North Downs Way 100, 8/9 August 2015

I’ll admit it now that I’m not a fan of the North Downs Way. I did it in 2014, with Hurricane Bertha for company, and it sucked then. There’s no way I’d do it if it wasn’t part of the Centurion Grand Slam and I so wanted that big buckle. On the positive side, I thought, however wrecked I am this year, I know I can do it as I managed to finish it the year before in horrendous conditions, whilst only having run once between beginning of May and the 9 August when the race took place.

Race plan

My goal for this one was to do the bare minimum needed to finish in time and to minimise damage to my feet and body generally. I have a busy schedule in August/September:

  • 8/9 August NDW100
  • 15 August, Black Rat (32 miles)
  • 29 August, Liverpool Leeds Canal Race, 130 miles
  • 19/20 Sept – Tooting Bec 24 hour race

Ideally I would pull out of some of them but the ‘idiot chip’ which enables me to complete ultras in the first place was refusing to let me pull out of any unless I absolutely needed to. So that only strategy that I could think would enable me to at least turn up at all start lines, was to do NDW100 in as lazy a fashion as possible.. (but to try to leave at least an hour ‘leeway’ ahead of cut offs by last couple of checkpoints in case things went really tits up then as I wouldn’t want to get to the end but to be timed out)…

It is hard though to get motivated to carry on in an event when you’re taking it easy. Luckily the heat; generally horribleness of the trail; stupid hills and my lack of eyesight which makes going the right way difficult; made ‘taking it easy’ feel like hard work anyway so I knew this would be enough to get me to Knockholt where I’d be meeting Stu. Stu had indicated he might be persuaded to wear his 2XUs purely to keep me happy because he knows I’d keep going for days on end if he just goes in front wearing them :-).

Centurion Army

It was lovely to arrive at race registration and to see the start of the Centurion race army in action. Lots of familiar faces, great smiles, and the knowledge that everyone there would be willing everyone to the finish.

Race briefing was at 5.30am on the Saturday. James Elson did his usual brieifng.. follow the signs; don’t go too slow; don’t moan it’s over 100miles; you’re not alone whether it’s your 1st 100 or if you’ve done several; etc. etc… I think he then asked if anyone wanted a quick gin and my arm shot up.

race briefing arm up

First half

I was trying to remember as I set off what I had against the NDW and why I didn’t like it as a course.. in reality it’s less ascent than SDW but I’d do that again in a shot.. I soon remembered what I had against it:

  • Underfoot there’s bits that are thick sand or hard stones that kill souls of feet.. running on both sucks.
  • It’s very enclosed in places by thick trees which makes it very dark. My eyesight is rubbish especially in the dark and I did many a comedy stumble and could feel blisters forming on my toes as I constantly tripped over stones and tree roots.. so much for the ‘limit all damage to feet goal !’
  • There seem to be loads of gates / styles etc. (though maybe less than TP?) and also lots of steps and steep downs that aren’t runable so it’s hard to get into a running rhythm as you’re constantly having to walk (well I am anyway).
  • I know there’s a nice view to the side, but it just seems that you’re always looking away from the nice view
  • There’s just something quite oppressive about it in places
  • Oh and it’s about 5 or more miles longer than SDW (well apart from when I did SDW and added 8 miles on!)

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I can’t remember all the lovely volunteers or friends I met on route so sorry if I miss some out.. Thank you to :

  • Claire Turton and Phil – Claire’s cheerleading routing with pompoms was a definite pick me up
  • Jamie Woods for his cheerful attitude at Botley Hill
  • Nina Smith-  chirpy as ever (can’t wait to track you online on T184!)
  • Ann Bath and Glyn Ryman at Caterham
  • Fiona at start
  • Karen W for making my dinner!
  • Jacqui Byrne at Denham enjoying her night in the tent :-).. I knew I’d make it once I’d got to Jacqui so was ace seeing you there
  • All the finish line crew and of course to Stuart Marsh for his usual skilful photographs

I trundled along, got sticks out at Box Hill and kept them out until I’d gone past Reigate. I just wanted to keep it nice and steady in the heat and not wreck myself more than I needed to. I did find it hard to navigate as my left eye seemed to have an infection and it just meant everything I could see was really cloudy which I was finding quite tiring. MP3 was on but kept falling out of one ear. It was great to have a quick chat to some of the other slammers like Mark Evans, Stefan, Tom Farsides, Peter Dennison, Melanie Ross (sorry I kept calling you Fiona Mel!) and Bryan Webster (who knew the way and got to see how rubbish I am at following the trail).

I kept going with the aim of meeting Stu at Knockholt in about 11 1/2 hours and I think that’s roughly what I did.

Was lovely meeting with Stu (and yes he had his 2XUs on). I had to gently break the news that I was sticking to the ‘take it all nice and slow and do bear minimum to finish ok’ strategy which would mean I’d be walking all of the rest. In all honesty my hamstring was at the point of pinging completely and my back was very tight from nerve tension so running would have been risking a dnf on this race let alone messing up my body so I couldn’t do the canal in 3 weeks. He took it relatively well 🙂

2nd half

It did ‘grate’ a bit knowing that I’d have to keep nice and slow and relaxed and let everyone  go past me. Part of me wanted to race and push myself.. but I also wanted to be disciplined and stick to the plan of taking this one (and next 4 races) nice and steady and that this year was all about ‘completion’. Next year I’ve entered some real tough ones so would have to train hard to be able to complete them within cut offs and the next few races are about mentally preparing for long time on feet.

It was hard in parts. I realised that the NDW was not being kind to Stu’s feet either and I could see he was finding all the walking hard going too. I also found that going slowly was more tiring in some ways than ‘racing’ and I was falling asleep on my feet again. in the wooded section before Detling I found a nice tree branch to sit on off the trail and we both sat down for a while and turned head torches off. It was strange seeing a long line of people go past on the trail.. I counted over 35 before I thought I’d better get back up there again as I didn’t want the excitement of being tight for cut offs at the end. Stu was suffering badly with his plantar fascitis and was very conscious that he wasn’t doing himself any good by being out there and did say he shouldn’t have come. Although I felt a bit guilty (he didn’t want me to feel guilty and we both know he could have done just a shorter section with me), I was really glad that he was there (and the 2XUs).

So onwards to Detling. David Ross was there waiting for Mel – he said he was going to push her to get her going faster again and he was true to his word as about 5 miles later she seemed to shoot past at my usual parkrun pace!

It wasn’t as bad as I remember it past detling. Last year it had just been like a mudslide and I’d had to drag myself up the hills by just pulling myself up on the sticks.. and would often slide back down as much as I’d climbed up. Although the same stupid hills (both up and down) were there, they weren’t as slip slidey as last year…

The last 13 miles we took very slowly. There was the option of letting Stu off the hook (and stopping the damage to his foot) by leaving him at the checkpoint to get a lift to the end, but we decided we’d finish together and we could still take our time and finish the cut offs. In some previous ultras, I’ve sped up during the last 15 miles and have often ‘broken’ any pacer during that period as they’re tired from walking lots so then speed walking at the end has wrecked them and I’ve had to just carry on alone. But I really wanted to finish this one together with Stu with as little damage to both of us as possible…

We eventually sauntered over the finish line with just under an hour to spare.

stu's 2xus Finish line one with Stu

I know that some people would think when they see how long I took, ‘wow, what went wrong.. she really must have had to gut that one out’.. but actually it was all sort of part of the plan. I did get major hamstring issues but I knew I’d get those as I’ve not really done much training this year and it’s really just been about completing races when wrecked (which will be a good skill to learn for some of the really trick one’s I’m doing next year).

Disappointedly, despite walking the 2nd half and using poles to reduce weight on feet, I did get blistering. I’d intended to try out gurney goo but had forgotten to bring it with me. I’ll definitely be bringing it to try out at LLC130.

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Before and after popping… 

Oh and just in case you want to see the blister popping operation itself

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Energia 24 for Stu and I might as well do 100K while I’m there

17/18 July 2015

Stu had been wanting to enter a 24 hour track event for a while and had been on waiting list for Energia 24 (Belfast) and a place came up for him. I really wanted to be there to support him and be there to see how he got on.. but then I thought, 24 hours of standing around occasionally offering someone drinks/snacks might get a bit boring after a while, so I put my name on waiting list for either the 24/12 hour or 100K there. About 10 days before the race, I got an email from Ed Smith saying a place had come up on the 100K, did I want it? Woo hoo, I took it. Not only would it be my first time in Northern Ireland, but it would also be my first time running on a track (unless you count the half lap you do at end of SDW50/SDW100 which I walked anyway). I’d heard I’d got a place myself in Tooting Bec 24 in September, so this would be good prep.

The 24 hour event was due to start at 6.45 in the evening and one of the race entry sites indicated that the 100K started in the following morning (6.45am), I thought that might be useful as it would mean I’d be relatively fresh when Stu might be beginning to flag…. however I’d got it wrong and the 100K actually started at 7.45pm which meant I’d have to be running during the night (which I hate as my eyesight is rubbish).

Stu flew over on Thursday to spend time in Belfast the day before, I flew over on the day of the race and met Stu at airport and we travelled together to the track.

Energia 24 / 12 hour and the 100K take place at Mary Peter’s track. It was an amazing location – with lovely trees all around the perimeter. It was raining on arrival (and rain didn’t really ease off). I still had quite a few ‘niggles’ and hadn’t really run since SDW100 but knew it would be good fun trying to run around a track and the Irish National team were there too so they’d be some stiff competition for Stu in his 24 hour race.

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On arrival, we went to register and I was humming and hahhing about whether to pull out but I discovered there was only one other entrant in the 100K (a man) as the rest had been upgraded to either the 24 hr or the 12 hr.. that meant all I needed to do was finish and I’d get a guaranteed 1st lady!.. game on!

The 24 hour races started at 6:45 so I got to watch Stu for an hour while I nervously wondered what I’d let myself in for. He was doing ace. He’d decided on a run walk strategy from the off of 25:5 and I was impressed at his discipline in carrying it out when a lot were just running with no walking breaks. That took some discipline indeed.

At 7.30pm, Ed called the 100K runners over (both of us!) and I got the opportunity to ‘suss out’ the competition. I’d already done a quick search for him on DUV stats (as you do 😉 ) but couldn’t see him listed. He did look like a good marathon runner though and had a club vest on. He said he might aim for around 11 hours so I thought there might even be chance to come 1st overall as reckoned I could do that if I wanted to.. but I tried a bit of mental games by just saying I’d no target in mind really as don’t normally do these shorter type runs. He did say I looked like I’d be fast.. which I laughed at and fessed up to having only 60% of average lung capacity so don’t be fooled by the guns etc. When it was 7.45pm exactly, they let us go and I deliberately did a few fast laps – partly so I could run alongside Stu for a little bit, and partly to try and play a bit of head games with the other 100 entrant. I’d lapped him a couple of times within the first 20 laps but didn’t really see him much after that because I think we both settled into a steady pace. I’d decided to follow a similar run/walk strategy as Stu but rather than basing it on time I’d base it on number of laps i.e I’d walk every 10th lap.. I thought I’d keep that up as long as I could and then walk maybe every 5th lap if needed later on in the night. I would just the walking lap to drink/eat etc.. as I can’t run and drink without getting asthma attack

250 laps didn’t seem that far if I broke it down mentally into 25 lap sections (10K).

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I started with a water bottle in a waste pack just to save a bit of time going to the table to pick it up every 10th lap but after about 40 laps the rain was coming down quite heavily so I abandoned my waste pack and put on a coat where I could put my inhalers in back pocket.. I didn’t dare run without them.

Stu was doing a nice pace. At times he was storming around having an ace time.. he said he was in the lead!!!! I was so happy for him..  I did notice he was wasting a bit of time on some laps looking at the scoreboard and realised later there would be some learning there for future races to make sure any crew would know he’d want that type of information to hand and they could just let him know every 10 laps or so to save him keeping looking.

I was counting my laps off on my garmin 920xt so knew which lap number I was on. It was different for Stu though as he was running for 24 hours and not a fixed number of laps.

I took it nice and steady – I found it hard going running at night as it was tiring in the dark, but there were some flood lights so it wasn’t as tiring as running at night with headtorch on the trail. I did first marathon in about 4hrs 25, and had done 50 miles in 8hrs 45 I think.. at this time I realised I’d not seen the other 100K entrant for ages – in fact I couldn’t remember seeing him for hours. I saw Ed, the RD, by the track side so I asked him what had happened and he confirmed he’d DNF’d. I realised all I needed to do was finish to win so I immediately stopped running and walked the remaining 12 miles (apart from the last lap). Part of me regrets that decision as would have been nice to know what time I can do a 100K in but then again I knew my niggles were getting worse and worse and I didn’t want to get a serious injury and anyway the time wouldn’t be great as I’m much slower running through the night.

At lap 248, I was told just 2 to go, so I ran the last one and Stu held my arm as I went over the line of lap 250 and with a nice pat on the back I had to leave him to carry on the rest of his 24 hour race.

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It was great watching Stu on the rest of the 24 hour and I learnt a lot from watching crewing in action, plenty of lessons learnt for next time. At one point Stu was 10 laps in the lead (2.5 miles!) and I went off to have a shower and change and charge my phone,… I must have been gone a while because when I came back out he had slipped to 2nd place and his wheels hadn’t fallen off as such but were a bit punctured :-(… I was so proud of him though. It was his first 24 hour race and he was there competing with Irish National Champions and others who had done countless 24 hour track events.. He was suffering so much from swollen stomach and was unable to eat. It felt bad being powerless to do anything, though I did manage to blag some salt from someone which helped a tiny bit at one point. He got to 100 mile mark in 16:45 which was awesome and then 200K in under 22 hours. In total he managed over 130 miles! Proud doesn’t quite cover how I felt and I also know there was lessons learnt so room for improvement too which is really positive. So hope he gets another chance at a track event soon.

The prize giving

I’ve never one anything so was ace being given a price – a new pair of trainers which were swapped for Hokas in my size in the shop the next day.

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The Wilkie Glover mile off!

On the Saturday evening, we had a few drinks at the hotel as were staying overnight. The next day, the sun came out and it was 2 mile walk back to the track for a Wilkie vs. Glover mile off… just pipped Stu to the post but both of us were slightly wrecked and could barely do 10 min mile pace.

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Absolutely stonkingly brilliant weekend 🙂