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The (un)untraining Ultrarunner

Tales of ultrarunning, food, and not untraining

North Downs Way 100 2017 – NDW Superbitch is a “Nightmare Dressed like a DayDream”

The training went well in the run up to North Downs 100 (aside from a terrible week or so which I put down to training while in Spain during 30+ celcius heat and ridiculously high humidity. I turn into a big baby in those conditions.

With two of the four 100 mile grandslam races already in the bag, this race was all about surviving but getting it done as well as I could. You don’t get much time to recover in between these races which feel like they come at you like snowballs between the end of April and October.

The week before I sorted my kit and made what I thought was a reasonable fist of a perfect kit placement photo (but which Sarah Sawyer gave me only 8.5/10 for!)

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The day before

Susie saw me off at the Station. I find it best usually to get a one – way train ticket to the start, and have Susie follow the next day to crew and or pace me.

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Lovely having Susie seeing me off on my journey to Farnham

I headed down to Farnham – the start of the race the night before. Staying in the Premier Inn which is just 15-20 minutes walk away along a small stream to the start. Perfect location as it is also near the Railway Station.

I was meeting up with Tim Lambert – who I was sharing a room with. We had both been saved by “The Dan Park” for our accommodation (for the third time I will add in my case – because I have not somehow got in the habit of booking my own hotel room. Silly boy!)

I registered and did my kit check – bumping into some friends along the way – including plenty of folks I know from twitter and facebook. I am so awful with names but I do know faces – and I find it hard to match them up all the time.

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At registration the night before

In fact, since I am useless with friends names who I already have met many times, then I am going to apologise now for all errors and omissions!

I had a lovely capuccino (and don’t spare the choccie sprinkles!) made by the ladies in the van which I supped while I was chilling out in the sunshine. Best cappucino ever – FACT! Tim did a quick turnaround and we were soon heading back to the hotel and the Beefeater next door for a burger and chips.

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Back at the hotel we did some kit packing and repacking, and some general faffing around including setting a billion alarms.

Race Day

(thanks Zoe and Vanessa for early morning phone calls – Zoe – I didn’t want to mention at the time but I was on the loo! – and Vanessa – I was so dozy I didn’t recognise your voice at all!). So first mission of the day accomplished. Up and out of bed by 4am.

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Up at the crack of the sparrow’s arse!

We had all our stuff ready. I did some last minute recharging of watches and after a coffee, a selection of breakfast pastries (from Sainsburys about a half mile away the night before) and a 1 litre bottle of lovely frizzante lucozade we headed off to the race start for the briefing. I bet the hotel staff were puzzled by the heap of card keys left on their desk at 5am on a saturday morning once or twice a year!

Soon at the HQ, there was enough time to grab some extra safety pins for numbers and tags and then James was doing his usual briefing. Warning anyone not to mention that the race was 103 miles when it was advertised as “a hundred” etc. He has these briefings off to a fine art. Various hands went up when asked if anyone was doing the Grandslam (I raised my hand and looked around but I swear I couldn’t see 34 other people!), people raising their hands for their first 100. (MENTALIST!!!! Who chooses NDW100 for their first?!) and then soon we were all heading off (via the loo for me for a quick poo!).

Anyway… off we went down the road to get to the trail head at the start. On the way I bumped into Rachel Hessom – and found amazingly this is the ONLY 100 that she had not done yet so she was a NDW100 virgin! Rachel is great fun – and we’ve shared a few miles on these in the past.  At the trail head I chatted briefly with Paul Thompson and others before settling in around half way back so I wasn’t either going to get trampled or that I wouldn’t be encouraged to go out too hard.

Soon we were off.

Part 1 – Start to Box Hill Stepping Stones

The start of it is wooded trail. I felt I made totally the right shoe choice – Pearl Izumi N3 Road. Perfect. Some grip and lovely and cushioned too. I was loving it. Cracking on down the trail and feeling pretty comfortable. (my strava stats at the end showed that I was going out a little bit fast really….!)

At around 3 miles in Stephen Turner a.k.a. “#GateWanker” ran past. He always runs past at this point and usually opens a gate and them slams it behind him for a laugh :-p haha I also leapfrogged with Paul Thompson a little bit over the first few miles. He was running superbly well.

I didn’t bother to stop at Puttenham aid station around 7 miles in, I just ran straight through – briefly bumping into Steve Turner again (my turn to shout #GateWanker). Everything was going swimmingly. My watch vibrated each mile – always a surprise because the miles just seemed to be flying by! I swapped places a few times with Lee Scott and Paul Thompson and of course Stephen Turner flew past me once again!

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Newlands Corner signalled what felt like the first uphill section. Swiftly dispatched and on I went. Really not much to note other than I enjoyed running through Denbies Wine Estate with vines growing on the south facing hills, and down the hill towards Box Hill via the underpass.

Box Hill Stepping Stones (24.6) to Caterham Hill (38)

I reached the aid station. Needing water (I felt a little thirsty and my wee wasn’t the light colour I expected it to be). I did the same thing on the NDW50 two years ago…. So that’s a lesson I haven’t learned! I resolved to get more liquid down me. Which I did. Literally down me 🙂

It was an absolutely lovely surprise to bump into Mark Thornberry – gentleman of the trails and an utter legend – who popped along just to support the runners. Brilliant to see you mate – and thanks for the photo too and brief chit chat.

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I got my bottles filled. Spotted Ian Brazier who just came into the aid station) and off I went again. As I took my time over the stepping stones (I’m clumsy ok!) I dunked my hat in the water and soaked myself. Oh – that was lovely!

Soon it was up. Poles out and tik takked away up the hill. They were not as bad as I remember them being and I was soon slaloming past various families cajoling their children up steps almost as high as their little knees!

At the top it was clear that it was turning into a bloody hot day. I bumped into friends Neil and Nick Dawson at the top of Box Hill and had a bit of a sit down while I was rewarded with an amazing Calippo – and what would be my first of the day!!!

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Thanks so much!!! Stuart March was up there with his HUGE camera and grabbed a shot of me as I jogged past – calippo in hand (orange since you ask).

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The wooded section at the top was lovely – nice to be in the shade again, and I was being careful for trip hazards. The next stop was at Reigate Hill. I was soon there. Desperate again for drink – but knowing that Zoe had stashed at the aid station with her a cold bottle of Moutain Dew (that stuff is Rocket Fuel!). As I was running to the aid station, I spotted a cafe and queued to get another calippo… while I was doing that, I spotted Paul Reader – who kindly queued up for me and brought me over two calippos. God – you’re a legend mate! Thanks so much – also for the chocolate milkshake. That was lush!

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Selfies with Zoe and a bottle of mountain dew later and I was off again.

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More climbing and more trails. It was only a few miles and then I felt absolutely knackered. The heat was awful. It was just the other side of Reigate Golf Club and I sought the shade of a tree and had a lie down for a few minutes. I couldn’t believe I was feeling so shit this early in a 100miler.

No sooner did I get back up and the rain started. At first, I was like “Oooooh this solves every problem I have….” and then the realisation that when it turned into a deluge, the trail was turning to a muddy swampy mess. Just after running through an underpass it started to rain even heavier. I chanced it by not stopping, but then got caught in a really heavy storm on the side of a hill by the M25…. pack off, jacket on, and on my way once again. All of the rain had made the trails pretty slick – wet muddy chalk. Not great to run on! It was really sapping my energy. I phoned my wife and asked her to have my trail shoes ready for the half way point.

The rain soon subsided and this rest of the section went pretty well – I got some energy wave going so I was flying along at points until I reached the aid station at Caterham. I had my serpie cap on and I think that got me a paper bowl of slighly melted by absolutely delicious ice cream which I accessorised with some chewy toffee crisp type bites. Wow – amazing they were! On leaving I needed to have my customary call with nature….. (TMI!) I found a log and made use of it!

38 – 51 miles (Knockholt pound)

I had volunteered at Caterham on the NDW50 in 2014 and I knew that the next little bit involved a bloody steep climb up a bit of a hill. Nothing much happened at Botley – I went in grabbed a few handfuls and left just as Gary Wayman arrived.

I entered the woods across the road and after a few seconds the heavens opened. I stopped to put my jacket on and it then deluged even more. Luckily I was in the woods because otherwise I think I would have been washed away! Some other folks were trying to brave it out but the rain got heavier and heavier.

I also ran into Dave Stuart with kids who were handing out hi-fives to passing runners, and percy pigs and friends along with coke. With my bright pink calf compression sleeves on they could see me a mile off! I took the opportunity to stop for a few minutes before carrying on down some treacherous steps.

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Soon I bumped into Stuart March taking more photos and he warned about the slippiness of the trail ahead (I managed to slide and stab myself in the hand with the barbed wire fence).

Soon I was closing in on the Knockholt aid station, I called ahead to Susie and she was waiting with Rob and Dom and his wife Helen at the checkpoint. I wolfed down some pasta, some lucozade and put my legs up to try and easy some of the solidness.

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51 – 62 (Knockholt to Wrotham – with Dom)

Soon I was ready to go. I decided not to change my shoes because this next section would be fine (I had recced it) and I wanted to minimise any change of shoe issues! Dom was pacing me for this next section. We knocked out a few miles and then I spectacularly stubbed my toe on something in the track down the side of the farmers field. Bloody tell that hurt… and I was worried that my foot would swell up. I just carried on and got on with it. It was a combo of run walk for the first little bit because of the climb, but soon we were on a section I had recced a few weeks earlier and I knew there were some miles of fast running conditions – so that’s what I did.

We surprised my crew – and they ran out of the pub in Otford High Street (GUYS! – one job to do yeah!???! 🙂 ) and then they had to run up the hill after me with some luzocade and crisps. Dom was doing a marvellous job of pacing me and I was so pleased that I had recced this section too because it allowed me to think ahead on my pace and when I could take advantage.

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We powered past another runner with a handful of vaseline he was shoving down his bum crack – we exchanged knowing glances with his crew, and we headed to some frankly hideous steps. I don’t know why, but they were a pain! I got up them and eventually we peaked out at the top and we enjoyed some running through fields.

This next section is one that I had not recced but I had a rough idea from driving around the other week (albeit on the road). We eventually headed down and to a road to cross it and we turned right down a hill. I had been talking about going under a bridge I think, and we both on autopilot ran down hill… quite fast…. For about half a mile.

Mistake.

No red tape. No signs and we questioned our choice, turned around and ran back up. We should have turned left! There was the piece of red and white tape flapping in the breeze. Dammit!

Anyway, no harm done, it was only a few minutes, and we got back on track. Eventually we came down a few hundred feet in the right place and I put on a bit of a burst, absolutely flying along (well….. 10-11 minute miles anyway!) and on to the aid station at Wrotham at 60 miles where my wife and Rob were waiting for me.

I had a cuddle. Changed my shoes. Changed into a long sleeved merino base layer. Put my headtorch on and made sure Susie had hers too for her pacing duties. After all that, I was ready to go, and realised that I hadn’t been into the checkpoint yet! OOps…. Susie said she wouldn’t have let me do that – and of course she wouldn’t – but it was a reminder that I was getting mentally tired already. I thanked Dom and Helen and arranged to see Rob at Ranscombe (around 70 miles – with McDonalds!). Apparently my GPS tracker had stopped – my iphone battery had run out. I wasn’t having a good time with batteries today!

60 – 82 Wrotham to Detling

Off we ran. Me and Susie recced this section so knew most of the way to Holly Hill – the next checkpoint. Everything was as expected. Trosley park – easy running… a treacherous downhill chalky mess of a “path” and then good quality trail again. It was dark through the heavy tree cover. A handful of runners past me on this section. More trail and some steps at Holly Hill (which I swear on my recce were not as steep!)…. Half way up I felt a pull in my leg as I overextended my stride up a step. Agony. Susie had to give me a quick massage of my leg before I could move again.

Soon we were at the aid station. A quick coffee which we managed to spill over each other and we were off again. I knew this whole section now until Ashford. Brilliant. I knew exactly what to come. The wooded section went on forever! I was worried about missing the right turn over the stile and kept going on about it. It was significantly muddier than when I had last been through the previous weekend.

Eventually we turned and I put down some good running for a few miles. I knew that I could do that all the way to Ranscombe (bar the couple of hills up and a steep downhill). So I banged out the miles and we passed quite a few runners – and this was really my last good section of running that I did looking back. We hit Ranscombe car park and then soon Rob arrived with my McDonalds (susie had messaged ahead). 6 chicken McNuggets (YUM!), fries (lovely – but couldn’t finish) and a coffee that I poured down myself (oops!) and managed to get a few mouthfuls before I poured the rest away. I managed to forget to pack my charging cable for my Fenix 5X – I had left it in my bag that was at the end!

I had lay in the car for 15 minutes or so and when I got up and walked out of the car park I was shivering quick badly. Susie was really surprised – I don’t think she had seen me like that. Obviously with the darkness, and the time of the day and that I had stopped for a short spell had brought my temperature down and I had to get my jacket on and get moving swiftly to generate some body heat.

Soon we were across Medway bridge – I ran and didn’t stop! – and then under the motorway bridge and along Nashenden Farm Road. We saw Rob again – we didn’t need anything – and then headed up a bloody hill! Another one. I walked quite a lot of this section to Bluebell Hill aid station – I didn’t have much in the way of go left…. And we got to the aid station, I had a quick coffee and immediately got moving again.

After seemingly ages we ended up just past the petrol station and climbing the most hideous bit. In training (and I run around here all the time) this hill is really not that bad and I have run up it! That wasn’t happening tonight and I stumbled up slowly using my poles. Miles and miles this seemingly went on for before we topped out and got a few bits of running done. I struggled this whole section. I also had to change my Petzl NAO+ battery. It ran out. That surprised me because I had run on the same settings from 8:30 – 5:00 am with in on Thames Path and also had similar experience on SDW100. Maybe I didn’t charge it up fully….

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I got passed by alot of runners. I was falling asleep shuffling along and I was getting messages into my head about stopping. ARGH! No…. I had to have a few sit down breaks and Susie did her best to get me moving along. I was slow. I was not enjoying this bit. Eventually, and despite everything we soon hit the downhill that signalled that Detling was close. Over the bridge and I could see my mate and next pacer Andy Cairns waiting for me with Rob. I had to have a sleep – and must have had 15-20 minutes in the aid station. I saw Tim Lambert there and was a bit surprised. I couldn’t compute why we were both there at the same time for some reason. Stupid brain!

82 – 91 – Detling to Lenham

Anyway, off I went with Andy and he got it absolutely right. He knew I wasn’t running much and he knew this whole section too – having trained on it with me and run NDW100 too. Frankly hideous sections – including Detling (but you know….. It was nowhere near as bad as other bits in hindsight). Andy encouraged me to trot along a bit when I could and he reminded me that when the sun comes up I would get energy. He reminded me to eat (lesson – I need to take more snacks) and gave me warnings about my footing.

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Eventually we started to head downhill and I got some running in for the first time in hours. This whole section took forever. We headed down into Hollingbourne, saw Susie and Rob and headed off again. I had a couple of mini pork pies which I couldn’t seem to swallow. I forced it down with water and wondered why they just tasted of pastry (Susie later told me that is what they were like for her too – and that they were gross!).

Next aid station was Lenham around 91 miles. I knew that Rob Cowlin – the legend – would be there. Interspersed walking and jogging – and eventually the aid station appeared on the crest of a small hill. Slick aid station pit stop. A quick coffee – Thanks Spencer and Rob – and off I went – I shouted “Andy – come on catch me up….” more for my own amusement 🙂 It was around 7 miles or so to the next aid station so I wanted to get moving.

From this point I knew I would finish. The sun was up. I was running where I could. Walking at a reasonable pace. I felt brighter. We eventually got to Dunn Street aid station, called my number and decided to crack on to the finish at Ashford. Only 4.5 miles left.

98.5 – 103 miles – Dunn Street to Ashford Julie Rose Stadium

I actually ran and ran and ran. I hadn’t eaten since some chocolate at Lenham but the need to finish was greater. I ran and ran and ran some more. I power hiked the hills. I felt the heat rising already – the sun was out – and ran everything I could.

I knew the end was close.

I was going to finish this absolute super bitch of a race.

We hit the tarmac. Some roads. Then pavement. I couldn’t remember exactly the route but I knew if I kept running the finish would soon arrive. I passed quite a few people – at quite some pace – (my stats say 9:28 mins / mile for mile 102!)

And eventually I could see the rise in the road before the stadium. I hiked the rise…. And then ran. I turned into the stadium, spotted the turn onto the track and bounded onto it.

I could see there was a chap in front and a runner and possibly a pacer coming up to the first corner. I wanted to finish. I overtook the first guy.

Andy said I couldn’t overtake the other two on the final straight.

I said “I know…… I’m not a total CNUT, but I will overtake on the final corner before the final 100metres! Watch!”

With that I powered on….. Drawing on all my reserves I rounded the final corner, passed the runners, head down, sprinting for the line. I swear I was getting faster and faster on the track. Eventually over the line! (my stats say the track section was 7:13 minute / mile average!)

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OMG I finished. I couldn’t believe it!

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28 hours 23 minutes 33 second. 107th / 239 runners who started the race. Only 147 runners finished. Superbitch of a race indeed! Next up Autumn 100 in October.

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In conclusion….

The race really didn’t go my way. But then when does anything that lasts about a day. It is impossible for 100% of everything to go right.

Why?

Fatigue – I felt heavily fatigued between Bluebell Hill and Hollingbourne. So much so that I was throwing time away and I really didn’t give a shit about it at the time. I had convinced I would be timed out in the last 20 miles.

Food and drink – I still didn’t get this right. I don’t eat enough. I MUST take more snacks. What definitely worked though was the pasta at half way, and mango I took with me and the lucozade drinks. Yum yum!

How I dealt with the heat and then the rain  – I don’t like heat so don’t train in it. I don’t know if that makes any difference, but I was totally bushwhacked by Reigate Golf Course (around 35 miles) and then the rain turned the trail into a slippy chalky mess which was a nightmare in my road shoes (I should have changed earlier).

So there you go. By far the toughest race I have ever done in my life (I don’t want to over play it – it is more due to me never having tackled anything more brutal – to be clear – NDW is nothing in comparison to the really tough stuff like the Spine / GUCR etc)

What helped me push through?

  • Grandslam. If that was a stand alone race I wonder I would have gutted it out. It is almost like a double or nothing…… I had two of the four races in the bag already and I didn’t want to throw that away.
  • Susie saying to me in one of my low moments – “Do you want to continue?” – which just made me MTFU and get on with it.
  • My amazing crew and pacers who had taken time out of their lives to come and help me and be there with me for a day.
  • A message from Sarah Sawyer before the race that reminded me that if that race didn’t go my way, then I was well capable of gutting it out to the end.
  • Bloodymindedness. I had done the training. I trained like a demon. The day just didn’t go to plan. I just had to get on with it. I chose to enter it. I must finish.

On this occasion, the NDW took everything I had. It felt pretty bleak at times and I am so grateful to all of the volunteers along the route, the other runners that I shared conversation with, and most of all to my wonderful wife Susie, and my other pacers Andy and Dom – and crew driver meister – Rob Small. Wow. You guys Rock!

I have renamed North Downs Way – “SuperBitch”. To be clear…. If I ever ever say that I am doing this race again burn my credit cards and then burn me and bury me in a ditch!

Thanks to ….

Rob Small for driving all over the North Downs dealing with my diva demands for McDonalds and other food.

Dominic Bowen for pacing from 50-60something miles. It was a blast!

Susan Bradburn my amazing wife who did about 22 miles with me and gave me repeated instructions to MTFU.

Andy Cairns who did such an amazing job to kick my ass from 82 to the end and get me moving again when I thought my running was over for the weekend.

Paul Reader for being a legend and queuing for two calippo for me at Reigate Hill. It was amazing to see you pal and was good to catch up briefly – thanks also for milkshake. 👍

Paul Commons and Karen Grieves for turning up unexpectedly at the end. Brilliant.

Zoe Norman for giving me hope at Reigate Hill on a hot day with a cold bottle of mountain dew and Percy pigs and sweaty hugs (my sweat!)

Stuart March for numerous hi-fives and I imagine amazing photos as usual!

Dave Stuart and kids for Percy pigs and coke at mile 40ish.

Rob Cowlin for a man hug at Lenham 91 aid station and Spencer Milbery for the coffee.

Tim Lambert for pre race chit chat the night before and Dan Park for once again sorting my accommodation ✌️✌️

Sarah Sawyer for a pre race message which I kept recalling in the darkest parts of the race.

Mark Thornberry for being a cheer leader at Box Hill stepping stones.

Mimi Anderson for great training advice as usual ✌️✌️

And everyone else who I have been stupid enough to forget. Including those friendly faces Neil and Nick Dawson at the top of Box Hill who bought me a calippo and had a chat!!!!

And everyone at Born to Run facebook group and friends who followed my progress and gave me encouraging messages.

Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1121569153

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Stuff that I currently use – Summer 2017 #kit #running

As I do more races I accumulate more stuff. Partly because I am always experimenting with new gear and while training is the most important thing for performance, sometimes kit and gear can make your time out on the trails a little more comfortable.

This is what I am currently using. What’s your favourite stuff?

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Clothes and shoes

  • Cap – Serpentine Running club or Rockstar Sports.
  • Buffs – variety of them – Headwarmer, sweat wiper, emergency sock!
  • Waterproof Jacket – Decathlon Kalenji Trail running Waterproof Jacket.
  • T-shirt – Kalenji Performance trail running t-shirt – thin and comfortable
  • Long sleeve baselayer – Kalenji Techwool long sleeve top (merino type)
  • Shorts – More Mile 5 inch baggy shorts
  • Compression shorts – Kalenji compression shorts
  • Calf Guards – Compressport – I like to have calfs covered. Easier than long socks.
  • Socks – Steigen – thin, long lasting. No blisters
  • Gaiters – Dirty Girl Gaiters to keep stones out of my shoes.
  • Shoes – Pearl Izumi N3 Road and N2 trail shoes – comfy and wide fitting. Perfect.

Backpack and hydration

  • Pack Ultimate Direction SJ3.0 – 8 litres. Perfect capacity so I don’t take too much.
  • Bottles – Ultimate Direction Flexibottles or Aonijie soft flasks.
  • Hydrapak flexi-cup – for cupless races or just for coffee. If you stick with one that is quite flimsy it will encourage you to not mess around at aid stations
  • Dry bags – Lomo transparent so I can see inside and you can keep a change of clothes dry in your pack

Lighting

  • Main headtorch – Petzl NAO+ headtorch plus spare battery – best headtorch ever.
  • Backup torch – Silva Trailrunner 2 as backup (sure you can use Petzl E-lite – but you will be walking!) or Lenser SE07, or Petzl Reactik+.

Electronics

  • Watch – Garmin Fenix 5X and charging cable – maps on my wrist plus a GPS watch!
  • Backup watch – Epson SF-310 GPS – cheap watch. Accurate GPS. 30 hour battery.
  • Tracker – Iphone 4s with racedrone – everyone can see where I am – e.g. crew.
  • Mobile phone – Nokia mobile phone – real buttons. Battery lasts forever.
  • Portable battery charger for watch – anything will do!
  • Spare batteries – AA, AAA – lithium ones last longer.

Navigation

  • Nav – Garmin GPS64S Handheld – I might get lost / need to do heavy navigation
  • Maps – usually Harveys that shows whole trails cut up onto one map.
  • Compass – Silva

Emergency kit

  • Toilet paper in clingfilm – just in case a poop is needed
  • Imodium – for any impending poop disasters
  • Paracetamol – don’t do ibuprofen – dangerous!
  • Foil blanket – lightweight and usually on a kit list.
  • Tape – anything – I’m using stuff from Lidl at the moment
  • Paracord – all kinds of emergencies – e.g. lace replacement, fix backpack fastening
  • Cash – never know when you need a lolly ice J
  • Body Glide – silicon stuff that reduces friction on your body / feet

Other

  • Poles – Black Diamond Z sticks or cheaper are Aonijie sticks (4 piece)

 

 

 

South Downs Way 100 2017 – 1 Day, 1 Hour, 1 minute, 1 Second :-)

It has taken me a long time to write this blog post. About a week! It is hard to know the reason for that, but in some ways I think I have been enjoying the internal glow and satisfaction of having finished it, but at the same time not really knowing what to say or how to say it. My blog is 95% so that I record what I learn about each race and what works and what doesn’t. It’s helpful if I go back to do races. I suppose there is a spin off “benefit” to others if they find anything that I right even slightly helpful.

I have already spammed my social media accounts with pictures of the race, and various tidbits of analysis (like how I managed to run round the track at the end of the 100 miles in just 2 minutes 8 seconds (8:34/mi pace!) or that somehow it was the first race that didn’t prominently involve involuntary body functions.

Anyway, I think I am now ready. As it stands, I am recovering well. Again as with the aftermath of Thames Path 100 (back in April 2017) I am taking 2 weeks off running so make sure that I am absolutely as fixed as I can be ahead of another training block and before the next 100 mile race (Coming up at the start of August).

I was delighted with my performance on Thames Path 100 (22hr 26 minutes) and I didn’t know how things would work for me on the South Downs. The SDW is of course pretty hilly, and despite the fact that I have done hill training and they are no longer quite so fearsome, I knew that I would be hiking up them and running as much of everything else as I could manage.

I think what plagued my thinking slightly was my experience on the SDW100 back in 2015 (that was my first 100 and it was an awful experience back then – even though I finished in cut-off – so much so that I vowed NEVER to do one again…..). As I write this blog – I’ve now done 4 in total. So this is either because I don’t learn or I actually love it.

I was lucky enough to be able to share a hotel room with my mate Dan Park once again. It is becoming a bit of a norm now – that I put out an SOS about lack of accommodation and then Dan rescues me each time. I think he is quite simply a top dude and every time I spend time with him I learn so much more about running these silly long races. Hat off to you mate.

So on Friday afternoon I found myself in Winchester Premier inn. I got there early to chill and relax. I grabbed a coffee and observed an increasing stream of people who didn’t fit the usual profile of prem-inn patrons line up and check in at the desk. I soon got chatting to a few folks and was pleased that both of them finished their debut 100s.

I soon met up with Dan, and after a coffee with a few mates, and bumping into the amazing Stephen and Jo Turner we waited for Steve Navesey to pick us up to take us to register and do kit check the night before the race. Steve and Bev are amazing. They selflessly and seemingly run other runners back and forth between hotels and the start line. They’re brilliant. Great friends. Thanks so much – you’re awesome – and the cake and coffee is on me when I see you next!

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Kit-check the night before the race is great. It’s more relaxing, and it’s a great opportunity to meet up and catch up with friends before the race the next day. We lined up first of all to go through kit check. I had double checked all my kit against the mandatory list, and was ready to show whatever I needed to demonstrate that I had in my possession. This time it was baselayer, waterproof jacket and headtorch and emergency light. Check! Onwards with the poker chip in hand (to denote I had passed kit check) to line up to get my number.

I waited in line, grabbed my number, changed my mobile number that I had previously registered and scrawled my details on the back of my race number. Everything sorted, I had a quick look around the centurion store (managing to resist the temptation to buy more kit) and then headed back to the hotel with Steve and Dan and the others.

Back at the hotel we had an evening meal with a couple of other new friends and discussed the race ahead. For the record I had burger and chips. Delicious it was too! Then off to bed and eventually to sleep after setting every alarm known to man for about 4:30am and incremental minutes either side of that. At least there were two of us – me and Dan – who could set our alarms. I had everything charging up for the next day (Top Tip: Bring an extension 4 gang socket – so many electronics to charge from phones to GPS watches to torches these days!)

4:3o am! It soon came around. We faffed for a while. Got our stuff sorted. Dressed and then headed down for our rendezvous with Steve and the others. Short drive (but a long walk if you didn’t have a lift) to the start line.

I met up with some of my mates – including Paul Commons – after dropping my finish line bag in the van. Refilled my water at the taps inside of the pavilion and excitedly and nervously chatted with my friends.

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Soon enough it was time to get lined up on the start line and listen to the briefing. I find this goes really quickly and I never take very much in.

The horn blew and we were off! I started my music and got my head down. Determined to enjoy every second of the race and that this wouldn’t be such a painfest as the first time I did the race back in 2015.

The fact is however that 100 miles is a bloody long way and lots and lots can go wrong. The weather forecast had been changing all week from a wet start and 17 degrees to completely dry and mid 20 degrees. It was already worrying me. On the South Downs there is so little (i.e. none!) shade as it follows the “ridge”.

First off was the trot around the field and then the inevitable bottleneck before we entered the south downs way proper. It was exactly as I remembered it from two years previous. This time, my watch batteries were fully charged :-p I took it easy and my plan was to jog the inclines, power hike the ups, and run as much of everything else as possible. I bumped (almost literally) into Stephen Turner about 5 miles in and he even opened a gate for me J As expected that was the only time I saw him. He’s such an amazing runner.

Soon enough I was at checkpoint 1. Around 12 miles in. The race felt quite quick and it seemed to take much less time than the previous time I did the race. The route was easy to follow, and I was having a blast. At the checkpoint I grabbed a handful of food (wraps and some fruit) because I had not had breakfast with the early start, and walked out of the aid station up a slight incline. I am amazed at how many people take so much time at aid stations. Soon after we rounded a corner and the views opened up onto the south Downs. I remarked to another runner – “This is why we are here”. Such a stunning view.

The next checkpoint was only 10 miles away. I kept it going, but I was feeling the heat already and finding it quite hard going. Perhaps it was the Thames Path 100 still in my legs, but I really wasn’t feeling as fresh as back at the end of April. Anyway, I found myself dropping back a little on the pace and walking some of the lighter inclines that I expected to be running. Anyway, I wasn’t too bothered. 100 miles is a long way and there was plenty of time to put in some good running.

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I absolutely loved the downhill section into Queen Elizabeth Country Park. It is a really wide expansive grassed hill and I had a blast. I really opened up my pace and absolutely flew down there. Arms out to the side and absolutely having a blast with a wide grin on my face. The suffering that I was already going through was temporarily relieved. I soon got into the checkpoint where I saw Michael White helping at the food station, and then I spotted Karen Grieves in the background and then I heard “Hey Phil – you ignoring me?” And it was Mark and Sally Cameron – who I have never met in person – but are friends on facebook and often chat about stuff. He also has a few books out – which I have enjoyed reading.

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All that was on my mind was a drink of cold coke. I felt dehydrated and I just wanted more of it. I chugged it out of my water bottle rather than the small cup I had. It was the fastest way of getting it in.

19059545_10155438279858383_2954876093230022123_nI lingered a minute or two at the aid station, grabbed more fruit and then cracked on towards the next aid station. I soon noticed another runner ahead who had a familiar gait and shouted “Hey, look who it is!” It was Lee Kelly. He was powering up the hill while telling me he wasn’t feeling great. I checked he wasn’t in any really bad way and then pressed on. Knowing that it was likely I would see him later and that he would probably pass me.

I knew my pace was off by about 20 minutes already but I just needed to keep moving and to not overcook it in the heat. There was a brief respite through the wooded area and soon enough I was at the next checkpoint at around 30 miles. It always feels nice to be at this point in the race. There is a lot still to run and it is sufficiently early that you know that you still can run! I adjusted my shoes (they were not quite tight enough) and then headed out again in the blistering heat. It really didn’t feel long before I got to the checkpoint at Cocking (36 miles). My stomach hurt. I needed the loo and as I entered the checkpoint there was already someone giving a weak justification to why he didn’t want to carry on. I found that a boost weirdly…. Because while the conditions were tough, they are no reason to quit. I hate it when people quit for no reason.

I replenished my water at the checkpoint and after a toilet stop and the opportunity to wet my hat and my two buffs (one around my neck and one around my wrist) I headed off. I was barely outside of the checkpoint and I spotted a sign advertising fresh ice-cream! Hoping it wasn’t a mirage, I went inside and selected strawberry ice cream and a cold coke. I fumbled around for my money and in the meantime a lovely lady bought it for me. What a lovely gesture – you can’t know just how much I appreciated that ice cream as I walked up the hill. Yummy!

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I soon bumped into Georgina Townsend. We ran a section of Thames Path 100 together a few weeks previously, and we got to walking up the hill together and then broke into a little jog. It was nice to share some miles. We pressed on when we could and took walking breaks up steeper hills. It was such a lovely section of the race. I rarely enjoy running with other people in an ultra, but Georgina is a rare exception. We shared battle stories and I asked her about her recent race that she won (Liverpool to Manchester double – 100) amazing.

We breezed through some checkpoints but I had been cramping up badly in my calves briefly every time I started to run again. I took S-caps and kept an eye on things. Anyway, I had this really weird ankle cramp at around 40 odd miles and literally almost tore Georgina’s shoulder off while I was dealing with the spasm! I also took the opportunity to order from my crew “a non gassy fruity drink like rubicon mango but not like that”.

Soon we bumped into some Serpentine runners – my London club – who get EVERYWHERE! We pressed on with them, and on the couple of miles before the 50 mile checkpoint I dilly dallied up a hill and let them all press on into the distance. They were nowhere to be seen at the 50 mile checkpoint. I recognised a chap who I was volunteering. I volunteered there last year with him, and he did a great job of listening to me moaning for 3 minutes while I sat down before I got moving again. I found it difficult to eat anything but fruit. And at one point everything tasted so odd to me. Nothing tasted like it should have done. I felt this from around half way point on the taste – so my tastebuds must have gone mental.

I knew that it wasn’t long before I could meet up with my crew and pacer (Samantha Mills) at the point near Washington. It was a lovely surprise to see Sam earlier than expected and we ran into the aid station together. I took the opportunity to get my legs up for a few minutes. Have some pasta and generally sort myself out. I was off the pace that I planned and I felt I was having a shit race. I really wanted for this not to be a sufferfest, but the fact is that it pretty much felt awful from mile 5 onwards. I needed to snap out of it. Soon I would be with my crew and getting that lovely drink that I ordered…….

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When I turned up I was consumed by disappointment in finding that I didn’t have a drink waiting for me but instead some fruit. I hope I contained it enough but the brain doesn’t do well at regulating emotions and social niceties during Ultras. So hopefully it came across that I was very grateful for the fruit (the mango fingers were yummy!!!!!) and that I loved my crew dearly for being there but that I really really wanted a fruity drink. I think they sensed this and they tell me that I held it together reasonably well J I had a cuddle with my wife Susie and moved on with my sticks and my pacer.

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I pushed on. Had general moans. Had a few sweaty hugs with Sam when I was feeling shit and just soldiered on. I ran where I could. I walked where it was an incline to protect my legs for later. The next sections I don’t remember much until I got to Botolphs aid station and the most delightful welcome. My friends Sarah Sawyer and her husband Tom (both of them bloody amazing out of this world ultrarunners) were at the aid station. Sarah noticed me from about 50 meters away and ran out to greet me before guiding me into the aid station. It was lovely to see her and Tom. I introduced her to my pacer Sam, and we had a sweaty hug (sorry for that Sarah!). The best coffee from Tom and soon we were on our way. Sarah did a great job of keeping things positive at the aid station. We have a joke about matching parkrun and 100 mile times. I said that things weren’t going to plan but that I was pressing on and would see what I could do.

So, we were at 62 miles. Next up was Beeding Hill. I marched up there with a renewed sense of purpose click clacking with my sticks. This whole section now to pretty close to the end is really familiar to me because I have done a lot of recce runs over the run up to the race. So I knew what was coming up and where I could reign things in and where I could put down the pace. I was determined to get close to Clayton Windmills (no longer an aid station) before it got dark. Soon we came up to Truleigh Hill YHA. I knew there was a café inside so asked Sam to pop in and get me a calippo. I put my legs up on the bench and lay on the ground. I got my calippo, opened it and then dropped it in the soil. Yuck! Sam cleaned it off for me by pouring a coffee over it – which led to it super freezing (Mbenbo effect!). A few runners pressed on past me, checking I was ok, but I was happy to see them continue on ahead of me.

Soon I was on my feet again and enjoying my calippo. After a little while I broke into a trot again and then soon enough we were at Devil’s Dyke and the next crew point. I was overwhelmed with love when I found that my crew (Rob Small and my wife Susie) had brought me 4 cans of apple and raspberry J20 AND a bottle of mountain dew. Yum yum! I tried to burp such was the speed that I gulped down a can and then pressed on again. At some point Sam picked up a buff from a gate and realised it had been “soiled” yuck!

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Did a bit of running and then made it to Saddlescombe Farm checkpoint. 66.6 miles in. The sun was starting to go but last time it was dark when I was at this checkpoint so I knew that I was doing much better than my debut 100 miler (result!!!!) I still wasn’t eating much and Sam had noticed this. (The sign of a great pacer!) She insisted that I think what warm food I wanted to eat at the next crew point (72 miles in – at Ditchling Beacon). My order changed from quarterpounder meal with coke, to chicken nuggets with a white coffee. I started dreaming of it.

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I made it past Clayton Windmills and it was starting to go dark so I got my headtorch on in preparation. I was starting to feel sleepy and at a couple of points I called Sam to stop. I had some caffeine shots and then cracked on. Soon we were at Ditchling Beacon. I changed out of my wringing wet tshirt into my long sleeved merino top and had a lie down on the ground. A friend of Steve Navesey offered me a seat in his car for a brief shut eye while I waited for my crew to turn up. It was here that I saw Alzbeta Benn who was here to pace Lee Kelly for the next section. There were also some people who were covered in glitter and were surprised to find lots of runners and cars (which were not involved in dogging!)

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Soon Rob and Susie turned up with my McDonalds meal. How lovely it was. Salty fries and lovely chicken mcnuggets. I had the coffee. Had a minute or two sleep in the back of the car and then headed back out. I managed to put on some good pace for this next section. I overtook a few other runners and felt that having an longer break at Ditchling was time well spent. I felt great for the first time in the race. It was a bit cooler and it was dark.

I kept things moving and this was all lovely and familiar territory. The whole thing just went like a breeze though it was getting harder to keep the pace on for any stretch of time. I passed through Housedean aid station a few miles further on. Soon enough we were at Southease aid station. It was 84 miles in. I managed to bump into Georgina again at this point. I knew that it was touch and go for sub 24 hours but I vowed to press on and see what I could do. We headed up the hill  which felt easier than in training and then managed to put on some bits of running here and there. We saw some lovely flowers.

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Eventually Sam said that she had a surprise for me at Firle Beacon around 86-7 miles in) Susie was there and she was doing to pace me from there rather than Bo Peep. Sam said some lovely words to me and made me cry a little bit and then passed me over to Susie.

We pressed on and my recollection that it was downhill from that point for a while was dashed when I found we seemed to keep heading up inclines! I was in no mood for this! J Anyway, soon enough it was a downhill section and I was running again. We went past Bo Peep crew point and Susie grabbed something for me from the car. (the bottle of mountain dew). We carried on moving. This section was still familiar to me and I was enjoying the benefit of recce runs and the knowledge of what was coming up – and the fact that I knew we were going the right way.

Soon we came down into Alfriston and into the aid station. I didn’t stick around and went in just to give my number. I pressed on. I was on a mission. I wanted this finished. Pushing on we eventually made it to Jevington – again I didn’t go in I just gave my number….. and breezed past. I didn’t even refill with food or water. I just wanted the finish line. From this point there is only a handful of miles. Mostly very hilly ones. I swear the hills are steeper than ever at the end. I was struggling but I was pushing what I could. After what seemed like forever, we finally reached the “trig point” and the descent into Eastbourne.

The descent is tough on tired legs and I wanted to avoid twisting my ankles so I took it steady. Soon we were on the tarmac, and having watched the video on the centurion webpage about the last section I knew every twist and turn. I ran the whole way. Must be around two miles.

I didn’t slow. I didn’t stop. I didn’t walk. My quads were in constant pain from the hill bashing and I was determined to run all the way to the finish line on this section. Pavement. Cross the road. Pavement. Hospital. Runner. Cycle Path. Runner. Runner ahead started running. Then the sports track. Cheers. I ran. Susie peeled off. I went progressively faster around the track. Flew under the gantry. Stopped Garmin. DONE!

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2 minute 8 second lap of the 400 metre track at the finish 🙂

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My time……… 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute, 1 second. Holy moly. How the hell did I do that! Ok, I missed out on sub-24 hours… but under the conditions I was pleased with this. It was over 4 hours faster than the first time I ran SDW100 back in 2015.

I suffered from the start. Too hot for me. I hate heat! Having remnants of a cold, and partial hearing in one ear wasn’t going to make for an ideal race. I knew I was off the pace from the start. I really had to grit this race out the whole way. I can’t tell you just how much of an effort it was to keep moving. I never wanted to quit but it was just the biggest effort to push on at times.

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Once I got inside I had a lie down and had a little snooze!

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So, half way through Grand Slam with the toughest 100 next up – North Downs 100 (104) in August.

In no particular order thanks to:

The volunteers who made the race possible – filling cups of coffee, filling up water bottles, dealing with all the diva demands (not me this time – I was happy to find that the apple was already cut into slices 🙂

Susan Bradburn – my wife – who paced me from Firle Beacon onwards. The last 12 miles or so I think. She did a great job of encouraging me along at the best pace I could manage at the time. She had the biggest moaning section to deal with. Those hills towards the end are vicious on already tired legs. She opened all the gates without fail and was absolutely marvellous.

Samantha Mills – who was epic with her pacing. She was awesome. She was happy to sing, dance and talk at me which was exactly what I needed. She was fun and I can’t tell you how much I laughed on the inside when you picked up that shit filled buff hanging on the gate (mwuahahahhahaha!). You also almost made me cry with what you said near Firle Beacon. Thank you sooooo much Samantha. I look forward to returning the favour sometime.

Rob Small – for being an amazing dude for driving and ferrying my wife and samantha around between crew points, checkpoints and responding to my emergency diva demands for some nonfizzy fruity drink (second time this year I have crazed that kind of thing) – oh and a bottle of mountain dew rocket fuel. And McDonalds chicken nugget meal with coffee at Ditchling Beacon 🙂 My crew and pacers were marvellous. Nothing too much trouble. I know I have forgotten so much already but real highlights were HOT McDonalds at Ditchling Beacon, Cold drinks at Devil’s Dyke, Hugs at various other points. Awesome the lot of you.

Mark Cameron and his wife at Queen Elizabeth country park – sorry I didn’t clock you at first, my excuse was that I was already in a world of pain and suffering with the heat and remnants of a cold. Was really nice to see you both. Sorry if I was a bit zombified!

Dan Park for giving me a last minute spare bed in his hotel room. That’s the second time this year you’ve responded to my lack of bed 🙂 Thanks so much and it’s been a pleasure to chat before the races rather than spend all my time on my own inwardly panicking about the race and not getting up in time.

Sarah Sawyer and Tom Sawyer with your band of merry volunteers at Botolphs. The greeting from Sarah was so lovely and her excited chatter made sure that everyone remained positive and energised. Best manual timer and greeter ever! Thanks so much!

Alzbeta Benn for the sweaty hug (my sweat not yours!) at Ditchling Beacon.

Karen Grieves at various points along the way. You rock!

Bev Navesey and Steve Navesey who ferried us back and forth from the hotel to the start line – both on friday night to register and also in the morning. You guys are epic. Thanks so much. Was great to see you along the course too. Next time I see you – the coffee and cake is on me!

One of the nameless crew (now identified as Mike Churchyard ) who on noticing I was having a 2 minute kip on the floor at Ditchling Beacon offered me a seat in his car instead. Perfect! Thanks so much for that.

Liam Gibson – who popped up in so many places and provided some much needed cheer as I struggled on through the race.

Stuart March for photographs (of course) and many high – fives along the course.

Nici Griffin and James Elson and the rest of the centurion team for putting the race on. You guys rock!

Mimi Anderson for coaching advice as usual.

And so many messages of support from my friends.

Learning Points:

  • My feet are fine. No blisters. Nothing. All perfect. Same as on TP100. My decision to buy up all the remaining supply of Pearl Izumi N3 in size 10.5 is clearly the right decision!
  • I was originally going for sub 24 hours. But pushed and pushed all the way even when it became very much on the line. I know that people give up in the head when targets like this go. I don’t let it happen. I pushed. When 24 hours passed, I changed my target to 25 hours and despite running the last 2 miles solidly I only missed by 1 minute 1 second 🙂
  • Knowing the route was great. No navigation errors and I knew when it was easier to push the pace, and when to not stress it. I had recce’d most of the section between Botolph’s at 61 miles to Alfriston at 92 miles.
  • I hiked the ups, and ran the flats and downhills. I jogged the slight inclines. Seemed to work reasonably well.
  • Those bloody hills towards the end are nasty!

Thames Path 100 2017 – race report

It is fair to say that I wasn’t sure what would happen at Thames Path 100. Apologies in advance for a lengthy post!

I had a spreadsheet. Three pacing scenarios (1. Everything is out of this world (22hrs). 2. Great (24hrs). 3. Horror Show (28hrs). But I had no idea which one would play out.

This is the first 100 miler I have done any specific training for rather than my “turn up and grind it out” approach that I took to both SDW100 (2015) and Autumn100 (2016) both of which I finished within the final hour allowed by the races.

I was lucky to stare a hotel room with Dan Park – which meant that instead of worrying about the next day, it was a total blast having chit chat about the race and various other stuff. It also meant that I didn’t have to worry as much about getting up in time (what’s the chance that we would both miss our multitude of alarms?).

Caught up at the start with some friends – many of who are Centurion 100 regulars – Sarah Sawyer, Andy Bain, Dan Park, Joanna Turner and some new to the events Paul Commons and Louise Tidbury – plus others.

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With Paul Commons (L) at the start of TP100

After the race briefing we were off. I knew from volunteering last year that the distance has “bonus miles” so knew to treat distances as approximate between aid stations.

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The first 22 miles were great. I started off comfortable pace and found myself knocking out 9:30 – 10:30 minute / miles. Keeping things relaxed and chilled and knowing that many people would make the mistake of going out hard and fast either by design or accident. Met with Kate Scott at aid station 2 (Wraysbury) and went in and out and didn’t mess around too much. Thanks Kate and kids for the amazing cupcake! And sorry about the sweaty hugs!

Another highlight was not far from Dorney rowing lake when I bumped into Zoe Norman who gave me a much needed hug and some percy pigs wrapped inside a napkin. Thanks so much for the lovely message inside, which I read later on during the race. So lovely and thoughtful.

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By mile 30 – I was having major stomach issues. This is something that besets me everytime I run alongside water – canals, rivers, (but never so far along the coast!). Luckily there were toilets which I was able to use at aid station 3. I spent around 15 minutes here. But I felt much better afterwards.

During mile 30-40 I suffered badly with things digging in my back from my racepack. I stopped a million times to adjust things, but nothing helped. I was really annoyed because I had tested this out during a couple of training runs and thought I had a way of avoiding these problems. I spotted Karen Grieves, Paul Pickford and Lee Kelly on a section along the river through a town (which one – who knows!)

During some of the miles in the mid 40’s I had what felt like an awful race ending experience. Everytime I tried to run, my calves cramped and spasmed. ARGH! so painful and I imagined every time ending in a heap on the ground. I ended up walking 3 miles at some frankly hideous minute / mile pace. I pleaded with any runner who ran past me to spare me an S-cap – salt tablet. Thankfully a lovely lady gave me two. I was so thankful – but sadly didn’t note her name or number. After a mile or so, I was running again. No idea whether those things work, or whether all in the head, but I will take either!

I put in some decent miles up to Henley aid station (51 – ish – I was already on 53 on my watch). I was so pleased to pick up my pacer Paul Pickford. Paul make sure I didn’t piss around. I changed my top for a long sleeve merino one, drank my specially requested bottle of “fruity, non-gassy, drink”, and put my headtorch on (with the knowledge that I would need it before Reading aid station).

Off I went. It was great to have Paul along with me. By half way in a race I always want to chat with a friend of my choosing. I am the ultimate in antisocial runner (sorry to anyone I ignored in the first half because I was listening to music).

Reading aid station passed by – and then from that point I knew the section from A100. Running when I could. Taking walking breaks when I wanted to. I found having a little stretch out of the quads and calves helped everytime I got started on a run.

Feels of doom on the way to Whitchurch went much faster than during A100. I boomed along. Came across a yarn bridge !! Into the aid station around 67-69 miles. Didn’t mess around. Coffee. Then I had my first diva request that my apple was cut into pieces ha ha !

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I walked out of the aid station. Walked the steep incline, and then managed to crank out some decent pace – including on the uphill sections. We bumped into Stephen Turner and had a bit of a chat. This was a beautiful section of tarmac followed by trail. We managed to overtake a few runners here. I knew the route from A100 – which helped because I knew where to put down the pace and where to take it easy. Soon enough we were in Streatley. No messing around. In and out of the aid station – seeing Fiona McNelis and Lee Scott at the aid station. Lovely salty potatoes too!

From Streatley to Wallingford (73 – 80 odd) – I knew it was simply a case of knocking out a short ultra to the end with just over 30 miles to go. I knew the next section fairly well, walked some, ran some. Before we knew it we were at the Wallingford aid station. We had also picked up another runner who was tagging along. Happy to stick with us and pick up the pace when we did.

The next section was the worst (up to 85-87 miles) Through the dead of night to Clifton Hampden. OMG those fields go on forever! And my feet were protesting the undulations and lumpiness of those fields. I was starting to have sense of humour failure. We finally reached the aid station. Saw Lee Kelly doing the manual timings. Tried the loo again. Nothing much going on which was hugely frustrating!! ARGH!

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Then this next section I knew fairly well because I paced Paul Pickford here last year to the end. I knew where the easy bits were…. the hard bits and roughly the aid station locations. Ground out some decent pace on sections (Paul noted I was doing 9:30 / minute miles (albeit only for quarter of a mile) at a few points). By this point, I was being caught by some other runners but then played cat and mouse.

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with my pacer – Paul Pickford (L)

Abingdon aid station (93ish miles) was a flash….. grabbed some grapes and I was out of the aid station before Paul could even fill his water. I was on a mission.

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I ran where I could. Walked some sections. Finally made it to the final aid station before the finish. I knew from last year that the distance was around 4.5-5 miles from the aid station at Lower Radley (95-98 miles). I gave my number without even stopping. I flew through the aid station.

This next section I was keen to put the pace on a bit. I shared with Paul Pickford that Dan Park had confidently predicted I would finish in 22hr 35minutes and that I had laughed at him. Paul said “Dan might be spot on!”. So, off I went. Running where I could. Walking the rest. I did trip over a couple of occasions and walking afterwards for fear of ballsing up the race.

Finally, we were on a good section of towpath along the (by now narrow River Thames). I ran for a mile or so and then decided to take a walk break. Had a bit of a jog along when the fancy took me.

Soon, we were at a couple of places I really recognised from last year where previously supporters had been offering congratulations. Soon we saw Kat Miller who shouted “Come on…. get a wriggle on, your missus is at the finish line”.

So, a jog I did….. then when I saw the blue inflatable finish line I put on some pace….. I squeezed through the gap in the railings and I somehow found some power. I laid it all out knowing there was about 100 metres maximum….

then rounded the corner towards the finish line gantry…..

then “OMG Phil – someone is sprinting you down!!!!”

FUCK – I progressively throw everything I had at this…. I am not competitive but I was buggered if I wanted the embarrassment of being pipped at the finish line. LOL.

Thankfully I came across the line first. And then dumped myself in a heap on the ground!

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22 hours 26 minutes. In fact – 9 minutes faster than he confidently predicted!  

Here is the Strava Link

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Thanks to my lovely and amazing wife Susan Bradburn for being at the end waiting for me with a bottle of Erdinger Alcohol Free for both me and Paul Pickford.

Samantha Mills for being a total bloody star for bringing Susie down to the finish and for driving us back home. Lee Kelly for helping place my pacer Paul Pickford.

Centurion Running for organising such a great event – and the volunteers who make it so special!

Mimi Anderson for fab coaching advice. You’ve helped me transform my running.

and how could I miss Paul Pickford for being the best #gatewanker ever! who beasted the shit out of me for 50 odd miles. I hope to return the favour at GUCR. You were epic mate. The best pacer ever!

So, that’s my first sub 24 100 mile finish. Over the bloody moon! I actually felt a bit tearful at the end that I had not only done it – but the time had 22 in front of it! And 66th out of 297 starters.

Great start to Centurion Grandslam – now just SDW100, NDW100 and Autumn100 to make a good fist of 🙂

Sorry if I have missed anyone – I haven’t slept since Friday night! 🙂

What I learned:

  1. Not pissing around at aid stations works for me
  2. I wore Pearl Izumi N3 roads for the race – which was totally the right choice
  3. Paul Pickford is an awesome pacer
  4. Another race when I have stomach issues running along a water course.
  5. Training actually works 🙂
  6. My friends are amazing (I knew that already!)
  7. My socks worked – Steigen ones with body glide also on my feet. No blisters. Wow. First time that has happened on a 100 miler
  8. My fenix 5X battery only lasted 15 hours before I had to charge it. (YIKES!)
  9. Getting some running done at night for as long as I fancied at a time was great.
  10. Running comfortable pace was perfect. That’s how I started and finished.
  11. Got to make better efforts to stop things sticking in my back in my race pack.
  12. Somehow I still had go in my legs at the end! How else could I sprint finish?!
  13. My Petzl NAO+ lasted on the lowest reactive setting pretty much all night (8:30pm – 5ish am). On one battery!
  14. Remember to work out how you will get home from the race finish before the last few days before the race!

 

5 Mysteries of running and jogging 

There are no greater mysteries than these in Phil’s world of running. 

1. Rest days. Whatever else I do during the week, even thinking about running on Monday and Thursday feels deeply strange. (These are my rest days during the week – and have been with very exceptions back for almost a year). 

2. Pace.I only ever run a certain pace with my running club. If I don’t run with them, I feel I cannot even make that pace. Even though of course I can. Just as well that I only need to train at that pace once a week and I don’t race that pace. 

3. Injuries. Why people run injured. If you’re injured then don’t run. Simple isn’t it? No…. not really. I don’t always take this advice even though I find it really annoying when I see people in various states of being bandaged up to eke out last spring mara training runs.

4. Personal space while jogging. I like my personal space while jogging in London. Others don’t seem to always agree. I am clearly in a minority. For instance, I regularly have other runners who draft along behind me. The mystery is why? I don’t run my runcommute fast – it is easy paced jog. Maybe it is because I blugdeon the air out of the way and they want to take advantage of that phenomenon?

5. Cake. Apparently everyone at work thinks I have a cake obsession. I have NOOOOOOO idea, no, none, absolutely no idea, why they would EVER think that 😉 

What gets your goat? 

What running oddities plague you?

Recognise any of my flaws?

“Go! An inspirational guide to getting outside and challenging yourself”. Book Review and competition to win a copy.

Having bought and loved reading Tobias Mews’ previous book – “50 races to run before you die” I was excited to receive for review a copy of his new book:

Go! An inspirational guide to getting outside and challenging yourself“. 

I wondered what to expect when I delved in to the tome. I had a brief flick through when I got home late one night. It is a reassuringly heavy and beautiful book with lots of lovely pictures – and more importantly some great ideas for new running adventures. 

My eyes were drawn to a couple of pages as I flicked through. “Race the Commute” sounded intriguing – and looks like a play on the race the train race. 

It was no lazy replica, Tobias suggests other forms of public transport – such as the Thames Clipper service (which runs with a timetabled service along the river in London). As a frequent runcommuter – this sounds like something that could add a bit of zazz to my usual route. He gives an example of running from Putney to Blackfriars – a 6.6 mile route – 44 minutes. Of course, I couldn’t do that kind of pace, but it just an example. 

Another one is “Peak to Peak” which is tagged with “create a running route that connects prominent high points”. 

This is a little like the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District but can be adapted for urban areas or lovely bits of countryside. The idea simple is to find the highest points in the area and run between all of the “peaks” and end up back at your starting point. The few pages devoted to this showed some lovely photos of beautiful hilly lushness with Tobias picking his way through craggy rocks. 

I noticed a couple of runs that I had done already – the “nohtaraM ehT” – which is the London Marathon route in reverse (check out my blog post about that) and the “Monopoly Marathon” which involves running around London landmarks with a set of dice 🙂 (I did that in 2015 – and it was a blast).

How the book is organised.

The book is divided into three main sections “Midweek madness” – I mean, silliness doesn’t have to wait until the weekend right? “Wacky weekends” – which involves some clearly fun and slightly bonkers adventures that you just couldn’t do in a spare couple of hours. The final category is “Long Term Burners” which take much longer or can be done over a prolonged period of time.

The challenges

Each of the challenges has a difficulty rating, a preparation time estimate, an estimate of how long it should take. Alongside that, pictures and list of essential kit (sometimes smartphone, sometimes dice, sometimes backpack and gps watch) as well as a couple of “rules” along with a longer description of how to go about putting together the challenge. 

The book is kind of a beautiful combination of a baking recipes, with a book of party games, and a book about running. I don’t know about you, but that does it for me!!

I am looking forward to having a go at some of these fun challenges with some running buddies. Let me know if you have done any #GoRaceItYourself

Check out my twitter feed for a competition to win one of two copies of this brilliant book. Simply follow @donealready and retweet for a chance of winning a copy. #giveaway closes at midnight on 17 April 2017.

Photo credits: James Carnegie


Cookiethon (50km)- beating the Cookie Monster :-) Race report

“How long will it take me to finish the rest of this race?”
That is what was going around my head on the 7th and final lap of the 50km race that I completed in March 2017.

It wasn’t a thought that I was expecting to deal with and it came a couple of hours after I was doubled over with stomach cramps and expecting that my entire insides were about to evacuate themselves through a tiny hole.

The route was around 4.5 miles and made up of good quality fire roads through the woods. There were a few hills as well. Basically, the first mile was down hill, and then the rest of it was up with plateaus. What a beautiful route to run – and I couldn’t believe that I was going to enjoy the route 6 more times before I could finish and stuff my big mouth full of cookies.

Yes, I started off well, I knew I was close to the front of the pack and in the first few miles I was absolutely tanking along. This is unusual for me. Tanking along…. And being close to the front of the pack. It is a novelty and I was loving it. 

I felt particularly smiley, and everything was going great. I was still buzzing after a 3h44 marathon on mixed terrain a few weeks ago. I knew I couldn’t be that fast, but I was approaching this race in a similar mindset – long marathon (rather than a short ultra).

On the first lap, about half way through I ran some of it with a chap called Chris. He was running to raise money for a charity dealing with the kind of heart problem that he had been diagnosed with. It was lovely to catch up with him and find out more about what was motivating him to run. He planned to run 13 miles that day – and he was certainly running well.

I finished the first lap, headed up the steepest part of the course into the aid station. Grabbed a couple of jelly babies, a drink, and then straight back out. I don’t hang around at aid stations. On longer ultras they can be an absolutely killer and force you close to cut-off times.

I don’t remember much of the second lap, but on the third lap – at around 10 miles into the race my stomach knotted and I had the overwhelming desire to lie down in the bushes and curl up in pain. My stomach was cramping and I was 99% sure this would be a disaster. I was part way through a lap, no obvious materials to use to make good the mess I felt sure that I was about to make, and not only that, but the area was pretty open.

After a quick wee, the pressure relieved somewhat, and I felt about to complete that lap before making a mad dash to the portaloo. 5 minutes later all was right with the world but I decided to take some toilet paper with me as a precaution.

The fourth lap went ok – but I was starting to feel the uphills sections were playing with my piriformis and sciatic nerve. I took them easy, and made up the time on the other sections. The fifth, sixth and final seventh lap mostly involved walking much of the hill sections. At the end of those laps I was treated to seeing my friends – Paul Commons and Samantha Mills – and my Wife Susie (who completed 4 laps (18 miles) before stopping with an injury. Every time I saw Sam she was singing “Let me be your hero”. That lightened my mood a bit – as did saying hi and shouting encouragement towards the other runners during each lap.

On the final lap, I ran part of it with a lady called Vicky – she was planning some crazy adventure to the Himalayas later on in the year. Chit chat with her made the last lap go much faster than it could have done (my mile splits were shockingly slow!), and with a mile to go I pushed on a bit. I felt dehydrated and the usual field tests suggested I was right.

I was so pleased to finish. Grabbed the bell. Rang it like a crazy man. Phew. Thank goodness.
Only later I found out that I finished first. Furthest distance and fastest time. 31 miles, around 3,000ft ascent, 5 hours 16 minutes and 24 seconds. I doubt I will ever head the results table ever again (I got a little badge for my medal ribbon – and it made me extraordinarily happy!)

The benefit of a very very very small field for a highly untalented but determined jogger who puts lots of effort into training. http://www.saxon-shore.com/results/cookiethon.html

Next up – Thames Path 100 mile race – and then the final three 100 milers as part of the centurion grandslam.

My kit:

  • Merino t-shirt from Decathlon
  • Kalenji Elio Feel Trail shoes
  • Steigen cherry red socks
  • Kalenji compression shorts
  • More Mile 5 inch shorts
  • Kalenji arm warmers
  • Compressport compression calf sleeves

 

Gothic Challenge (Marathon) report #ProjectGrandSlam and a PB for me

“I’m nervous – more nervous that when I do a parkrun…. OMG!!!!!!”

That was me on 12 february. What was I doing? Why was I so nervous? After all, it was “only” a marathon and I have run further before – as my friends kept telling me. But this was a race that would give me a sense of how my training was going in the lead up to Centurion Grandslam 100mi (x4) between April and October.

So as it was, I was getting messages from friends trying to reassure me that I was going to be ok. At the same time, I wasn’t letting slip what target I had in mind for the marathon. (I don’t mind sharing now that I was planning to keep to around 8:30 minute / mile pace for the marathon.

I laid out my kit the night before. What struck me is that I had very clearly forgotten something, because I didn’t have the kitchen sink! I am used to doing ultras which have long mandatory kit lists. But this one, all that was required was to turn up with clothes on and run!

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The race was called the Gothic Challenge. My plan was to do a marathon and to keep it just slightly uncomfortable but not to go flat out because that would mess up my training for weeks if I ran too hard.

Susie was running too and we turned up plenty early enough to get a coffee nearby. I find drinking a latte takes away any hunger pangs and the caffeine gives a little boost too.

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We picked up our race numbers and clip cards (to record the laps) from the organisers. Saxon Viking Norman organise these events – and they are friendly, laidback, great medals and goody bags and are very local to us in Kent.

The sun was getting stronger and despite it being cold stood waiting, I decided that I would run in shorts, t-shirt, arm sleeves (that I could take off), and no gloves. I figured correctly that I would start to feel warm after the first mile or so.

Soon we were ready for the race briefing. As ever – all I heard was blah blah…. I am not very good at listening when I am nervous, and all I heard was second bridge. Either way, I would be following people (I’m not so fast!) so would be unlikely to get lost.

This is the medal I would be running for….

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3….2……1………. go!

And off we went, I quickly found myself caught up in the excitement with only about 10 people streaming out in front of me. I ran a few miles at what felt an easy pace (compared to flat out at Serpentine 7 mi on Wednesday night (which I run at 7:30/mi) and parkrun (which I run at 7:15/mi). I decided to rein in the pace before I regretted it later. So I aimed for 8:30/mi as it felt reasonably comfortable, but that I was pressing on.

We ran along loose gravel – high quality trail, over a couple of bridges, down a little rutted/rocky path and then onto trail path down the side of a quiet road, up to a turn around point, and then back to the HQ. The good news was that from the turn around point, it was pretty much downhill and that made for some decent mile splits. I quickly realised that to get 8:30/mi average I would have to take full advantage of the downhill sections because of the undulating trail sections.

Soon I was back at HQ, and the aid station. I decided that I would visit the aid station on every other lap to save time and hassle, so I pressed on. By 4 miles in I was fully into my stride and feeling good.

The miles and laps breezed by. I felt good. The uphill sections were becoming harder going, but I kept up my momentum. The downhill sections felt fine and I was able to press on at around 8 min/mile pace. I was loving it. I was so happy it was feeling good, and I was smiling and waving at everyone I ran past (in both directions – because it was more or less an out and back course).

At the mid point of lap 5 I started to feel a dip in energy (that would be around 18 miles) and I realised I should have taken a few more jelly babies ( I had been eating 4 each time I went to the aid station) and I promised myself that I would scoop some up at the end of lap 5 and 6 before the final lap.

When I came into the aid station I was excited to find some cups of shandy! YAY! I took one on lap 5 and 6 and loved it! It gave me a real spring in my step and I found that I had been able to start catching some of the runners that had been consistently ahead of me. It was a great atmosphere – we were all willing each other on, smiling, waving and shouting words of encouragement at each other.

Finally, on the last lap I saw Lisa – the leading lady already on her return section and mere minutes from the finish. I wished her luck and I carried on with what felt like a lovely victory lap. I ran up to the turnaround point, and from there I felt home and dry. Just short of 2 miles, mostly downhill, and the opportunity to give it almost everything I had to get a decent time.

My previous PB was 3:50:09 – set at Edinburgh in 2011 (a flat road course which I did 6 years earlier!). I knew I was close to reaching it. But the time was ticking away. My watch showed 3:40 something…… and I was still half a mile from the end. I gave it more. I flew past a chap who had been in front of me all the way, we exchanged congratulations and I put my head down and charged up the final short little slope into the car park.

The finish line in sight……

I screamed “Get the stop watch ready………. Get the bell ready for me to ring!!!!!!!!”

I ran to the end. Looked at my watch…..

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3:44:49 – A PB! Holy moly – a PB by over 5 minutes.

I clanged the bell with all my remaining energy and discovered that I was fourth marathon finisher and third male!

The first time that has ever happened. It felt great. Ok, of course I was blessed with a fairly small field (maybe a 100 runners?) and no elites – but hey – I am happy!

I got my bottle of beer opened (amazing goody bag by the way) and chilled out and looked at my medal (there is always a tank embossed in the medal and it is fun to try and find – took me about 7 hours!).

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Susie was at the end – she did 5 laps (19 miles) and I soon saw Paul Commons who was just out for his final lap. We waited around for him and enjoyed a coffee afterwards at the cyclopark café.

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Brilliant event. Marvellous training. Fantastically friendly and well organised. You can see from the graph below that I kept it pretty consistent in terms of the pace (taking into account the lumps in the route!)

paceanalysis

Next race is Cookiethon on 6 March 2017. All good training ahead of Centurion Grandslam 100 during the summer.

Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/864972860

Download Racecalc – pacing your race and checkpoints – including Ultras

When I was planning my race strategy for Autumn 100, in 2016, I set up a spreadsheet which would calculate for me when I would be at the various checkpoints based on my assumptions about pace during each section – (some of which was based on experience of recceing parts of the route, and the inevitable slow down during the dark hours).

I’m sharing the spreadsheet with you so you can edit it for your own purposes. I have included a screenshot below so you can see what you are getting yourself into.

All the pale yellow/beige bits (i.e. column 1 – 4, plus 7) can be edited. The other columns are automatically calculated. If you fuck around with those, then it won’t work as planned.

screenshot-2017-01-02-at-16-33-28

  1. Download RaceCalc.
  2. Read the instructions (and caveats).
  3. Have a play.
  4. Don’t blame me if your race doesn’t go to plan!

If you notice any gremlins – please let me know! All feedback appreciated. Unless you are being a bellend – in which case I will ignore you!

Phil

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