk break I would extend it to 100 steps, then start all over again. So there I was, plugging away, 1, 2, 3, 99, 100 and walk averaging around 14 minute miles with the occasional longer one and the miles started to tick by quite nicely.
The support from family and friends was absolutely amazing and I cannot thank you all enough, people were popping up all over the place to support us which was exactly the lift I needed all through the day, The Kirk’s and the Streets kept popping up along the Shepperton to Staines Stretch, the Ronaldson’s seemed to appear from around every corner all the way into Marlow, there was a huge contingent of the club waiting in the sunshine at Runneymede and 2 of my boys seemed to be popping up all over the place until the early hours of the morning, appearing at the end of each stretch of the Thames before and after Henley. Lee and Kate were stood on Henley Bridge chatting with Russell and Suzanne, some friends Sam and I had made on holiday who’d come out to see me through and last but not least there were Howard and Marlene waiting for me and Andrea at Reading aid station with a selection of hot soup that tasted like pure nectar.
Having got into Henley around 2 hours later then I had planned I knew I had it all to do during the night so it was essential I had quick turnaround at the aid station. By this point, 10:30 in the evening I was proper hungry and all of a sudden I had people waiting on me hand and foot. Someone got my drop bag for me, Andrea got me some scoff and some hot tea and it was like a slower version of a Grand Prix pit stop, food eaten, clean change of running tops ready for the night stint, change of socks and shoes and me and Andrea were off, into the night as darkness fell, onward and upwards. Once I got my legs moving again after the stop we started to get a good even pace going and before long we had gone through the checkpoint at Reading where I had to climb two flights of stairs to get into the building then get back down them again, someone’s idea of sadistic fun I’m sure.
The Attempted Mugging
I left Reading with a cup of leek and potato soup in my hand courtesy of Howard and Marlene and we were away once again. Then the fun started, 61 miles done and we were heading towards Reading Bridge and out of the corner of my eye I spotted two people lurking in the shadows, assuming the position as they took a leak in the trees. I didn’t think anything of it to start with as Reading beer festival had not long ago finished and I’d half expected to see a few drunkards walking along the towpath. Then this voice came out of the shadows “Oy Bruv, come here a minute” a quick glance over my shoulder told me all I needed to know, local kids up to no good. “I don’t think so” I replied “We ain’t got time” So this little shit starts to run after us telling me to stop which we again decline and then came his killer line as he came up behind us “Oy stop and give me your f***ing wallet” I immediately stopped, turned and it was as much as I could do to not burst out laughing, 4.9″ and as weedy as they come, a stiff wind would have blown this little shit over. I looked at him as asked him if he was thick or something, “Do you really think I’m carrying a wallet” I asked as a spread my arms to show I was only wearing running kit. How ironic that this thick twat was asking for something I obviously didn’t have whilst he overlooked the fact I was wearing over £400 worth of kit in just my Garmin, Fitbit and Ultra-Vest, the irony of the situation seemed to have passed this little villain by. Then the little shit pulls out what looked like a broken bottle and starts threatening me with it, still asking for my wallet, at this point I was on the verge of laying him out right there and then and putting a stop to this nonsense but I was acutely aware that Andrea was with me and I didn’t want to put her in a position that might endanger her further and whilst I could see his mates looking on from a few meters away I had no idea if there were others lurking in the trees working their way behind us to cut off our escape so I gave this clown a whack with my sticks and we were away like Usain Bolt on speed. Funny how a situation like this and adrenaline can suddenly have you running an sub 8 minute mile after having already covered over 60 miles.
Having got ourselves out of the vicinity and notifying both the police and race organisers we were off, again trying to make up for lost time. At 66 miles we hit Mapledurham which meant Whitchurch aid station wasn’t far and Ann Bath would be waiting for me to take over the pacing in around 2 miles. The meadows were by now starting to get quite misty and as we navigated our way across the fields it got so dark and misty that the only way I knew I was on the right path was by tracking the footsteps of those before me which showed up as a darker trail into the grass we were running through. Running through these fields in the pitch dark is certainly not for the faint hearted and I read later on Facebook that a couple of girls following up behind us found another lady, who on her own had strayed a little too close to the river and ran straight into a bog and was wading around knee deep in water and mud.
So Ann took over, the night wore on, my pace didn’t seem to be dropping too much, the sun was coming up and as we reached Streatley aid station I knew I was seriously chasing cut off times, but still deep in my heart I felt that could do it, I just needed to keep going. I still had just over half an hour in the bag but knew I could not slow down further. Wallingford checkpoint came and went, I had lost a further 10 minutes but still I hung on to Ann’s shirt tails as she pushed on, willing me to keep up with her as the sun got warmer and warmer as it rose to the east.
So near, but yet so far!
Then it happened, around 2 miles to go to get into Clifton Hampden, I was feeling like I could just make it and hopefully push on from there when were we overtaken but a couple of guys who were obviously pushing hard to make cut off as well. I was suffering from the heat that so early in the morning was threatening to be much hotter than the day before. As I tried my best push on a I was all the while watching these two guys disappear into the distance, waiting for them to turn off from the meadow to where we had to run away from the river to get to the aid station, this would give me an idea of how much further we had to go. But they just kept getting further and further away and then the realisation hit me, there was absolutely no way I was going to make the timing point, in fact with the time I had left I’d be lucky to cover the distance they has done ahead of me. It was at this point having walked through the gate that Ann had waiting open for me that I swayed and almost fell backwards and that was it, I was beaten, done for the day, I could not run another step. The realisation that I had failed hit me like speeding truck, I felt totally and utterly devastated. Never before I have wanted to finish something so bad and the emotions of not doing so washed over me. David Pearce who had been waiting to take over his pacing duties walked out from the aid station and walked back in with us and looked after me from there, I was completely broken. A huge thanks at this point to Spencer the sweeper who caught us up and refused to push on until he knew I’d got to the aid station OK.
And so that was the end of my attempt but meanwhile in Oxford, 15 miles further on Greg Whiteman was finishing like a champion, the one up side of the morning was knowing that the person I had ran 100’s of miles with over the past 12 months had finished and I was completely made up for him. For him to finish was one thing but to do so in under 24 hours was absolutely incredible, I was in compete awe of his achievement, well done my friend I am proud to say that at least 1 of us made it through to the finish line.
So what did I learn?
- I should have taken Greg’s salt tablet when first offered
- Pro Plus are bloody amazing at keeping you wide awake at night
- My fueling strategy of forcing at least 300 calories of scoff down my throat every hour even when I didn’t want it was the right thing to do, unlike most others I was so warm during the night all I wore was two very light layers keeping my fleeced running top tied firmly round my waste all night which I put down to being correctly fueled
- Looking at the results there were more experienced runners who dropped a lot earlier than I did
- The support of so many amazing people will keep you going when the going gets tough
- I have the best friends in the entire world
- Sam is an amazing woman to put up with my little adventures!
- Leek and Potato soup will lift your spirits at 1am in the morning with almost 60 miles run
- I will be going back in 2020 to scratch that itch once and for all
A huge thank you to everyone who came out and supported and to those who either ran with me or offered to do so, you are all amazing.
For those of you out there right now thinking you want to give this Ultra lark a go here is a bit of advice which isn’t “Don’t Do it”
Get out and volunteer at an event first, learn how it works, train hard, start with an event that is well within your limits of endurance and don’t take it for granted you will finish. Centurion events are absolutely brilliant, well organised, well supported and extremely friendly, other ultra events are available!
But the best thing I can say is enjoy the day and if at first you don’t succeed, train harder!
You may go about your business again now!