The run up:
2015 for me – running wise – was all going to be about the Centurion Grandslam http://www.centurionrunning.com/grand-slam/grand-slam-2015/. Having only intended to enter 1 of their 100 mile races last year (Winter 100), I got in on waiting list to TP100 and NDW100 as well, I thought if I can complete 3 of them in 2014, I might as well go for the Slam and do all in 2015. Then, ‘idiot chip’ must have kicked in and any race I read about I thought ‘oh, that sounds like fun’ and my calendar for 2015 was looking very full. 10 (no 11, oops 12) Ultras on calendar for the year with 8 of them 100 miles or over. I sense a lot of lessons will be learnt in ‘coping with DNFs’, but hey, it’s all good learning ;-).
So February, March and April got under way and I ticked off the first few ultras (which I tried to think of as ‘halfs’ as they were around 50 mile mark each)..
- Thames Trot 50 – muddy slippy slidey nonsense with recently diagnosed very low iron stores and dodgy lungs – but somehow didn’t get lost and pulled off a 50 mile pb in 9 hrs 34.
- Green Man Ultra Bristol – 46 ish mile countryside route around Bristol.
- South Downs Way 50 – Woo hoo – the first Centurion race in the calendar for 2015!. Finished in a whisker under 10 hours.
Thames Path 100 training and preparation.
I’ll was tempted to leave this section blank as it was non existent ;-). Like most people I have a busy life, with full on job, and a 9 year old deaf son to care for too, so I can’t really run loads and just tend to run when my son, Kanye, has clubs/sunday school etc or is with grandparents, and I use running as commuting/travelling option too but probably only clock about 25-35 miles a week on average.
I guess the races I’d already done that year count as prep. too and as added mental preparation I just jotted a few things down to remind me it would all be fine:
- I had run it before in 2014 and had done Thames Trot twice too (Oxford to Henley) and had covered first 100 miles of T184 (before DNF’ing) i.e. Woolwich to Goring, so part of the route was ‘very vaguely’ familiar i.e. I knew there was a big blue wet fast moving thing that I occasionally would be running along that I had to be careful not to fall into.
- I had complete 3 x 100 milers in 2015, (the middle one of which I’d done on back of bog all mileage as I’d been on crutches for 6 weeks after 1st one and then Kanye had a major op. which meant I had to put running aside for a while too) so this wasn’t my first 100 miler and if I can complete North Downs Way on zero training while injured, I reckon I could pull this one off too ;-).
- It’s a Centurion Event which I knew meant it would be extremely well organised, full of fun friendly supportive volunteers and fellow runners and would actually just feel like one long party the whole way round so ‘Bring it on’. The downside to it being so well run and supported is that I knew I’d slacked off on training and prep.
It was going to be my first 100 miler that I’d attempt without any pacer and I admit that was a bit of an unknown for me. I have extremely poor eyesight – especially at night – and had always relied on pacers to help me see/find the way on the night section. Also there are lots of gates on Thames Path and after 16+ hours on the feet my brain tends to switch off and the simple act of working out how to open the latch on the gate suddenly becomes one of those complex chinese puzzles you get at Xmas. I began to panic a bit about lack of pacer and even contemplated putting in a last minute desperate request to all facebook friends asking if anyone wanted to join me but then I remembered that I’d managed to break 2 pacers at previous races and thought the word had probably got around to the pacers union and my name’s probably on a list somewhere so I decided to do it solo without pacer or crew. I knew it would be good training and a confidence builder to have completed one without a pacer. I also realised then there were less logistical issues around pacing and meeting someone at a certain point and what to do if ahead/behind schedule etc. and I could just do my own thing and not worry about it too much.
- Shoes – went for ‘untried at this distance’ Inov8 290’s race ultras. I’d always worn Hokas for 100 milers before but they tend to rip my toenails off and are also worse than chocolate teapots in mud. My experience of the Thames Path is that it ‘can’ be a claggy quagmire in places and Thames Trot 50 had caused a few DNF’s to people with non-responsive shoes. It was a risk though as I’d not gone over 46 miles in Inov8’s before and they’re not as cushioned/bouncy as Hokas. In retrospect as the course was relatively dry (especially up to mile 85), I’d have been better off in my Hokas but it’s good to know that I can manage the distance in the Inov8’s as will need them for more ‘lumpy’ 100 milers later in year. A minor panic a few days before when I thought I’d mislaid the shoes only to find they’d been shoenapped by my other half. Luckily they were returned pre-race and suspect he’d added a bit of the ‘Wilkie go faster magic’ into them anyway 🙂
- backpack – opted for Ultimate Direction PB race vest v2. My old red v1 pack had seen better days and the bottle holders had broken so treated myself to a new one so that I didn’t have to carry separate bottle holder. The only problem was I went for smaller size forgetting that I’d managed to gain 10lbs over the previous year and it was a bit too snug once fuller laden with essential kit (and the ‘advisory extra items too) and it rubbed and dug into my back from mile 20 onwards causing a lot of bruising and grazing. But took my mind off the pain in feet I gues 🙂
- food – took babybels which were great, few espresso gels (mainly for night), nakd bars which got annoying, and couple of protein bars too and knew I could rely on well stocked checkpoints. In addition I had seriously deliberately eaten enough extra calories in the couple of weeks run up to the race to know I’d have enough fuel on board to get me to the end even if I couldn’t stomach anything during the race
TIme goal: aka playing poker against myself
The biggest thing whirring around and around my brain in the run up to the race – in fact right up until James Elson sent us off at the start was whether to aim for a particular time or not. The last time I had a ‘time goal’ in mind for a 100 miler was at Thames Path last year when I wanted to see if sub 24 was possible. It was. But it came with a price as I was then on crutches for 6 weeks afterwards and was in considerable pain. It sucked. Life is difficult when you use your feet as transport yet every step is agony. It was six weeks of hell. I also knew that when I had no time goal in mind and just trotted around comfortably at Winter 100 in October 2014, I was absolutely fine at the end (other than damaged feet/toes) and was back in the gym the next day, and ran the Herepath Half Trail event the following weekend. So history told me that going for a time goal would be a risky move. There was also the fact that this wasn’t just ‘one race’, it’s part of the Grand Slam that I’ve entered and in fact I’ve got GUCR on 23 May as well so the last thing I wanted to do was completely wreck myself just to chase a time goal.
BUT on the other hand, this massive voice in my head reminded me that somewhere I believed I had 22hrs 30 in me. This magic number is the ‘male’ criteria for Spartathlon entry. A dream race. In fact they’d brough in a female criteria of sub 24 in 100 miler (which I’d already achieved) but politically I didn’t think it was right that women had a different criteria for entry when the cut offs at the race are the same, so I’d refused to put my entry in in January 2015 as I’d not met the 22hr 30 criteria that applied to male runners and if I was lucky enough for my name to have been pulled, I wanted to think I deserved my place on the start line… Thames Path 100 was probably my ‘llikeliest’ chance of getting a 22hr 30… so I was completely torn between ‘going for it’ and ‘being sensible and seeing the bigger picture’. I had absolutely no idea what my body would decide to do on the day.. even on the morning I didn’t know.
The ‘shall I’ ‘Shan’t I’ dilemma whirred around and around in my head on the way up. I sort of decided to be sensible and just take it easy, stay in the middle of the pack but stay well ahead of cut offs etc.. I read Traviss Willcox’s advice on Centurion Facebook group which said that those aiming for 24 hours + shouldn’t dawdle and should get to Henley (mile 51 ish) as quick as they could. So that sounded like a plan for me.
At registration I saw lots of familiar faces and enjoyed a good catch up chatting nonsense to anyone who would spare me the time of day :-). I love the Centurion races, they just absolutely rock. James’ briefing was outside today so I wondered down to the start line and lined up. I got a last minute phone call from Stu. He was going to travel up to Henley to see the quicker runners in the afternoon before volunteering at the finish line. He’d just bagged himself a parkrun PB at Chipping Sodbury parkrun where he’s Event Director – I was so proud of him as it’s just a week after Hoka Highland Fling :-). I wanted him to be proud of me so decided I’d do my best to get to Henley in time to see him before he set off for Oxford.
Off we go
Dead on 10am the hooter went and we were off. The first check point was 11 miles away and my plan was to just run comfortably until then, I was surprised that I was pulling off 9:30 miles ish quite comfortably and vowed to slow down a bit after the 1st checkpoint. I bumped into Rich Cranswick at CP1 and knew I was going way too fast so tried to rein in a bit.
Mile 11-22 was tough for me. My backpack was quite laden as I’d put in two good headtorches – just to make it easier to swap over when batteries ran out in one as I knew I wouldn’t have a pacer around with a light to help me see to change the batteries, but with the smaller pack, and based layers and waterproof trousers and snacks etc., something in the pack was digging badly into my back. I tried taking the pack off and rearranging it but it didn’t seem to help much. I sent a text to Stu mentioning my back/pack and he advised to get vaseline at next cpoint – I forgot to do this but then forgot about the chaffing /bruising anyway.
CP2 passed and I knew I was at the difficult bit – I always find mile 22-28 hard. I did this time too. I felt quite hot as had a thick top on as didn’t want to waste time changing before night section and was beginning to feel a bit nauseous. In all honesty I think I was a tad hungover. I’d drunk quite a lot of red wine the night before and didn’t really get much sleep. I suspected the issue was that I was beginning to sober up.
I also realised I was being slightly antisocial. There were quite a few people around who I’d met before and part of me wanted to chat and catch up but I also knew that with my asthma, running a good speed whilst talking isn’t possible so I just keep my mp3 on the whole race and saved chatting really until the checkpoints.
The checkpoints were ace. At every checkpoint there were familiar friendly faces. Some volunteers were going from check point to checkpoint. I saw the legendary Ann Bath at cp1,2 and 3 and she said she was doing cp4 and cp5 too but I think I just missed her at those ones later as was legging it some. It was lovely seeing people I knew on route too. I sent a couple of happy texts to Stu to let him know my progress (good and bad) and he sent nice pep talk ones back which was nice. I deliberately stayed off social media as knew that would slow me down but could see 40 notifications which just shows what amazing support the running community give each other at these special races.
I was beginning to realise too that I was potentially on track for a 22:30 finish if I kept it all together though I knew an awful lot can go wrong later in a race. I’d already been sick at the 26 mile ish mark but at CP5 (about Hurley/Marlow I think at mile 44), I was told by Nina that there was only 5 or 6 ladies that had already gone through. I was gob smacked as that could mean I was 6th or 7th lady… I never place that high. That wasn’t important though. What was important to me at that time was that I was on track to see Stu before he left Henley and knew that would give me a mental boost.
It did! When I got to Henley, there he was with my bag so I got a nice hug, help with finding some of Karen Webber’s lush pasta for tea and grabbed stuff from my drop bag and was ready to shoot off. Stu also mentioned that Rich Cranswick and Ultra Blakes from Bristol were just at Henley too so #Bristol3 were neck and neck as we arrived close together at the next checkpoint at Reading (mile 58).
Reading was a fun checkpoint with Susie Chan and Paul Ali putting on a good show. I didn’t want to linger too long as it was dark now and wanted to get a few more running miles in before I knew the inevitable walking would have to start. I knew I was still on track for sub 22:30 even if I walked. I was conscious I’d taken a lot of ventolin and they were nearly empty and I couldn’t risk running without ventolin and as I’d taken so much it wasn’t now very effective anyway but I reckoned I could get to whitchurch (mile 67) at least before I’d have to revert to hiking out the rest.
Whitchurch was another lovely checkpoint. I saw Sarah Burns Moorwood there (and also reckon I saw her at Streatley the next cp but may have lost the plot by then). Rich Cranswick had fallen behind. At Streatley I caught up with Blakesy again as he’d been suffering. We both moaned a bit about not remembering races being this tough but I could see he had some running left in his legs and he carried on.
By this stage it was a case of doing 1 checkpoint at a time; Trying not to get too lost; Walking as fast as I could; ignoring the rain; ignoring the fact that I was on my own at night; Every checkpoint I’d drop Stu a quick text and knew he was keeping an eye on me from a distance (albeit a distance 35 miles ish away), it felt nice as it felt like I was running in a warm protective bubble. I just keep listening to music and hiking on as fast as I could, stopping at cpoints for drinks, coke, grab of some fruit and getting out as quick as I could after quick chat to volunteers and runners I met at checkpoints.
Things got tough just after Clifton Hampden which was at about mile 85, I was trying to work out in my head if I was still on for sub 22hr 30 — the magic Spartathlon qualifying time- and I was…. but then I also worked out that if I kept up a cracking walking speed – which I knew would be hard as it was raining hard and trails were slippery – I might just pull of a sub 22 hours… and this became my new stupid mission! 21 hours ‘something’ was suddenly what I wanted. I had serious ideas above my station.
At mile 88 something ‘bad’ happened to my left foot. I could feel an enormous blister the whole size of the ball of my foot swell up and every step was absolute agony. it was pissing down with rain and I didn’t want to try to sit in the mud to change socks as I knew that would mean I’d miss my 21 hours something target and might even waste too much time and miss my sub 22 :30 target so I gritted it out. I grabbed a tree branch and used it as a crutch and tried limping pirate style down the path thinking.. ok 11 miles to go… It didn’t take long to realise this wasn’t going to work. I cussed my decision the day before not to bring my poles as that would really have helped. But I took a deep breath and just carried on and tried to self hypnotise to convince myself that the pain in the foot didn’t belong to my foot etc… it vaguely worked and I was able to get back into my 15 min mile walking pace and ditch the tree trunk.
Eventually I reached Abingdon and met Donna Bullock who mentioned I was 4th lady. Gulp. 4th lady… eek.. suddenly I was on 2 missions.. one was to stay 4th lady and the other was to get 21 hours something.. so I grabbed a drink and hobbled off. I look behind and swore I saw 10 ladies on my tail…
I text Stu to say I was where I was.. and kept on. the next 9 miles were just trying to keep up a sub 15 min mile walking pace. I was wrecked. My foot was absolute agony. I was being stupid I knew but suddenly 21 something rather than just over 22 hours became important to me.. numbers and maths were whirring around in my brain.. what if my garmin was wrong and it was a bit further than I thought? I didn’t dare stop at last cp where Ian Walker was standing outside. I knew I had enough coke in my bottle to fuel me to the end so I asked if I could just go straight on and he took my number, shouted it to the person recording it and I carried on with one mission in mind. Just in case it was slightly further than I thought I walked like I was applying for a care in the community grant… 13 min miling a couple of miles despite the muddy trails. There was no way I could run as I could barely stand putting weight on my left foot… then finally I knew it was couple of mile to go. I really wanted to see Stu at the finish line but didn’t have time to text so called instead as that would be quicker so let him know and I shot off… Kept looking at my watch hoping that I’d just make the sub 22… I could see the Centurion banner and knew I would then be on the finishing staight. I turned the corner and wanted to run but knew I couldn’t. I felt silly not being able to and tried to show I wasn’t being lazy by attempting to ‘hop quickly’ instead on my right foot but gave that up and just walked to the end.
21 hours 56 mins. 4th Lady, 43rd out of 262 starters and a hug that was definitely worth running 100 miles for.
I am really surprised that I finished so strongly. Having Stu’s support by text during the day, seeing him at half way point and knowing he was there at the end did make a huge difference I feel and I know others in the past have said what a difference having family/loved ones there makes and I’d not appreciated it until then. It was risky ‘going for it’ though and I’ve paid the price on my left foot and will learn to remember my place ‘in the middle or towards the back of the pack’ before the next event I’m sure 😉