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…

Balancing toddler, runner and wife life

Yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary.

Fourth anniversary roses

Some beautiful roses turned up for me during the day.  In fact I was out when they arrived so I had to nip next door and collect them from my neighbour.
They’re beautiful.  Got myself a good one!

Four years in anniversaries is fruit and flowers.  Dan doesn’t like any fruits…at all.  And flowers aren’t really his thing either, but for a while now we’ve been on about getting a plant for our lounge to complete the look.  I managed to sneakily collect and hide a massive plant in our office on Wednesday.  Dan never goes into our office apart from the rare occasion when he works from home.  But when I returned from my run on Wednesday evening I spotted the light on in the office.  Apparently he had been returning wrapping paper and scissors to the desk.  (Neither of which belong in our office…does anyone else have a partner who still doesn’t know where half the stuff belongs in your house?!)  When questioned he earnestly told me that he hadn’t spotted anything out of the ordinary in the office at all to the point that I believed him.

Although I’m rather concerned about how unobservant he is…

Hidden plant for our anniversary

He was rather pleased with it when he came down and found it in the lounge yesterday morning and it seems to suit our room.

Indoor plant for the loungeThe picture we have on our wall is from our Babymoon back in 2016.  The rain absolutely hammered down across that bridge on one of the days we were in Prague and we got caught out crossing without an umbrella, although there were hundreds of others dashing by with brightly coloured umbrellas up.  The print is very similar to a black, white and red print we purchased on our honeymoon in 2014 which we have displayed on the other long wall in our lounge to match.

We went out for a family meal last night to celebrate.  Oscar really enjoyed his hummus dipping pot!

This time four years ago I had only run four marathons and a couple of ultras.  Now my marathon total sits at thirteen with almost as many ultras.

Lots has happened over the course of the last four years, but our biggest change has obviously been having Oscar.  Thinking back I really wish Dan and I had taken full advantage of the time we had to ourselves before having Oscar, but at the same time I’m so glad we had him when we did.  (Although I absolutely wouldn’t have been ready for the responsibility any sooner!)

If you’ve read my blog for a while now you’ll know that I often struggle with taking too much on, and it’s usually me that ends up losing out.  Be it through sleep or stress.

I'll sleep when I'm dead

Despite getting very limited sleep each week I’m actually doing OK at the moment, but I can feel the pressure bubbling up again.  I dream of having lazy weekends or evenings sitting in front of the TV as a family but in all honesty, if I spot a free day I instantly fill it with an activity or housework and I’m not even sure how to turn our TV on!

Because of the age Oscar is at, it seems that just as we settle into a routine, it changes again and since the start of the Summer I haven’t been able to count on him being asleep in bed by a certain time.  Luckily, Dan has taken over the bedtime routine and it’s given me a chance to crack on with housework, or get out for a quick 10k if my body was feeling too tired for an early morning run that morning.

Late night runningI much prefer running in the morning just lately.  Even though the 5am alarms are a killer on a couple of hours sleep it’s so nice to have gotten my run in and be showered by the time Dan leaves for work at 7:50am.  It doesn’t always go to plan though…I’d scheduled a long run in for Tuesday morning of this week, but Oscar woke minutes after I did and called out for me to go to him.  He didn’t settle and ended up getting up for the day, meaning not only had I only had four hours sleep that night, but I wouldn’t be able to get to bed early that evening as I would still need to slot in a run of some description when it got dark.  I switched out my long run for a 10k instead though.

Although I might perhaps come across as shy to some people who don’t know me very well I actually really like to have people around most of the time.  Something which isn’t really talked about is just how isolating staying home with a child can feel at times.  I absolutely love being home with Oscar and getting to spend these days with him, but being so far away from family and close friends, Dan working late five days a week and having a season ticket for Wolverhampton Wanderers again this year, with the new season starting this weekend (meaning he will spend the day away most Saturdays too), my week can sometimes feel very samey and lonely.

I am really enjoying running at the moment and my base fitness is probably near to the best it’s ever been – with lots of regular running, walking carrying a toddler and strength work.  But I’m really struggling mentally with getting out to run my long runs.  I’ve always completed the majority of my long training runs with friends in the build up to events, but that’s become a lot harder to do this year as I am so specific about when I can get out to run.  I haven’t been able to run at the weekends as I’ve been working throughout the night so would be running long on no sleep, when I really need to be catching up on a little sleep ready for the following night-shift.  I’ve been able to get a couple of early morning slightly longer runs in with another runner from my club who was attempting the Centurion Grand Slam of 4x 100 milers this year (although unfortunately DNFd at the third event – the North Downs Way 100 – last weekend) but other than that the majority of my runs have been between 5-10 miles in length, with a few closer to 15 miles.  I really need to book a marathon or longer distance in for the end of the Summer, but once again it’s hard to organise around work/life events now that we have Oscar and I work weekends.

I used to be able to whack in my earphones and listen to a few podcasts to get me round a long run if I was running it alone, but now that nearly all of my runs in the week are run alone and I also work one or two nine hour nightshifts each weekend in an aisle on my own listening to back-to-back episodes of a podcast, listening to a podcast and spending a few more hours on my own doesn’t have quite the same appeal anymore!  I now spend most of my runs feeling that I should be back with my family (if running during the daytime) or all the things I should be catching up on back at home!

I’m currently putting off this morning’s long run.  I just need to man up and get out there I guess.  Just wish I had someone to run out with me!

Do you prefer running on your own or with others?
Any podcast recommendations?  I’ve listened to a lot and am running out!
Are you a morning or evening runner?

A pacer for 35 miles and a life update

This might be a bit of a shorter race recap to my usual double posts(!) but I want to finally get something down on the blog about the Shires and Spires 35 mile race from the 20th May (six weeks ago!) before I forget all the details of the day.

The last few months have been absolutely insane when it comes to work and sleep and at times I have felt like I’m just existing and getting through the days, rather than actually living them.  Picking up 15 schools to mark coursework for an exam board and working extra night shifts unfortunately both fell at the same time that Oscar dropped his two hour daytime naps and began to kick up a fuss about going to bed.  This meant that some of his bed times dragged on for more than three hours before he was asleep and I could finally head downstairs to tidy up after the day before heading out for a nightshift/collapsing into bed myself.

We had it so easy for so long that it made it feel all the more difficult.  I wrote about Oscar’s eighteen month routine here – he used to be fast asleep by 7:45pm back then and it already seems like a lifetime ago, not just the three months that it actually is!  We’ve switched him out of his cot into a toddler bed now and this seems to have helped somewhat thankfully.

I’ve also handed my notice in at Tesco to finish at the end of the current rota (three more weeks), which is a relief (in some ways, but also a worry over the lack of guaranteed regular money coming in).  But it will allow for more family time, more me time, more running time, more relaxation time, less stress and upset and other opportunities to provide an income.  All in all, I know it’s for the best, but that extra guaranteed £1000 a month is going to be hard to do without until we settle into a new routine.

Tesco was never going to be forever though.  When Mum was very sick last year Oscar and I drove the 200 mile round trip to visit 3-4 days each week.  This is obviously something I do not regret, but our savings took a massive hit and after Mum died and I began visiting less I had to take action to try and replenish our savings again, which I have now been able to do.

Anyway, enough of the life update, more of the running…I’ve run a parkrun, 35 mile race and ran 78 miles of my first 100 mile attempt since I last blogged, so I’m hoping to have a bit of a catch-up blogging day today before my brain becomes mush and I forget all the details from the past six weeks!

The Shires & Spires 35 mile race fell the day before I returned to work following my maternity leave last year and so I never got a chance to write a proper recap of the race and still regret that now.

I love the Shires and Spires event.  35 miles of Northamptonshire countryside with lots of rolling hills and beautiful scenery.  It’s a Go Beyond event and with the start just a few miles from my running club base, checkpoints are often well stocked with W&DAC runners so it’s lovely to see so many friendly faces not only out running the event on the day, but also manning the checkpoints on route.

Shires and Spires was my first ultramarathon in 2013 and I have run it every year since apart from 2016 when I was 6 months pregnant with Oscar.  (2014 * 2015 recaps) With this being my fifth year running the event, and having run numerous training runs out on the course I know the route better than I know the back of my hand.  With my goal race (South Downs Way 100) just three weeks later, I knew I didn’t want to run Shires hard this year, and so instead offered to pace anyone who would like to complete the 35 miles in about 8 hours, as this was a time I knew I should easily be able to achieve without pushing myself too hard on the day.

One person took me up on my offer.  Somebody who regularly walks long distance events (of 100+ miles!) but who until recently has not really been doing a huge amount of running.  She had run the event the previous year with a group of runners who had just intended on getting round within the 9 hour cut-off, but knew she was capable of completing the race in a faster time than this, although not yet confident enough to navigate the race on her own.

It was a hot day (it seems like we haven’t had anything else for the last few months now!) and so I thoroughly applied a thick layer of suncream before setting off for Lamport Hall.  Although, in typical Mary fashion I rocked up just ten minutes before the pre-race briefing having still to pack my bag, collect my number and having to forfeit my pre-race trip to the loo!  After dropping my t-shirt from registration back at the car I even had to jog back to the start line in order to make it on time for the starting horn!  I was fairly relaxed with no pressure on this race – knowing the course so well and without any time expectations for the day.  Probably a little too relaxed in the morning to be honest!

The first few miles of Shires are all trail and easy running.  The first checkpoint falling about 4.5 miles in to the race.  This year for the first time alongside gels and cake, Go Beyond were also offering fruit and the cold watermelon slices went down incredibly well at each of the checkpoints in the heat of the day.

I took some nuun tablets with me.  I tend to have one bottle with just water and one with electrolytes when I run an ultra and so popped a tablet into the bottle on my right at the first checkpoint and off we ran again.  100 metres or so along the road I heard what I thought was someone making ‘shhhhh’ noises right behind me, so spun round to see nothing, only for the pressure inside my water bottle from the still-fizzing nuun tab to become too much and for liquid to shoot out of the top all over Vikki!  Haha!  It definitely made us jump!Shires and Spires 35m

The next checkpoint at 9 miles came round just as quickly and we were soon heading off on our way again.  There is a long section of road in the middle of the Shires course, and although the road is good going it is still super hilly.  I was told Northamptonshire was flat when I moved here!

Truth be told I expected Vikki to break into power-walk quite often.  She comes from a long-distance walking background and so I know she can cover the ground when she walks.  Turns out though, she can also cover the ground when she runs, and I am sure she would have quite happily have run much more of the course if it wasn’t for me walking the hills and through checkpoints, etc as per my usual game plan.

Shires and Spires 35mThe heat began to get to me after the third checkpoint and although I was still going strong I then needed to include more walk breaks in the open sections than I would have done had it been an overcast day.  We were moving at a pace much faster than the 8 hours I had intended to run which I knew I needed to rein back in anyway.

Salted up after Shires and SpiresI was replacing the salts I lost with the food I was eating and my nuun tabs but it always concerns me when I lose so much.  This is a photo of my shorts at the end of the event!Shires and Spires 35mMy legs were beginning to turn red, despite the coating of suncream I’d applied that morning and so I nicked suncream from a friend at the final checkpoint before we began the last long uphill slog to the finish and the final 10k.

By mile 31 I could tell that Vikki was capable of running much faster and more than I wanted to at that point and so I encouraged her to go ahead.  It had been a long while since we weren’t surrounded by other runners and I quickly reminded her of the directions to the finish, reassuring her that she would probably pass plenty of other runners along the way so never be far from others.  Her main concern for the day had been navigational issues.

Shires and Spires 35m

(My official finish photo from Adrian Howes)Shires and Spires 35m

Four miles later and I found myself running through the finish funnel.  Go Beyond had an announcer for the finish who was doing a fantastic job of announcing runners as they crossed the line.  Many club runners were still stood on the sidelines cheering us in, along with many others from our club who had just come to cheer at the end.  Always a lovely touch.
Shires and Spires 35m cheering Lorraine through the finish

(Photo by Adrian Howes)

I made sure to join our club members on the sidelines to see everyone else through the finish line.

Vikki rushed over to tell me that she had come in as third V45 female, so even received a trophy for her run, which was fantastic news to finish to!

Shires and Spires 35m timeI can’t believe how close my Garmin read to the 35 miles!

Official time: 7:47:47
Position: 131/164
Gender position: 28/41
Age category position: 14/17

It actually ended up being my second best Shires time, despite pulling myself back a fair bit, chatting to lots of people and not racing the event.  I’m sure I’ll be back in 2019 to see what I’m actually capable of!  😉Shires and Spires 35m medalThe medal was another lovely one detailing the route of the course through the Northamptonshire villages…Shires and Spires 35m medal on Oscar…although it was soon stolen by my child on returning home!At the end of Shires and Spires with Dan and OscarI managed to sit and chill with Dan and Oscar for a little while before heading up for a shower and pre-work hour-long nap.  Unfortunately I couldn’t book the night off, so still headed off to work that evening for a 10pm-7am night shift following running the 35 miles in the day.  All good training for the 100 mile event, right?!

Do you salt up when running in the sun?
Have you ever paced someone during a race before?
How early do you like to turn up before the start of a race?

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