Dusk ’til Dawn marathon

My intention for the Dusk ’til Dawn event this year was to have another crack at the ultra distance (50 miles). I’ve been on the start line for this event three times already. First in 2013 when I won a place through Operation Ultra in Women’s Running Magazine. Next in 2014 when I returned with friends Kev, Tracey and Tom. Finally in 2015 when Tom and I returned to attempt the distance (with friends also running ahead). The 2016 event fell a few weeks after I first came home from hospital after having Oscar, then the event didn’t take place last year and here we are, already in 2018…

Although I knew that a half marathon and marathon event were now also on offer alongside the ultra distance, I really wanted to prove that I was able to complete the 50 mile ultra event within the time allowance.  The race is called ‘Dusk ’til Dawn’ due to it’s start time coinciding with nightfall on the Saturday night and the cut-off for the event at the point the sun rises the following morning.  As Richard, the Race Director’s Father had sadly passed away this year, the race began one hour before dusk, to be known as ‘Eddie’s hour’.  The extra hour was another reason I felt like I was meant to enter the ultra distance this year.

However, when I first entered the event months ago, Tom had also signed up for the ultra and we had planned to run it together.  I had fully intended on completing my 100 mile ultra journey at the South Downs Way 100 in June earlier in the year.  I hadn’t planned on stopping at mile 78 of the SDW, continuing to train and then eventually completing my 100 mile event three months later in the middle of September, just six weeks before the 50 mile Dusk ’til Dawn ultramarathon.

My feet hadn’t fully recovered from the 100 by the time the week of Dusk ’til Dawn arrived, and Tom also informed me that he would be pulling from the event due to injury/lack of training/a house move.  With five other runners from my club running the marathon event I decided to make the switch down to the marathon distance and knew that this was the sensible choice, although one day I will be back to prove myself at the 50 miles!

I hadn’t had the best week leading up to the marathon.  That Wednesday afternoon Oscar had been incredibly grouchy and tearful when we returned from the baby group in town.  He refused most of his tea, asked for a glass of warm milk and disappeared to bed very early in the evening.  I put it down to being overtired, but he was back up and crying for me by 9pm with bright red cheeks and a very high fever.  He wanted to do nothing but lay on my chest and cuddle.  He had a hacking cough which developed further over the next few days and despite maximum doses of Calpol that evening his temperature never stayed down for long.  Needless to say, the next few days were spent with Oscar laying across me feeling rather sorry for himself on the sofa downstairs.  By Friday afternoon I was still relying on Calpol to get his temperature down.  The bottle states that a child shouldn’t be taking maximum doses of Calpol for more than 3 days in a row, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a doctor appointment for him over the weekend if his temperature remained high by the following day.  So I booked him a last minute appointment at the doctors in town for Friday afternoon.  Once seen by our doctor, he was referred straight to Kettering hospital with suspected pneumonia.  A quick google on my way to hospital revealed some alarming pneumonia facts, but also cleared up for me that he had most likely caught it from another child, rather than just gotten cold because I had let him run around in the garden without his coat on.  Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and after being observed in hospital Oscar was sent home with a course of antibiotics to take which cleared things up really quickly.  It was rather worrying when we were first referred though.

Dan was home all day on the Saturday so could take over from me as head rest and medicine-giver for Oscar.  I needed to get out of the house after spending the last two and a half days cooped up on the sofa.  Packing for the race was done last minute and I was rather blase about the whole thing.  Meh, it’s just a marathon, right?…Turns out I ended up missing the printed instructions from the list of race essential equipment, so had to borrow a set from a friend when we arrived.

The weather was pretty rubbish the whole journey over.  The windscreen wipers were on most of the time and we knew it was due to be pretty cold that night.  Lots of layers were absolutely necessary!

The race is known for the ‘Grim Sweeper’ who runs at the back of the pack, picking off runners who don’t make the cut-offs in time.  I’ve met the sweeper once before, back in 2013 when I ran with Charlie Sharpe, the sweeper for that race, having won the event the year before.  Rather fitting that the sweeper head was covering the defibrillator as we lined up for our race briefing before setting off!

Dusk 'til Dawn Grim Sweeper head

I was in two minds whether to run alone or as part of the group, but in the end the six of us from Wellingborough ran together and I realised how much I missed being out there running long distances with friends!  Having not run the marathon course before (or read the directions for the marathon distance beforehand, initially thinking that I would be running the ultra) it was probably for the best that I stayed part of the group anyway to be honest!

Dusk 'til Dawn starting photo

We nearly missed the start, leaving it to the last possible minute to sneak back to our cars to change out of jeans, boots and oversized hoodies and into our running gear for the night.  The six of us were casually waltzing over to the start line, my phone in hand – getting ready for a pre-race club photo when we realised that the countdown to the start had already begun!  As everybody crossed the line for the start of the race I was still busy trying to zip away my phone and pull the headtorch from my bag for the run!

Even then, we had gone more than half a mile when Gary turned back, declaring that he thought he had probably left his headtorch in the boot of his car as he had just realised it wasn’t on his head!  What an organised bunch we were!

The first few miles of the course were the same as the start of the ultra route and I recognised long sections of the trail.  There are some tough, technical climbs (and descents) on the course.  I am fairly confident at picking my way up steep, rocky ascents.  I don’t have quite so much confidence with my downhill running but I have definitely improved since the first year I headed over to the Peak District for the race.

Because we had the extra hour this year, it meant we were running in daylight for the first few climbs and got a chance to appreciate our view.  As I waited for others in our little group to navigate to the top of the climbs I pulled out my camera for a few photos.

Dusk 'til Dawn hills

Dusk 'til Dawn hills

Dusk 'til Dawn hillsYou can see the extent of the climbs we were making.  The above photo is the majority of the way up the first big hill.  You can see the drop in the distance to the left of the photo.

IMG_20181027_172632Some sections were more technical than others.  This first climb wasn’t too bad, but later climbs involved more careful placing of feet on the rocks that were jutting out.  I worried that the rocks would be slippy from the rain we’d had earlier in the day but they ended up not being too bad.

Dusk 'til Dawn hillsThe sunset was a really pretty one from so high up.

Dusk 'til Dawn sunsetAfter that we just trotted around the remaining miles.  Strava tells me I ran 26.56 miles in total, so fairly accurate for a trail marathon distance!

I recognised the point where my parents and Dan had sat on the side of the road in a car at the first checkpoint (now several miles into the course) back in 2013.  I had been the last person to come into that checkpoint then, but not the last to leave and I started picking other runners off from that point back then.  It felt like so long ago!

Navigation was fairly straight forward this year.  Gary had run some of the ultra course in 2015 and Kev had run some of the ultra course back in 2014, so between us we barely needed to check directions for which way to go, although took along paper instructions with us just in case.  Gary had run the marathon course with Tom back at the 2016 event, which was held just a few weeks after I had Oscar, so Gary was fairly confident in how to navigate the marathon course once we turned off for the shorter distance.

I didn’t enjoy the race as much from the point we split off from the ultra route.  The majority of the marathon route was run along roads, whereas the ultra had been almost entirely on the trails.  The roads on the marathon course were fairly flat and long and runnable and not what I had expected having run the majority of the ultra route before. I like the challenge of technical terrain!

There was a really eerie section along an old railway line where we ran through a couple of large tunnels.  I ran in the middle of the pack here, with some runners from our group speeding off ahead and some falling behind.  Everybody’s voices were echoing all around the tunnel as we ran and it made it really hard to locate whether someone was ahead of you or behind.  I was glad to be running with the others as we ran through this section, and I was very glad when we turned off and began our next climb!

There was another really eerie section where we ran alongside a field of sheep…or the field of red eyes, as the sheep all clustered into the corner nearest to the path.  As our headtorches reflected on their eyes they glowed red like demons.

I didn’t really eat much out on the course, choosing just to pick at a couple of bits on offer at the checkpoints.  We weren’t moving particularly fast and I didn’t feel like my body needed any more to keep it going so I kept my snacks in my bag for the race.

The last mile or so was run all on road.  Gary ran ahead to beat us to the finish, but the rest of us all trotted over the line together and headed into the hall for hot drinks and pasties.  That cheese and onion pasty and hot tea at the finish were the best things I’ve been handed at a finish line for a long while!  It had been super cold out there on the hills, and at any point we had stopped we all really began to feel the chill.  We were all ready for something warm at the end!

I changed back into my boots, jeans and a hoodie fairly quickly afterwards, babywiping as much mud from my legs as I could spot in the toilets!  The medal is a nice one.

Dusk 'til Dawn marathon medal

Official time: 7h 18m 57s
Position: 13/20
Gender position: 4/7

I traveled back from the race with Gary, who has heated seats in his car.  I had those seats heated to the max for the whole journey home to warm up!

Have you run a race at night before?
What was the nicest food you received at the finish of a race?

 

Squeaky Bone Relay race

The Squeaky Bone Relay is an event really well attended by members of my running club every year.

Hosted by Olney Runners, the event is a four-person off-road relay with each legs of either 3.5 or 2.3miles and usually falls in October, having always clashed with other things in my calendar, so I’ve never been able to attend before.

This year though for whatever reason, the race fell at the end of September and I was so excited to be running on a team with Tom, Steph and Laura.

Squeaky Bone relay race

It was my first hard run back after running the Robin Hood 100 two weeks earlier, and only my fourth run since I’d finished the ultra.  I wasn’t too hopeful of winning any prizes and made sure the others weren’t expecting miracles too!

Although I was the Team Captain for our group, having signed us up for the 3.5 mile option online, I hadn’t realised the order I put us onto the system when signing up was the order we would be required to run in on the day, otherwise I would never have put myself first!  The running order went Me, Tom, Steph and then Laura last.  At least my leg would be over and done with and then I would be able to enjoy a hot drink when I finished while I waited for the others to run their section!

We arrived fairly early in order to collect our race numbers and baton, complete with squeaky dog toy attached!  It was rather chilly hanging around in the shade at the start, although I was glad that I’d chosen to wear a t-shirt when we did begin running as the sun out on the course made it really warm out there.

We started with a bang, and my first mile came in at 8m 47s.  The elevation was fairly flat for the majority of the course, with just a small rutted section at the beginning alongside the car parking area.  The route was a nice one though – around the edges of fields and through a small wood.  Other than that first small section, the rest of the ground was fairly solid without any uneven bits which made for easy going.

My second mile remained under 9mm pace, but I started to slow down after that.  Although physically I seemed to have recovered from the ultra I had found during my runs since that my body wouldn’t maintain the same pace for as long as it had been doing prior to running the 100 and I would tire as a run went on.

At the end of each leg, the course ran onto the edge of the field where the handover took place and up to the top of the field before turning, running underneath the finish gantry and towards the next member of your team for handover.  I did have a small panic when I couldn’t spot Tom on my approach but as I crossed the line ready for handover, he seemed to step across from nowhere to grab the baton (with squeaky bone attached!) from me and continue the relay for leg number two.

Squeaky Bone relay race

(Photo shared on the Squeaky Bone Relay Facebook page).

We were the Wellingborough Warriors and ended up coming 65th out of 122 teams running the 3.5 mile distance.  (Which we all clocked at around 3.6 miles(!) )

Our splits were as follows:
Me – 33m 18s (65th pos)
Tom – 30m 13s (66th pos)
Steph – 29m 41s (59th pos)
Laura – 30m 42s (65th pos)

Which gave us a total time of 2h 3m 54s.  We’d estimated that we would probably take about 2 hours to complete the event, so we weren’t far off our estimation!

Squeaky Bone relay race

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the event and will definitely be looking to give it another go again next year!

Have you run any relay events before?

I ran 100 miles! (Part 2)

(You can find part one of my Robin Hood 100 mile recap here.)

As I left the aid station at mile 30 Dan told me that he planned on heading back to John and Lynn’s house and would be back out in the morning with Oscar to find me on the course.  The trackers during the event were superb I’m told.  All the runners had been given small pager-sized devices on a strong velcro strap and told to attach them to our bags in a place that we could easily reach.  On the front of the device was a small button which, when held for several seconds would alert the Race Director that I was in danger.  Vital I imagine for those runners running on their own, especially those that made it to the canal path whilst it was still dark.  The tracking was real time, and friends and family (as well as those involved in the race organisation) could check that you were still following the correct path or that your tracking dot hadn’t remained still for too long, signalling that perhaps you had had an accident somewhere.  I was told that if either of those cases were to happen I would receive a phone call to check that I was in fact still alright, which was rather reassuring.  The tracker must have been fairly straight forward to use, as even my Dad followed my progress during the race.  Afterwards he told me how he had been concerned that my dot had stopped for too long at the final checkpoint and that I might not make it in time!

At mile 32 I arrived to a crew of Gary and Guy along with Laura.  I stopped for a few minutes here to take some food on and it was nice to have a chat with everyone.  One of the guys noticed that my shoulder looked a little sore from where my bag had been rubbing so pulled out some Glide to rub on.  It didn’t feel sore, but I did still have another 68 miles to go, so best be on the safe side!

The guys told me that Mike (the other runner from our club) was having a great race and currently sitting in 6th position which was lovely news to hear.

The next section was a bit of a low point for me.  It was 7 miles between the crew station at mile 32 and the next one at mile 39, with no aid stations in between.  I didn’t really see many runners during this section for several miles as everyone had started to spread themselves out a bit by this point.  I needed the toilet just as I came across a sign for public toilets and so ducked off the road to find them, although then had to queue along with the public.  One of the few negatives about this event was that these were the only actual toilets on route and the second time I passed them they had been locked up, so all other wees were wild ones – which always becomes progressively more of a challenge as the race goes on!

Gary, Guy and Laura had walked the half mile through the woodland to meet me at mile 39 where I sat with them on the floor for a few minutes and knocked back a chocolate milk.  I really fancied a little sit down when I met them, but I did feel a little stiff as I got going again.

All through the race I never thought of it being 100 miles.  The first big milestone for me to reach was mile 52, when I knew that James would be joining me on my run to pace me for 30 miles to mile 82.

I got a little confused as I left the aid station at mile 41.  This was an aid station at four points on the course due to the way the course was laid out.  (Miles 31, 41, 60 and 70.)  So there were people coming in and leaving in all directions and I started to follow somebody heading out on the loop I had already completed!  Luckily the marshals were on the ball and quickly called me back, sending me off in the correct direction.  That could have been a painful mistake to make!

I came across a horse and rider heading in my direction along the next tarmacked section.  They approached rather quickly but were walking as I passed.  The rider smiled at me and then without any sudden movements, the horse bolted off towards the next runner a way back behind me along the road.

Mile 47 was the next aid station and crew spot.  There was a steep descent on the way into the checkpoint which included climbing over a stile on a rocky step.  When I arrived at Gary’s car I asked if I could have one of the pasta pots I had brought along made up ready for me to have when I reached the next crew stop a little later on.  They told me that James had arrived at the crew point where he would be pacing me from and was just going to grab a quick nap before I arrived.  It was almost dusk as I went to leave the aid station and so I pulled out my headtorch ready for the next section.  It was less than a mile before I needed to turn the light on.  It seemed to turn from day to night really quickly and once again I found myself running on my own with nobody else around.  This section was a really eerie one.  I found myself running alone through thick woodland in the dark, guided only by flashes of reflective tape blowing in the wind as my headtorch caught the edges with it’s beam.  There were a lot of noises in the woods.  I could hear owls and rustling and I did feel rather vulnerable – very grateful of the fact that James would soon be running alongside me from the next aid station.  I had really freaked myself out by mile 50 and the last two miles before the aid station were run at pace just to shorten the time I would be spending running alone!  My Garmin tells me that I was running at 8:40mm pace for a little while there!

I had estimated that it would take me somewhere around 12 hours – 12 hours 30 mins to reach mile 50 and I glanced at my watch to see that it had taken about 12 hours and 15 minutes, although somehow it felt like I had only been out running for a couple of hours.

I sped into the aid station at mile 52 to see Laura and James waiting for me to arrive.  A volunteer told me that chips had just arrived at the aid station and so I sent Laura to grab me a handful.  Up until this point I had just been knocking back picnic type foods, so I was very grateful for the piping hot chips and was glad that I had requested my pasta pot to be ready by the time I reached the next crew station so that I could have a real meal.

I said goodbye to Laura who was returning home from here to continue tracking me on the website.  I grabbed a cup of sugary tea here too and I definitely noticed the boost it gave me.  I left still carrying my tea and James and I walked half a mile or so whilst I finished my drink.  I explained to James that I was still running large sections but that I was also now speed walking parts of every mile, – taking each section as it came.  The only real pressure in the back of my mind being that I needed to cover the ground at 18 minute mile pace on average (including all stops).  Up until this point I had only had one mile which had come over this pace, which had included a stop to see my crew at mile 41.  My walking pace is naturally fairly fast at 15-16 minute miles so it would be the need to stop at aid stations and lack of sleep which would let me down if anything.  I wasn’t too concerned with timings at this point.  I had been a long way off from cut-offs at the South Downs Way 100 in June, and although I had purposefully slowed myself down significantly at this race I still felt in control and like I would be able to speed up if needed.

Running with James was great.  It was lovely to have company after the last 52 miles of solo running.  James had taken part in running an 11 mile leg at the Round Norfolk Relay race for our club team in Norfolk that morning and then driven over to Clumber Park to pace me round 30 miles in the dark.  He filled me in on how our club team had been getting on before he left and we discussed different races we’d run or wanted to run later in the year.

Before running SDW in June I really underestimated just how much help a pacer could be in an event like this.  In future any other races over 50 miles in distance I will absolutely be planning to incorporate pacers and a crew as the people filling these two key roles made such a massive difference to my spirits and desire to achieve at the Robin Hood 100 last weekend.

I felt a little weak by the time we arrived at mile 62 so had a little lay down in the back of Gary’s car whilst Gary and Guy got my pasta pot ready.  Initially I felt like I would struggle to get the pasta down, although knew I would have to force it if that was the case.  I got no more than 7-8 pasta shells down me at mile 54 of SDW and I suffered because of it.  After a few minutes of laying in the back of the car and after eating a couple of shells I started to feel a bit better though and surprised myself by managing to finish the whole pot.  I reminded myself of a character on an old-style video game where they would eat and their health would instantly increase.  When I had arrived at the crew station I was worn down and not very perky but by the time I left I was buzzing again and back into a jog as soon as we got round the corner.  I made sure to put in an order for the second pasta pot later on that morning.

I had a dark patch at 1am on Sunday morning.  All night I tried to calculate times in my head as I ran.  For some reason I counted 1am – 2pm as 11 hours remaining instead of the 13 hours that it actually was.  I can’t remember how many miles I had left by this point, but by selling myself two hours short I knew that I would be fighting the clock the whole way.  I was so confused as I knew I had been so far ahead of the cut-offs for the first half of the race.  I didn’t understand how I could now be cutting it so fine that I might not make it.  I voiced my concerns to James (who didn’t spot my mistake either) and then grew quiet, filled with worry that something which I had not originally been concerned with at all may now pose a threat to the success of my race.  I can’t have been much fun to run with along this section!  It must have been 20-30 minutes before I finally worked out my mistake and felt instantly relieved.  Two hours is a lot of time to lose!

When James and I arrived at the aid station at mile 69 one of the marshals overheard me talking about my mix-up in sums.  He reassured me that the unofficial cut-off time at that aid station was 5:30am, and it wasn’t quite 3:10am when we arrived.  We still had plenty of time!

I stopped for quite a while at mile 76 with my crew, sat in the back of Gary’s car.  I had had what felt like a small stone rubbing in the bottom of my right trainer for the last 8-9 miles, but on removal of my sock and shoe Gary confirmed that this was now where the ridge of my sock was rubbing on the base of my foot.  It didn’t hurt, it was just irritating at this point so I got him to put my trainer back on and decided to deal with the repercussions after the race.  I enjoyed my second pasta pot – I had needed it perhaps two miles sooner than we had arrived annoyingly so once again I felt rather weak on arrival but perked up as more of the pasta disappeared.

It wasn’t long after leaving this checkpoint that my words began to slur into each other as I spoke.  I felt completely drained and knew that a five minute nap would pick me back up again.  I begged James to let me lie down on the floor and take a quick nap but instead he tried to convince me to make it to the next aid station where I would be able to sleep in the back of a car rather than the cold, hard floor.  I knew that with nearly five miles still to go before we hit the next aid station I would never make it though and eventually, as my speech got more and more indistinguishable he decided to pull out his space blanket for me to curl up on for a five minute nap.  I tried to wait patiently by the side of the path as he pulled his blanket out but he seemed to take forever and the blanket kept sticking back on itself, getting more and more tangled up.  Finally it was on the floor and then I didn’t waste any time in laying down on it for a sleep.  I can remember being amazed that I didn’t feel stiff at all getting down to the floor.  My muscles were doing really well!  I must have fallen asleep instantly and awoke what I was told was 12 minutes later to James clapping loudly next to my head to wake me up.  Dawn was starting to break by the time I woke and it was nice to be able to tuck my headtorch back away into my bag.

I was buzzing after that nap and could run long sections of the next track again.  Initially I had been concerned for taking so long out of the race to sleep, but the pay off was definitely worth those few minutes of no movement along the course.

On the approach of the next crew point I snuck off for a wild wee and James jogged ahead to meet up with Gary, Guy and also Helen who had now joined my crew again for this checkpoint following crewing Mike.  I was eager to find out how Mike was doing and was instantly concerned when the guys reluctantly told me that he was still out on the course, – that he hadn’t finished the race yet.  For someone who had planned on running 11 minute miling for the race and who had been holding 6th place when I checked at the halfway point I really hoped that something hadn’t happened to him, but I couldn’t get any more information out of my crew, who stuck to their story that he ‘hadn’t had a good time of it’.

This was the checkpoint where James left and Guy joined me for the remaining twenty miles.  I thanked James, (who was then driving back to Northamptonshire to run a half marathon later that morning!) and then filled Guy in on how my running had gone since I had seen him last.

It was only a couple of miles until the next aid station and as I ran down the hill I could see Oscar and Dan waiting for us at the bottom!

Oscar and I near the end of Robin Hood 100(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

Oscar was really excited to see me and chatted away to me about his morning.

Oscar and I near the end of Robin Hood 100(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

Oscar and I near the end of Robin Hood 100(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

I sat for a few minutes in a chair at the aid station with Dan and Oscar.  The marshals were great with Oscar and he was offered all the watermelon and sweets he could ever eat whilst I spent a few minutes getting myself together ready for the last sixteen miles.

****

I thought I might get all of my recap written in two posts this time, but it’s late now and I still have so much to write.  Part three to follow over the next couple of days…

I ran 100 miles! (Part 1)

If you don’t follow me on StravaInstagramTwitter or Facebook, then you might not yet know that I completed my big A goal for the year…I completed the Robin Hood 100 mile race last weekend.

Robin Hood 100 medal and t-shirt

I wasn’t as confident going into this event as I was at my first attempt of 100 miles back in June.  My training hadn’t been as regular or of as high quality as at the start of the year, I hadn’t completed as many long runs in the build up to race day and I was still struggling to stay on top of everything at home.  (Nothing new!)

But I wanted it.  I really wanted to complete it.  By the time race week rolled around I was just itching for it to be race day so that I could just get started and have an idea of how the race was going to go.  So much can happen on race day but I had a lot of people going out of their way to help and support me at this event.  I had no intentions on letting anybody down if I could help it.

Two weeks before race day I had signed up for a last minute place at Dunstable marathon so that I may run my final long run before race day with company, receive a medal at the end of the day and tick off another marathon towards my 100.  Only, the day before the marathon I didn’t feel 100%, and by mile two of the marathon I had grown a really bad stitch and was having to walk flat sections of the course.  I knew I wasn’t 100% and so ended up pulling after 12 miles of the marathon, initially rather disappointed in myself.  But when I struggled to drive home after my race attempt without falling asleep and then didn’t even have the energy to get up from the sofa for a glass of drink later that afternoon I absolutely knew that I’d made the right decision in choosing to withdraw from the race.

Following my failed marathon attempt I tapered sharply until the 100.  I didn’t run at all the week of the 100 in fact, which is very unlike me.  I usually like to get a couple of leg stretcher miles in a few days before a big event, but this time it felt right resting up completely in the days before.  My brother had his first baby on the Tuesday morning and so I spent a few days in Norfolk with my family and it was quite relaxing not struggling to fit running in around Oscar and traveling for a change.

Robin Hood 100 was the event I had chosen for my second attempt at 100 miles.  When I found myself pulling after 78 miles at the South Downs Way back in June I already knew that I would be continuing my training and looking for another suitable 100 mile race that I could work towards sooner rather than later in order to capitalise on all of the training I had completed that year.  Somebody who had helped to crew me at SDW dropped me a message the day after suggesting that Robin Hood would be a good race to have a second shot at the distance.  After chatting to several people, checking my calendar and weighing a few things up, it wasn’t long before I found myself filling in the registration form.  Before I even realised what was happening my one week of recovery was up and I was 13 weeks away from giving 100 miles another go!

In the build up to South Downs I had completed a marathon, a 35 mile race and a 50 mile race as well as a large number of long training runs.  In the build up to Robin Hood I had lost my drive to run long.  I’d had enough of training by then.  I was happy heading out for 6 runs a week, but apart from the runs where James (who had agreed to pace a section of the RH100 with me) came out on an early morning run with me, I didn’t get a huge amount of longer runs in.  Perhaps I lost my drive because so much of my time is already spent on my own during the week.  I’m with Oscar, but otherwise alone and when Dan comes home to take over in the evening I am either training (also usually alone) or tidying away in the areas Oscar last was!  Then when I’m working at the weekend it’s also on my own, accompanied by a podcast (definitely in need of some new material at the moment.  I’ve back-listened to all of the series I listen to and have a minimum of a nine hour shift to fill with podcasts each week!)

Having less long runs under my belt meant that I was less confident going in to the race, although I know that when it comes to ultras, often having previous experience and a strong head accounts for a lot and I very much have a strong head during long distance events.

Dan, Oscar and I had arranged to stay at a friends’ house for the weekend.  John and Lynn are two of Oscar’s Godparents and all week he had eagerly been telling everybody how he was going to stay with Mabel and Martha (Lynn’s rabbits) for the weekend!  Dan arranged to work from home on the Friday the day before the race and as Oscar is in nursery all day on a Friday I was able to pack up a suitcase for the three of us for the weekend and then also load up my kit and crew bags for the race.  Once I had collected Oscar from nursery and Dan had finished work at 5:30pm we made the drive over to Nottingham where John and Lynn had put on a ginormous spread of pizza and garlic bread for us to tuck into.  Oscar had already eaten at nursery but he also enjoyed a second tea for the evening!

All the pre-race pizza at John's house

The aim was to be in bed asleep by 9pm but that didn’t happen as we got chatting and instead I headed up to bed with Oscar about 9:30ish who luckily fell asleep fairly quickly in my arms.  Dan and I were sharing a bed with Oscar for the night but he wasn’t too wriggly, so it worked out alright!  He woke once, – around 4am when he announced he was going for a walk, scrambled down to the bottom of the bed onto the floor, then clambered back up and promptly fell asleep on the pillow again.  It wasn’t too disruptive!

My alarm went at 5:30am, as we aimed to be out of the house and on the road by 6am for the hour long journey to registration.  The race started at 8.

I nibbled on a bagel dipped in peanut butter during the journey and when we arrived I hopped out and headed straight over to registration whilst Dan fed Oscar his breakfast.  We had parked just in front of the hall where registration took place which was handy as I still had to tweak the contents of my kit and crew bags.  Registration didn’t take long at all and I was surprised not to have to participate in a kit check.  Although I guess the course isn’t one of the tougher ones and you are never that far from an aid or crew station.

100 race number

Another runner from my club, Mike, had already registered by the time I arrived.  He had also been at the South Downs in June but had taken a bad fall out on the course and damaged his ribs.  He was back to give the distance a second shot, like me.  Laura arrived not long before the briefing started, having driven over to help crew for the day.

100 Start lineI hate wearing glasses to run in but knowing that the race would take me somewhere in the region of 28+ hours contact lenses wouldn’t be an option for the day.

Dan was under instruction to transfer my crew bag and a large box of cakes I’d had made for my crew into the back of another crew member’s car once the race began, and then together we all made our way along a short walk down the road to the start line for the race.

The start of the race was like any other and after waving at Dan, Laura and Oscar on my way past I found myself following everyone else along the road, up a short hill and into the fields in the direction of Nottingham.  Knowing that the elevation was going to be fairly flat I walked all of the hills on the course, no matter how small and even ended up overtaking some people jogging in some sections!

The plan was to slow things down from the very beginning and to make sure that I forced myself to eat much more than I ever had done in a race before.  I know how hard it can be in the later stages of a race to get food down, especially when working with a body that hasn’t taken enough on board along the way.  I was not about to lose my hearing, feel weak and dizzy or be able to resort only to chocolate milk for nutrition by halfway.

There were a couple of small bottlenecks early on as we had a couple of stiles to cross and kissing gates to manoeuvre, but on the whole the start was fairly seamless.  I had forgotten my cap, but luckily the sun didn’t really appear on the Saturday and I knew things would be fairly sheltered once we reached Clumber Park anyway later on in the day.  There was a horrible ploughed field at mile 5 that I chose to walk across.  The ground wasn’t hard enough to be rutted, but it made for uneven going and I didn’t want to risk going down on my ankle so early into the race.  Everybody running around me made the same decision it seemed, but it was nice to be back out onto the harder off-road track again after that field.  There was a bit of a hill after this and we saw a marshal at the top who told us we weren’t far from the first aid station.  It was all downhill to the aid station which was quite nice, although I ended up working up a bit of a sweat by the time I got there.

100 miles first aid station

(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

I’d already eaten a nakd bar whilst crossing the ploughed field and grabbed a couple of sandwich bits and biscuits at this first aid station before heading off along the section of towpath out from the aid station.

The first part of the towpath wasn’t too bad, but it did get rather monotonous after a while.  Around mile 7 or 8 a woman sacrificed her Hobnob biscuits so that a small group of us could get past a hissing swan stood near to her grown up cygnets on the narrow track.  I’m not sure how we would have gotten past otherwise…she was pretty angry!  Perhaps the Race Director needs to add ‘Swan bribes’ to the essential kit list for 2019?!

Mile 10 was the first time I saw some of the WDAC crew out on the course.  Mike’s partner Val, Helen (who had paced some of SDW with me earlier in the year) and Grant (who was pacing another runner) all cheered as they saw me approaching and it was lovely to have a burst as I ran past, not needing anything at this crew section.

Robin Hood 100 miles

Not only did the towpath get rather monotonous after a while, but it also became narrow and ‘tufty’ with clumps of uneven grass sticking up on the sections without tarmac.  I ran where I could but remained sensible, knowing that I still had plenty of time to get round the course as long as I didn’t break anything!

Towpath on the Robin Hood 100 miles

It was a relief to finally come off the towpath just before 19 miles and along a short section of road to reach the third aid station and to see the WDAC crew for the second time.  I stopped for less than a minute here to pick up some chocolate milk, add a nuun tab to my water and grab a bag of salt and vinegar crisps.

Robin Hood 100 miles

There was a slight climb after this aid station so I used it to drink my milk and munch on my crisps.  I knew that Dan would be making his way to the next aid station/crew point at mile 22.  He was hoping to meet me here along with Oscar, John, Lynn and Laura, who had all run the Clumber Park parkrun that morning.  I stopped for a few minutes to chat, but was soon eager to get moving again so chivied the gang along in the direction I needed to go, walking several hundred metres with them before jogging off into the distance once more.

I took a picture at 25 miles, and it was satisfying knowing that I had completed a quarter of the race already.  I never really pictured the event as a full 100 miles on the day though, as I was only ever a few miles away from either an aid station or crew point and this really helped to mentally break the miles up as I went along.

Mile 25 of the Robin Hood 100 milesThere were a couple of fields where we needed to push our way through past massive sunflowers.

Sunflowers on the Robin Hood 100 milesI never grew sunflowers as a child and so had no idea of the real enormity of the flowers and just how heavy their fully grown heads were.  On the sections that I ran of the sunflower-edged fields I still have bruises on my legs from where the sunflower heads bashed into the tops of my legs!

Happy sunflower on the Mile 25 of the Robin Hood 100 miles

Just Laura saw me at the next crew point at 27 miles.  Despite several people having tried to wake him when I had run in to mile 22, Oscar had slept through my arrival and Dan had been struggling with a grumpy toddler ever since.  Oscar had refused to get in the car, had a melt down over a teacake which had been cut into two and was just generally being hard work, so Dan made the decision to skip out this aid station in favour of the next instead.  There were quite a few aid/crew stations within quick succession and at the next point when I did see Dan and Oscar (somewhere around 30ish miles, it was just me and them with no-one else from my crew party.

Hi fiving Oscar at the Robin Hood 100

(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

Oscar had apparently been cheering everyone through the aid station for a while.  He kept peering down the path and going “AND another runner!” every time he saw someone come running along.  He accompanied this with lots of clapping of course!

Oscar playing with my drink on the 100

(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

Once at the aid station I took a few minutes to sit down and chat with Dan and Oscar (who really only wanted to play with my water bottles!)  From this station onwards I made a point of sitting for a few minutes to refuel and rest my legs before getting up and moving on again.  It seemed to work well and I could trick my legs into getting going again fairly easily.

Part two of my recap to follow over the weekend…