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…

My first crack at the 100 mile distance

Obviously I’ve left this recap much longer than intended.  A month has already passed since I found myself on the start line for the South Downs Way 100 at the start of June.

I felt so ready and positive on race day, despite the poor sleep leading up to the event.

Oscar decided a fortnight before race day that evenings are for playing and not sleeping.  The week before race day saw me laying on his bedroom floor for hours on end reading book after book and pretending to go to sleep myself countless times in the hope it would encourage him to do the same.  Much later I would often be woken by Dan shaking my shoulder to let me know that Oscar was now finally asleep only for me to then head downstairs to tidy up after the day/slot in my run/collapse on a sofa somewhere.  It was a rather wearing time and didn’t come at the best time for me at all (if there ever is a good time for a toddler not sleeping!)

Nevertheless, I packed (at the last minute, a few hours before setting off on the Friday) and made my way down to Winchester in the passenger seat of Laura’s car vowing to get an early night after a takeaway pizza that evening.

ROAD TRIP!!! We are currently sat on the M40 Southbound on the way to Winchester for the #SDW100 tomorrow morning. . The last six months have been incredibly hard. My Mum dying, working a number of part-time jobs alongside each other and seeing as much of my Dad as possible whilst trying to keep on top of my own housework and raise Oscar in the way that Dan and I feel best. . Training runs have been at 11pm, 4:30am, on no sleep, on the way to weddings, with the buggy and without. . Dan has barely seen me. I’ve barely seen anyone properly and constantly felt like I should be doing something. . BUT tomorrow is my goal race for the year, and the end is in sight at the most draining of my part time jobs. I feel like our house is beginning to come together after needing a complete revamp when we moved a couple of years ago and that will be another big relief when that is complete. . Whatever happens tomorrow I am so grateful that I have been able to make it to the start line and that my friends and husband have been so supportive over the last few months. 😘 . #hopingmybestisgoodenough #runnersontour #runnersofinstagram #fittingitallin #runningmum #mumswhorun #RunMummyRun

A post shared by Mary (@ahealthiermoo) on

That plan all went to pot when we realised that Kev and Amanda from our club (who were crewing and pacing for the other two Wellingborough runners) were not far behind us on the road and were heading out to Pizza Express for dinner that evening.  Of course we then hung on for them to arrive and park up at Chilcomb Sports Ground and of course we then agreed to amble into town following Kev’s cries of “It’s only a mile away!” (despite a race volunteer telling us town was four miles away and currently gridlocked due to a bomb threat.)

By the time we’d hiked into the town and our pizzas had arrived it was 10pm.  I’d wanted to be in bed by 10pm at the absolute latest, having had a particularly bad night with Oscar the night before, but here I was at 10pm hurriedly chowing down my pizza as fast as possible, knowing that we still needed to hike back to the race startline where we’d left our cars, and drive the 11 miles to check in at our hotel.  It was going to be a long night without a lot of sleep, as we needed to be back at Winchester for the race briefing by 5:30am.
In actual fact, a stupid bird woke me at 4am, half an hour before my alarm was due to go off.  Even then we ended up rushing around and barely making the race briefing, leaving only enough time for me to fill my water bottles before the start, and not enough time to fit in a pre-race wee.

SDW100

The 6am start of the race was like any other.  I don’t think it ever really hit me that I was on the start line for a 100 mile race, which is insane when I type it now.  I said to a friend the other week that I don’t have a gauge for what is ‘normal’ anymore.  I’m so used to talking about ultramarathon events with other runners.  When I come to talk to non-runners about races it’s hard to judge whether or not the distances I talk about seem realistic or not!

The start of the SDW100 sees the competitors run around the outskirts of the Sports Ground field with a tight spot about halfway round and then another gridlock as runners all file out of the field through a narrow opening and onto the footpath that leads the race alongside farmers’ fields.  I jogged round this first field with another runner from our club, Mike.  Mike is a fantastic runner, incredibly modest despite looking at a potential sub 20 hour time that day.  As we hit the footpath we wished each other luck and off Mike sped into the distance.

SDW100

I was concerned about having to wear glasses on the event, – I can never see quite so well as with contacts – but I knew wearing contacts for so long would damage my eyes and make them very sore, especially as I got tired as the race went on, so glasses it was.

The checkpoints are superbly stocked on the Centurion events.  So much so, that all I had packed food-wise in my bag was a couple of nakd bars and some gels.  Neither of which I fancied so early on into my race.  Despite that I managed to push a warm nakd bar down about 5 miles in.  I also stopped to call Laura and update her on my pace.  I was lucky enough to have three volunteer crew members with me for the event.  Laura came down with me, was planning to crew through the day and then help pace me from mile 70 that evening.  Guy and Alan (who was my first running coach) were both going to meet me at mile 22 and then subsequent crew points throughout the race.  I didn’t think I would really need or use a crew, but I have to admit it was lovely to break the race up into the distances between crew points, knowing that I would see my supporters at the next spot once more and they came to my assistance on several occasions when I craved fruit I didn’t have, brought me bottles of chocolate milk and undid the top of my Vaseline pot when I couldn’t!

Anyway, I had produced a little chart showing the times I would arrive at each crewpoint if I ran a 25/26/27/28/29/30 hour race.  (The cut-off time for the finish is 30 hours.)  Both sets of my crew appreciated my little chart and agreed it would be helpful to follow along the times to roughly predict when to arrive at each point to see me.  However, by the 6 mile point when I rang Laura I was much closer to a sub 23 hour pace.  I wasn’t too concerned about running too fast at this point, as I was taking plenty of walk breaks and could still easily maintain a very chatty conversation with other runners as they came past/I ran past them.  However, I was concerned that my crew wouldn’t arrive in time to see me at the first crew point at mile 22!  I knew I would need suncream and chocolate milk by then but didn’t want to hang around!

Crew point times for the SDW100

The first checkpoint was just before 10 miles and I made sure to top up with water and nuun, grabbing some cheese sandwiches and watermelon before continuing on my way.  Many had stopped here for longer than I intended to.  There was another 90 miles to go and I wanted to get going!

At mile 11 we ran down through a long field with cows in.  I’m pretty certain that one of the guys ahead of me slid through a very large cowpat here.  I just spotted him in the distance on the floor and there was a massive skidmark when I reached that point.  I did wonder briefly if he had realised that a spare set of clothes might come in handy for more than just a change when he felt sweaty!

Not long after this I bumped into a guy who I then went on to run several miles with.  I’ve said it before but I absolutely love meeting and chatting to other ultra runners during events.  It always makes the miles pass quicker when you can chat about your previous running experiences and hopes for the race.  It was his first 100 mile race too and he went on to run it in a great time.

Luckily, despite arriving at the first crewpoint (and second checkpoint) after just 4 hours and 47 minutes my crew had already arrived and had suncream and chocolate milk out and waiting for me.  The earliest I had told them I would arrive was 11:39am – nearly an hour later than I did!

SDW100

The first 22 miles was such easy running though – it included nothing like the hills that I knew were to come in the second half of the race.

SDW100

I didn’t stop for long at the first crew point, just taking on what I knew I needed and heading off again.  I’d run past the toilet, but couldn’t be bothered to go back for it, sure that there would be more loos out on the course as I went along.

SDW100

Mile 35 was the next point I would meet up with my crew and again, and there were some lovely runnable sections along this part.  I came in to meet my crew after 8h 15m, still a long way off the chart I had produced.  Sorry about that guys!

SDW100

More suncream, some vaseline on my back where my bag had begun to rub, some chocolate milk and a quick sit down in the deckchair before heading onto the aid station further up the track.  I  learnt here that Mike had taken a bad fall on the downhill just before reaching the crewpoint and really smashed his face up.  He had sat for an hour with the ambulance crew before deciding to continue on, although Kev rang me a few minutes after I left this checkpoint to tell me that Mike had also done some damage to his ribs so had decided to pull from the event.  It was such a shame as he had been running so well.  I was really gutted for him.

At mile 45 I was following a guy wearing a SDW100 t-shirt from 2017 who turned and asked me which way to turn when we reached a crossroads.  I pointed out that wearing a t-shirt from the previous year really meant that he was much more qualified to hazard a guess!  We decided to follow a track over a stubble field which luckily brought us down a steep hill where we could see markers in the distance again.  He told me that I was still well on for a sub 24 hour race (which really wasn’t my target at all) to which I replied that I doubted that very much, but he pointed out that I should reach mile 50 before 12 hours was up and I was surprised to see that he was right.  I knew that I wouldn’t tick off a sub 24 hour race though.  I’d run faster in the first half than I knew I would be able to achieve in the second, knowing the hills in that half of the course which were still to come.  In my head before race day I had seen 30 hours as a very achievable time, thinking I would potentially come in somewhere around 28 hours, although factoring everything into an event as long as 100 miles is something that’s incredibly difficult to do, so I knew that I could be very off with my calculations.  Basically, I only ever want to run one 100 mile event (at least whilst Oscar is young) and I just wanted to make sure I got to the finish line on the day.  Kev had given me confidence earlier in the week when he had announced that my 50 mile time from the SDW50 in April had been faster than any of his previous 50 mile times over that terrain and his best 100 mile time was 25h 12m (also at the SDW100 in 2015).

SDW100

It was 47 miles before I met with my crew again.  This time it was just past a station.  I really needed to see my crew here.  The heat was beginning to get to me.  I was losing my hearing in one ear a little – a sign I usually find is due to lack of electrolyte intake.  I sat down for quite a while – very unlike me, but I felt that it was needed.  There wasn’t an aid station here, and I really craved some fruit, so Guy found me some in his car.  I hope I didn’t steal his lunch!  Another runner from our club, Helen, had met the crew for Mike/James here after catching a train over that day.  She had intended on pacing Mike for the final 50 miles of the race, although this was now obviously no longer the plan.  Instead she was now going to step in with James for some miles instead.  Whilst she waited for Kev to collect her, she sat talking to a guy on the side of the road who was in the middle of trying to work out whether taxi or train would be the best way of getting home as he had decided to call it a day at his 100 mile attempt.  He had removed his socks and shoes – definitely done for the race, but by the end of their conversation he had put these back on again and was seen heading off up the road to carry on!  We later saw him running around the track at the finish!

The halfway point was a big milestone for me.  The halfway point fell at 54 miles (I realise that’s over halfway!) and I knew that I would soon begin recognising the route from this point, as the second half of the event is run over the route of the South Downs Way 50, an event I had completed earlier in the year.

As I arrived to check in at Washington Village Hall I spotted Ally heading up the track who came rushing over to say Hi.  I’ve followed Ally for a while on social media and met her for the first time at the start of the SDW50 earlier in the year.  It was lovely to see another friendly face and she told me that Lauren was still inside, and also struggling with the heat, as so many others also had been that day.

I knew I needed to lay down once I got inside.  Sitting still is really not my thing and I knew I would feel weak if not moving but still sitting upright.  I really craved some hot food – anything but picnic food by this point and was glad to smell the hot tomato pasta on offer at the far end of the hall.  One of my crew went to get me a bowl, I can’t remember who – whilst I lay on the floor had a quick catch up with Lauren.  I struggled to eat much of the pasta.  By this point I had eaten so much fruit and so many cheese sandwiches that I was fed up of all food and nothing really appealed.  It was a real struggle to get the few forkfuls that I did down, but I knew I would appreciate them later on.

I finally got to use an actual toilet at this checkpoint which was much appreciated although navigating removal of my bag and layers to get to the toilet to begin with was a bit of a mission.  After my trip to the loo it was time to go again.  I have no idea how long I spent at this checkpoint.  I think somewhere in the region of 30 minutes or so, but I very much needed the time out, so it was time well spent.  I arrived at 7:41pm according to the official results, although in my head it felt so much earlier than that, despite the now dusky sky as I left.

Botolphs was the next checkpoint at mile 62.  “That’s 100k you’ve run!” exclaimed the marshals as I arrived alongside a couple of other guys.  In some ways that statement was satisfying, but the other guys I had arrived with were both pulling out here and once again I needed to sit for a while.  I had begun having a few heart palpitations and was feeling much more short of breath by this point.  I half thought in my head I might need to pull from the race, and everyone around me deciding the same only backed up my decision for me.  I had almost succumbed to doing the same when I decided to phone Kev for a chat.  I knew he would help me decide either way what would be best to do.

Turns out he was only 10k up the road waiting for James to come through.  Helen was currently running with James, but trading places as pacer with Amanda at the point where Kev was at.  Chatting to Kev was just what I needed and he offered to drive down to meet me so that Amanda could run the next section of the course with me.  I told him that I was not planning on putting him or anyone else out and that he wasn’t to do that at all.  He told me that of course I wouldn’t be putting him out.  That he was there to help whoever on the day, having initially been planning to crew for Mike who had dropped out hours earlier.  I told him that I thought I needed to pull and that would be it.  He understood although was disappointed for me.  I hung up, and told the marshal that I probably also intended to pull at this point.  The marshal asked if there was anything I would like to eat.  Having not fancied anything when I arrived, I now craved orange segments and sandwiches, and he obliged, grabbing me a handful of each.  Another runner arrived at the checkpoint, also planning to pull.  The deckchairs were full of runners now, all waiting for a lift to the finish.

62 miles.  100k.  Would I really be happy if I only ran 62 miles?  No, I decided that I wouldn’t.  I’d run further than that before.  I had come out to run 100 miles that day and even if I didn’t make it to the finish line I was definitely planning on making it past the 70 mile mark which I’d already run twice in the past.  All in a rush I stood up, announced I was going on, took the second handful of orange segments and cheese sandwiches that were thrust in my direction and jogged off into the night over the road on a high!  I rang Kev when I reached the other side of the road announcing that I was continuing, hearing whoops in the background from both Kev and Amanda who was hurriedly changing into her running clothes to run back and meet me.  I was back in the race again.  I was going to do this!

…And then I remembered the massive hill that follows the checkpoint at Botolphs.  Ugh!  It was bad enough 11 miles into the 50 mile event in the boiling sun, but 63 miles into a 100 mile event in the pitch black of night?…I made it up somehow.

I still felt pretty perky, constantly checking flashlights in the distance to see if I could spot Amanda heading back towards me.  Three miles along and a bouncy headtorch light bobbed speedily in my direction.  It was too speedy for someone to be dropping out but it didn’t match Amanda’s usual style either.  A rather jolly Helen yelled out a greeting and filled me in.  She and James had arrived at the next crewpoint a little early so Amanda had headed off as initially planned with James for the remainder of his race.  Helen had decided to run back to find and help me.  Having never run with Helen before other than in large club trail groups I was initially rather nervous about keeping up/having conversation, etc.  But she was fantastic.  She moved at my pace with no prompting, no pushing, just what I needed.

My watch had died just before Helen arrived which was rather frustrating.  I knew it probably would die at some point but had expected it to get to at least 70 miles before beeping it’s final beep.

Chatting to Helen I began to pick up mentally again.  My walking had never become slow but my running had been non-existent for a little while.  But now, I was running sections again and my walk was at a much faster pace.  Helen had been talking about when I completed the race and each time I had corrected her with ‘if I completed’, but I had stopped doing that now, thinking really positively once more.  She commented on how quickly I was still moving forward despite being in the middle of a ‘mental down’ section of the race.

We arrived at Saddlescombe Farm (67 miles) and a lady gave me a nice warm cup of tea.  I don’t usually drink tea but this one was so good I requested a second.  Helen also grabbed me a handful of the vegan peanut butter fudge which was on offer.  Amazing!  We stopped for maybe 5 minutes at the most and one of the marshals pressed a lolly into my hand as we left for the rest of our journey.

At mile 70 I could hear Kev in the distance and it wasn’t long before I saw Alan, Guy and Laura also.  Helen quickly filled them in on my last five miles whilst Laura prepared to run the next section with me.  Everyone else wished me luck and then we were off.  It was maybe only a couple of miles before I started having more palpitations again.  I was feeling weak by now and hadn’t eaten anything really substantial in a while.  Something I need to work on at my next attempt.  The light in my headtorch had gone and I knew I needed to swap headtorches, as I was carrying a spare in my bag but couldn’t co-ordinate myself to get one out and then I needed more batteries.  All effort at this point.

My palpitations were getting more and more regular now and I decided to have a little lay down on the side of the track.  It felt good.  I was exhausted.  Laying down felt so, so good right then.  After a few minutes on the floor I got up and with renewed energy ran a bit faster for a little while before I needed another lie down around the 76 mile point.  Here I actually fell asleep for 5 minutes or so until Laura pointed out that there was a moth buzzing around my headtorch lamp which kept batting me in the face without my noticing.

I knew I needed to pull from the race at the next checkpoint and told Laura so.  I felt strangely relieved that I had come to the decision despite it not really being what I wanted.  I knew I had made the right decision to continue at mile 62, but by mile 78 I was done.  The long hill down towards the checkpoint where I pulled; Housedean Farm felt like it went on forever and I was so grateful to see that there was a spare deckchair out for me to perch on when I arrived.  I was told I needed to hand my number in, but I wanted to keep it so just removed it and placed it in my bag.

Official stats when I pulled:

Finishing time: 22:22:50
Position: 235
Gender position: 40
Category position: 13

There were 223 finishers in total, with 82 drop-outs on the course.

Upon removing my number I fell asleep.  Waking only to transfer into Guy’s car as he arrived to collect me a little later.  He then drove to the next checkpoint at 84 miles (must have slept through that journey too) where I got into Laura’s car, received hugs from Kev and Helen and then I must have promptly fallen asleep once more, waking a couple of hours later in a boiling hot car parked at the finish point in Eastbourne.  Laura was still asleep on the back seat but it was insanely hot in the car and so I pulled myself out and lay down on the path alongside the car under a foil blanket.  I had intended on having a little more sleep but several runners’ families came over to check I was OK, and it wasn’t long before Nici from Centurion came over to check on me and to move me along.

I actually felt better after a walk and thought that I could probably stomach a sausage in a roll and hot chocolate by that point so made my way to a bench by the BBQ where I had a good view of the finishers running around the track.  With all that sleep deprivation I did have to stop myself tearing up a couple of times as I saw runners moving along the final 400 metres.  I had messaged Laura to let her know that I was watching others finish and so she soon joined us and Kev also arrived, along with James’ girlfriend and then Helen ran in.  Despite no longer having anyone to pace she had decided to run the remainder of the course, no doubt prompting lots of swear words as she bounded past those struggling to finish the 100 miles!   We set up chairs alongside the track to wait for James to come in, who finished just minutes behind Lauren a little after 29 hours.

We headed for home not long after that.  Laura had managed to grab chunks of sleep between checkpoints and a long section of sleep when parked up at the finish, so she was good to drive home again and I arranged for Dan to pick me up from Laura’s house in Northampton on our return.

Initially I had hoped to stay awake until 6pm or so that evening, before having a super long sleep that night and hopefully getting back fairly quickly into a normal routine.  However, I was not prepared for quite how exhausted I was.  It was minutes before I fell asleep in the car on the way back.  Every so often I would wake, buzzing with a story to tell Laura about the race.  I would finish my story and then fall straight back asleep again, barely awake enough to listen to Laura’s responses.

Other than the lack of sleep though I felt surprisingly fine.  My legs would have been good to go for a run the following day I think – although I didn’t test this thought out and took a full week to recover.  More about that in another post though.  This has been my longest post yet!

I’ll just finish with the lovely medal that Dan made and Oscar coloured in for me and brought when they came to collect me.

100 Supermum medal

Falling back in love with ultra running

Over the past few months there have been times where I think I’m starting to fall out of love with running.  In the early days, running was such an easy thing to do…throw on some running clothes, lace up my trainers, strap my watch to my wrist and just get out there.  I really never appreciated just how easy running was back then.  Now getting out on a run can become a military operation, planned weeks in advance for a run which might end up being cut short due to lack of sleep (Me) or the spotting of a park on route (Oscar) !

This Saturday, running the South Downs Way 50 reminded me of everything I love about running though, and everything I love about running ultra distances in particular.

I was always going to sign up for the SDW50 this year.  The event had been my main running goal for 2017 – my comeback race from having a baby, booking the race was incentive to return to running and to hopefully feel more like ‘Me’ again once the baby had arrived, rather than just a ‘Mum’.  It worked.  I had a great race last year and, despite having to stop for 25 minutes on route to express(!) I continued to book races into my calendar, including the South Downs Way 100 for this year.

Knowing that the SDW100 was firmly booked in for June, it only made sense to enter the SDW50 again.  Those 50 miles (give or take a couple) are the last 50 miles of the 100 mile race – and miles which I’ll likely be running in darkness next time round.  Having refreshed my memory of the route this weekend I feel confident that I can navigate the miles again in nine weeks time in the dark along with the help of a strong headtorch!

I haven’t really been focusing on the SDW50 this year to be honest.  I’ve actually been a little blase about it all, with my main focus as the 100, closely followed by Milton Keynes Marathon at the start of May where I hope to PB.  I’ve run the 50 before, and know that I can complete the distance.  However, I was a little on edge going in to this event as so many runners from my club of a similar speed to me would also be running the race, with six of them going for the Grand Slam of four Centurion 50 mile events across the year.  Last year I didn’t feel pressured to run at anybody’s pace or to perform a certain way, but this year I worried that I would end up running with one of the other runners from my club or would stress myself into trying to keep up with them.  I’m much slower over road races than all of the others who were there.  Don’t get me wrong – I love chatting to other runners when out on the course, but I hate feeling like I need to keep up with somebody’s pace, or hang back with them when actually that section suits me really well and I can run easily along it.  I race much better when I’m running on my own, even though I always find other runners to chat to along the way.

Friends Kev and Gary were crewing us all and so Kev arrived in his van outside my house to collect me a little before 4:30am on Saturday morning.  I’d set my alarm for 3:30am that morning but definitely hit the snooze button after Oscar decided to wake for a (very unlike him) two hour party at 12:30am.  Tip number one if you’re thinking about running an ultra…don’t live with a toddler!

After picking up another three runners along the way we arrived with the perfect amount of time before the start.  Kit check, numbers on, loo trip, drink, snack, bags on and a walk to the start.

South Downs Way 50 startline

It was lovely to finally meet Lauren properly after having cheering her on at Milton Keynes Marathon a few years back and also to bump into Ally as well, who I also saw at the finish for a chat.  Both ran amazing races in super fast times.  Lauren is also running the 100 later on this year like me and Ally is running the next Centurion 50 mile event in a few week’s time – the North Downs Way.

South Downs Way 50 startline

There was time for a quick photo of our club runners before the off and then followed a gentle jog to the gap in the field, with a bottleneck!South Downs Way 50 WDAC lineup

I felt good from the get go and having started right at the back, the pace was easy.  I didn’t rush to get past anyone, although I saw plenty of others jostling for positions.

South Downs Way 50 starting at the back

(Screenshot of the bottleneck taken from a video shared on the Centurion Facebook group)

About a mile in I started to regret having a peanut butter smothered bagel as a snack less than an hour before the race start.  I had eaten a bowl of porridge with blueberries when I first woke but knew I would need a top-up snack before the run, as I had already been up for so long that morning.  Turns out, a bagel was not the snack I required and I needed a loo stop from early on, on a course when I knew there was barely any course coverage!

Other than the first couple of miles (when everyone was stuck behind other runners along narrow sections anyway), it is fairly easy going until the first checkpoint at mile 11.  My strategy at checkpoints is to grab what food I need, have the lid of my water bottle unscrewed ready for topping up if needed and get in and out as quickly as possible.  Why hang around when you could be moving?!  It wastes time and means you end up getting stiff.  At this first checkpoint I grabbed a couple of grapes and some cheese sandwiches before moving on.  Fruit and cheese sandwiches are always winners for me during an event!  I’d already eaten half of a cocoa orange nakd bar on the way to this checkpoint, and grabbed a carton of chocolate milk out of my bag as I made my way up the hill along the other side of the road.

South Downs Way 50 the first big hillI’m aware that these pictures don’t make the hill look too ‘hilly’, but trust me, it was!  And, just like last year, the photographer was perched up at the top taking photographs!South Downs Way 50 the first big hillAnother runner struck up conversation when he spotted I was wearing the event t-shirt from last year and I ran with him for a few miles until he told me he needed to slow down.
Mile 15 was our first crew ‘checkpoint’ and I felt slightly guilty for not stopping as I waved at Kev and Gary as they stood cheering me by.  I passed two of the runners from my club here as they had stopped to top up on supplies from our crew.  There was just one from my club ahead now, which really surprised me and I knew wouldn’t last.  (Although I later surprised myself by coming in as 3rd runner of our 7).

Not long after this we headed slightly downhill through a small wooded section and I almost ran into the back of another runner who had squatted down on the path to pee!

Checkpoint two at mile 16 was in a slightly different location this year and I walked in, got some Tailwind, watermelon, more cheese sandwiches and made my way back out again in less than 30 seconds.  Smooth going!  I still felt good.

There were a couple of rather steep hills between checkpoints two and three at 26 miles.  There were also several runnable sections too which I made sure to take advantage of.  The course really suits me as it has rolling hills – dictating which sections to walk.  I usually really struggle mentally and also with my consistency over long flat sections, but had no problems with these this time round, which I’m putting down to the large number of miles logged on my treadmill this Winter!

South Downs Way 50

The third checkpoint was where I had stopped to express last year and this year, where I finally spotted a portaloo to use!  I grabbed some chocolate chip cookies, MORE cheese sandwiches and watermelon, Tailwind and topped up my water.  All in all I think I stopped for about 5 minutes here, but it was 5 minutes well spent.

South Downs Way 50

I knew I was having a good race and used the climb following this aid station to check in with Dan.  He hadn’t realised that he could track me online and so I let him know how to do this.  He also let me know that ‘Oscar’ had sent me a good luck video earlier that morning.  I had turned my internet off in order to save battery but after hanging up with Dan I quickly checked WhatsApp to find a lovely little video where Oscar waved madly at me, said “Sit down Mumma!” and then gave the camera a kiss!  It definitely made me smile.

South Downs Way 50

For the next aid station you have to cross over a set of railway tracks.  Oh how I’m going to love all those steps at mile 84 of the 100 mile version of the race(!)  I knew I needed more Tailwind here but couldn’t see any on display so asked one of the volunteers for some.  She told me that I was lucky, and they had just a little left.  Taking a few gulps from my bottle after being topped up I spluttered out that she could definitely make it go further by watering it down more…it was super strong!

I nicknamed the next section ‘Australia’ last year as the views, with the sun disappearing behind the hills reminded me of scenes I’ve only seen in programs about Australia.  This year though, the sun was still high in the sky (albeit hidden behind clouds!)

South Downs Way 50 It also definitely looked less Australia-like this year!South Downs Way 50The last two checkpoints follow in quick succession; starting with a lovely little pitstop in Alfriston at 41.6 miles with indoor seats to perch on for a few minutes.  This checkpoint is quickly followed by the final checkpoint at Jevington just four miles later.  It’s perched high up some steps alongside the road and I felt rather bad that I just called up the hill to thank the volunteers, continuing on my way rather than stopping in, but I didn’t need anything with only four miles to go and thought it better to keep moving at this point.

I strongly made the final climb up to the Trig point and started to make my way along the narrow, slippy path back down towards Eastbourne.  The clouds were threatening to rain at this point, and we’d been very lucky with the weather until now.  I had twice put on my jacket for the odd spitting shower but the temperature was fairly warm, and the rain never really stuck around.  It had made the rocks on this section rather slippery though.  This being the most technical section on the whole course.  My hamstrings had a few spasms along this section and out loud I told my legs they needed to co-operate for just a little longer…pretty please!

In my head I had secretly hoped to run 25 minutes faster than my time last year (12h 06m).  25 minutes was the amount of time I had stopped to express so I thought it was probably fairly achievable for me to gain back those minutes in my finishing time this year.  As I reached the bottom of the hill though and broke into a faster run I realised I would most likely go sub 11h 30m.

Running and maths never work and despite being just two miles from the finish now and having been out on the course for 10h 40m I was convinced I would have to run really fast to go sub 11h 30m.  Mile 48 ticked by starting with a 12:xx and I realised that actually, I should probably be targeting 11:15 instead.

I still felt really good.  No pains, no aches, I’d fuelled well, I was still running!  In fact, other than road crossings and twice when I walked a handful of steps, I ran pretty much the whole of the last two miles, passing several other runners along the way and changing my target at the last minute to 11:10 – coming into the stadium to the most glorious sunset.  It was honestly the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen and I really regret not asking somebody to take a photo of me in front of it after crossing the finish line.  Unfortunately my official finisher photo, despite showing colour, definitely does not do the sky justice as the photographer was using a flash so that I was the focus of the photo.

I could not stop beaming as I ran around the track!  I’d picked the pace up for the track finish, although definitely not enough to be considered a sprint finish!

As I turned the corner at the bottom of the stadium I noticed that opposite the gorgeous sunset, was a gigantic rainbow.  What a lovely finish arch!

South Downs Way 50 finish archI took this shot a few minutes after I finished but I wish I had taken more pictures, and actually of something, rather than just randomly pointing in the direction of the sun!

Looking on the Centurion Running Community Facebook page yesterday, I found these two images which another runner had taken which give a much better impression of the view we finished to…

SDW50 sky pictures

South Downs Way 50 sunset

It tipped it down not long after I finished and I was glad to bump into Nic, who had finished about ten minutes ahead of me and who had the keys to Kev’s van so that I could grab some warm clothes.  I took a quick picture with my medal in the fading light and queued up for my free sausage bap and hot drink, unsure of how long the other 4 runners from my club would take to come in.

South Downs Way 50 medalOfficial time: 11h 7m 22s
Position: 277/353
Gender position: 52/81
Category (senior female) position: 21/35

Turns out I took quite a lot of steps that day(!)

South Downs Way 50 Garmin step count

The Runner’s Runner of the Year awards

I realised the other day that I never got round to posting the videos I made for my club’s ‘Runner’s Runner of the Year’ award for 2017 on the blog.

Every year since I first joined my running club committee, it has been one of my roles to produce videos detailing the achievements of runners nominated for the award at the end of the year.

Our club awards evening is held at the start of December every year, and in the weeks leading up to the awards evening members are asked to nominate a male and female runner who they feel have been inspiring, encouraging, supportive, hard working, have improved a great deal or have just been a fantastic runner across the year!  It’s an opportunity for an award to go to somebody who isn’t necessarily the fastest runner at the club and is an award viewed very highly by all club members.

Once nominations are closed, I usually have about a week to put together the videos, choosing one or two reasons given for each person nominated to display on the video alongside images of them in action throughout the year.  The videos take me probably about 20 or so hours to create in total – with the picture finding the most time consuming part!

I love, love, love making the videos each year though and am reluctant to give up my role on the committee purely so that I don’t have to stop making these!

It sounds rather sappy, but whenever I’m feeling a bit low with my running or things become rather routine, I whack on the videos from previous years and my love for running returns again.

Running club Christmas do 2017(Me, Steph and Laura at this year’s awards do)

Male video for 2017:

(Winner: Michael Quinn)

Although I really hadn’t expected to, I also received a few nominations again this year:

* She quietly gets on with racing trail marathons and ultras and does really well; this area of running often goes unnoticed.

* Mary has quietly tallied up an impressive number of runs this year. She’s on track for her 100 parkruns and ran a 50 mile Ultra 6 months after giving birth. She’s amazing and an inspiration to all those of us who complain there isn’t enough time in the day to run! 🏃🏽‍♀️

* A fantastic year of running since coming back after the birth of Oscar with many PBs and great races.

Female video for 2017:

(Winner: Helen Etherington)

We have some very inspiring runners at our club and over the past couple of years I have really struggled to narrow it down to just one person from each gender to nominate.  There are definitely some very worthy winners of this award.

Does your club have an awards evening?
What do you find motivates you when you start to lose your focus and drive?