I ran 100 miles! (Part 3)

(You can find the first two parts of my Robin Hood 100 mile recap here… Part one * Part two)

Knowing that I had arrived at mile 84.28 (every point 2-8 counted after 24 hours of running!) was a nice boost.

Seeing Dan and Oscar and knowing that they would be following me round the course until the end now was nice to know, and by now I had heard word that Kev and Amanda who had run 50 miles at the Centurion Chiltern Wonderland race (160 miles South!) on Saturday were at the finish line, grabbing a quick sleep before coming out on the course to see me finish.

Hitting the canal path on the return leg of the route was hard going.  I’d forgotten how rough the terrain had been.  Tufts of grass sticking up everywhere and really uneven ground underneath on such a narrow path at times.  I was glad that I wasn’t one of the faster runners who would have had to complete this section at nighttime in the dark.  Although it was bad enough running it after 12 minutes sleep in the past 26 hours or so.  I felt rather bad for Guy here as so much of this section I had to walk.  My feet were in tatters by now.  The small stones I had accumulated in my trainers earlier on had rubbed slightly and the bottoms of my feet were very tender.  Every footfall that wasn’t on flat ground was agony and at times I couldn’t stop a whimper from sneaking out of my mouth.

We had a brief panic as we headed up over a bridge that crossed the road and could no longer see reflective tape marking the way back down and along the canal the other side.  I knew that I had come following the canal, and was sure that the route followed the path in reverse until we nearly reached the finish, but I doubted myself on such little sleep.  Guy jogged up the road to see if he could see any tape in either direction but there was none, so nervously we agreed to follow the canal path in reverse of the way I had run out.  I texted Gary to see if he could check on the tracker that we were still on course and after a few minutes, he confirmed that we were.  A kilometre or so up the track we came across some reflective tape and I could relax again!

When I had last seen Gary and Dan they had both told me that they would be at the next checkpoint.  They both misspoke.  For a good two miles before the aid station I was eagerly coming round every turn expecting to see Gary with pasta pot in hand and Oscar running up to me.  What felt like hours later Guy and I turned the corner to come across the checkpoint, only for nobody to be there waiting for us.  I slumped down into a deckchair shouting really dejectedly “Gary! Gary! Where are you?!”  Apparently one of the marshals at the checkpoint was called Gary, but he wasn’t the Gary I was after!  Another volunteer told me that he hadn’t seen my toddler at this checkpoint…my crew weren’t here.  I spent a good minute or so feeling sorry for myself before shovelling in some ready salted crisps and announcing to Guy that we had to get going again.  I needed to find where Gary and my pasta were…I wasn’t stopping!  Afterwards we worked out my crew had meant to say that they would be at the next CREW station, not checkpoint.  This checkpoint was one of two where crews could not attend due to the lack of parking in the surrounding area.

We traipsed on and a brief glimmer of hope began to grow as I remembered that I had seen Helen, Grant and Val somewhere near to this point on the way out at the start of the race.  Perhaps everybody would be at this point on the return instead?  The race course is twenty miles out, two thirty mile loops and then twenty miles back again to the start/finish, so each section of the course is run twice which is reassuring as you cover the same paths twice.  Although, on that towpath I swear every turn looked the same!

Eventually, at 93 miles I heard shouts of my name and I looked to see Kev and Dan with Oscar all shouting at me in the distance.  That got me to pick up my pace and as I got closer I also spotted Amanda.  Kev hurriedly rushed off to heat up a Pot Noodle for me, which I demolished, absolutely starving by now!  Gary had set off for home, as his son had a football match later that afternoon, but he had passed over my bag to Kev and Amanda who were going to crew me for the final ten miles of the race.

The Pot Noodle went down easily, although I decided I needed to get moving again so took the remainder with me as I headed off in the direction of the finish along the towpath.  Seeing everybody here had given me the big boost I needed to get going and after dropping my empty Pot Noodle cup in a nearby bin and passing my fork to Guy I managed to get some more running in again in short bursts.

The last aid station and crew point was at 97 miles and those four miles went on for what felt like forever.  The sun had really picked up by now and I was regretting not packing my running cap – feeling the sun burning down on the top of my head.  With nearly a mile still to go to the aid station, Amanda came walking along back along the path declaring that there were only three bridges left for me to walk under before coming across the checkpoint.  I really needed to get another sleep by now.  All I could think about was sleeping.  Although Amanda was carrying a plastic pint cup and when she mentioned that her and Kev had been waiting in the pub for me to arrive, my thoughts changed to what lovely beer garden weather it was that day and how much I would like a nice cool cider…why hadn’t they brought me a cider?!

Turns out Amanda lied (although she swears she just miscounted!) but there were actually four bridges.  I may have had a minor melt down when I realised that the third bridge I counted wasn’t in fact where the aid station was!  Finally though we did arrive and I ran over to Kev to say I really needed to sleep in his van for just 10 minutes.  Kev took me by the shoulders and very matter-of-fact told me that I could sleep for five minutes – no longer – on the floor of the aid station.  Then they would be moving me on.  I agreed and quickly clambered down onto the floor for a brief sleep.  The last thing I remember was the heat of the sun on my bare legs sticking out from under the aid tent and worrying that I had no suncream on them!

I don’t remember anybody waking me, but I do remember leaving the checkpoint and checking repeatedly with the marshal that it was no more than three miles now until the finish.  (Another lie which I was told!)

We had a steepish climb up from this checkpoint but I knew the finish would soon be in sight now.  With just over an hour to go I knew all I had to do was to keep moving until the end and I would finish it.  In the bag!

My watch battery had grown low around mile 60 the night before.  Following the battery death of my watch at the South Downs Way in June I had been told that I could continue to run whilst charging my watch from a battery pack, so had come prepared this time.  On leaving the aid station at mile 62 I had attached the battery pack to my watch and hooked this into my bag.  I realised after about a mile that the display on my watch was now blank though.  Had the battery died completely?  James had suggested turning it on again and my watch flashed something on the display and beeped.  I realised later though, that by pressing the on/off button I had actually been turning my watch OFF and stopping the recording annoyingly!  I removed the battery pack at mile 77 and turned the now fully-charged watch back on to record the final section of my race, but have no watch data from those middle miles unfortunately.

As my watch now showed mileage that was really out with how many miles I had actually run I made a mental note of the mileage it showed as I left the final checkpoint the moment the marshal confirmed with me for the second time that it was no further than three miles until the end.  Perfect.  Three miles.  I can cover three miles in that time.  Easy!

Guy and I passed two runners sat on the floor at mile 98.  Guy had a few words and reported back to me that they had decided to pull at mile 98 of the race.  How gutted would you be?!  Things must be bad though if there isn’t enough in you to walk the final two miles of a 100 mile race.

We crossed back over the horrible, horrible ploughed field.  It thought it was bad at mile 5…it was a million times worse at mile 98.  I couldn’t stop the whimpers of pain escaping with almost every footfall now.  My feet were so sore and every time they fell on the really uneven ground I was in agony!

Finally we made it out on the other side though and it wasn’t long before in the far, far distance I could see the building which I was sure we had come from!  The end was in sight!  Only, my watch said that there was only a mile to go.  That building was still much further than a mile away.  I suddenly began to panic.  Time was ticking down to the finish and I realised that the ‘three miles to the finish’ had been incorrect.  It was clearly further.  I started to pick the pace up again, panic creeping into my voice as I told Guy ‘We have to make it to the finish.  I can’t finish in over 30 hours.  I can’t run the distance and not be given a time because I didn’t make cut-off!’  I began to jog.  I could see Kev and Amanda again.  They had run back along the course to meet me.  Were they running to me because I was going to miss the cut-off?  My jog turned into a run, momentarily forgetting about the pain in my feet and allowing me to pass a number of other runners who had all been reduced to a walk for the final few miles.  Kev told me that I needed to run.  Not to panic, but to carry on running.  They wouldn’t let me miss the cut-off.  I would get there in time.  It was so hard not to look at my watch, although I knew it wouldn’t do any good.  The numbers made no sense anymore anyway.  I had no idea how many miles I’d run now or how far there was to go.  Kev’s declaration that it wasn’t far meant nothing and to tell the truth I didn’t trust anyone by this point now anyway!

I ran and ran and ran.  A few cries came from my mouth when I hit particularly hard stones with my now very-blistered feet but I was getting to that finish!  As I ran down into the village hall car park I couldn’t spot a finisher gantry and realised that I had no idea where I needed to go!  I shouted to Kev who told me that I needed to run inside the building.  I threw a wave to Dan who was getting Oscar out of the car, and to John and Lynn who stood near the entrance to the building and pushed on through the doorway.  Now where?!  It wasn’t obvious!  Somebody shouted that I needed to run through the door to the right and so I continued, bursting into a small room to instant applause.  I could see rows of chairs around the room where those who had finished before me now sat, drinking hot drinks and relaxing with family.  Somebody appeared from nowhere to hand me my finisher t-shirt, engraved medal (such a nice touch!) and to pass Dan a bottle of beer.

100 mile Hobo Pace Robin Hood 100 medal

They asked if I would like a hot drink and I started to make my way to a seat, although for some reason I no longer had the urge to sit down.  More runners burst into the room and I joined everyone in clapping.  It was several minutes later before a woman came up and asked if I had handed in my timing chip and given my name to a guy with a board.  I hadn’t and hadn’t realised I needed to do so, so I think my official time is probably a few minutes out.  The provisional results show that I finished at the same time as two other runners (which I didn’t) in 77th place with 29:48:11 for my time.  I would imagine that my time was actually closer to 29:45, but what is three minutes when I know that I made it before cut-off?!  And besides, it will just make it easier to beat my time when it comes to running my next 100 mile race, right?!  😉

100 mile finisher face! (Robin Hood 100)

113 runners started the race, and 79 runners made the finish within cut-off, with a further two runners completing the distance 52 minutes past the 30 allowed hours.

My race absolutely wouldn’t have been the success that it was if it wasn’t for the following people though…
* John and Lynn for agreeing to house Oscar and Dan for the weekend and for filling my belly with pizza the night before the race and cider at the end!
* James for coming out on early morning training runs with me during the few months leading up to the race and then running the dark scary miles from 52-82 with me during the race.  For putting up with my panicking when I totally miscalculated the amount of time I had left at 1am on Sunday morning and for letting me have a little kip on his space blanket when I got tired.
* Guy for crewing me up to mile 82 where he took over from James as pacer and put up with all my shrieks as the stones destroyed the blisters on my feet!
* Helen for organising a superb team of support and for popping up at several of the crew points along the way.
* Grant for his support out on the course.
* Gary for crewing the majority of my race, taking my sock and shoe off to shake the stones out and heading out to buy a much needed Pot Noodle for me mid race. Hopefully I didn’t make too much of a mess in his car!
* Laura for helping crew a large section of the race and for sharing the buggy pushing with Dan at Clumber Park parkrun!
* Kevin and Amanda for running me into the finish despite having run their own 50 mile race on the Saturday, then driving 160 miles up to Nottingham on Saturday night to see me run mine!  For putting up with me when I sobbed that I just wanted to nap and when I had a melt down because Amanda had miscounted the number of bridges to the next checkpoint!
* Dan for putting up with months and months of 5am alarms and numerous evenings when I was out running instead of staying home.  Also for chasing me round the course with Oscar over the weekend.
* Everybody that wished me good luck or gave me advice in the build up to race day. I felt so supported and honoured to have such lovely friends and family who were willing to do so much to help me achieve my goal.  I still cannot get over the fact that so many people went out of their way on so many levels to help ensure I completed my 100 miles.  I am so grateful to all of my friends for their support.

I took nine days off completely after the Robin Hood 100, and did feel a little lost with what to aim for next, although I have started to construct a plan for 2019 this week.  More to follow soon…!

I ran 100 miles! (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ran 100 miles! (Part 1)

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

Robin Hood 100 medal and t-shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the pre-race pizza at John's house

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

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

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

100 race number

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

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

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

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

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

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

100 miles first aid station

(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

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

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

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

Robin Hood 100 miles

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

Towpath on the Robin Hood 100 miles

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

Robin Hood 100 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi fiving Oscar at the Robin Hood 100

(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

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

Oscar playing with my drink on the 100

(Picture shared on the Hobo Facebook page)

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

Part two of my recap to follow over the weekend…

Changing tactics for attempt number 2

I recapped my South Downs Way 100 mile attempt in my last post.  Frustratingly I didn’t complete the distance but I have already entered another 100 mile race in order to have another shot at it.  I will complete 100 miles!

Interestingly I posted a poll on Twitter at the end of last week.  Results below:

So I’m not alone in not completing 100 miles the first time round.

I recently read a quote from Cat Simpson on the Centurion Running website where she spoke about having the confidence to run the Grand Union Canal Race after knowing her body could continue moving past the length of a day, having completed her first 100 mile event in 25 hours.  (She has since gone on to complete 100 milers in a mere 17 hours.  Insane!)

A couple of points:

1 – I can only ever dream of running that fast

2 – I never want to run the GUCR!

3 – Whilst on the Centurion website just now I spotted Robbie Britton’s 100 mile winning time of 15h 47m at the SDW in 2013.  The pro ultra runners don’t have to deal with sleep deprivation at all!

I have bit the bullet and entered the Robin Hood 100 mile race in September.  (64 days away.)  It has very similar rules to SDW in terms of pacing/crew, the same time limit (30 hours) and is a much flatter course on more runnable terrain.  Dan and I have friends living nearby who have agreed to put Dan and Oscar up for the weekend so that they can come out to support me.  (Although I do fear for their two rabbits who Oscar is currently obsessed with.  Not sure the pair of them could put up with a very excitable toddler in love with ‘hop hop bunnies’ for a whole weekend!)
There will be live tracking at the event and I’ll share the link closer to race day.

I also have an amazing team of friends who have offered their services to pace and crew for the day.  I really would not be able to even think about completing this kind of distance without the help I have been offered and it really means so much to me that friends have such high faith in my abilities.  I promise to do my best not to let anyone down.

It would be silly for me to have run 78 miles of the South Downs Way, decide to pull from the event and then rock up to the next one having not taken anything away from the day, so below I’ve tried to pull everything I could from my first experience and commented realistically as to if it worked or if I could have improved things in that area.

Sleep:

This has to come first on my list because I feel like it was my biggest downfall in the build up to the race.  So often sleep or diet are the forgotten ingredients when training and this has very much been the case with me this year.  My sleep has been shocking and I genuinely do not know how I have existed most weeks.  In the build up to race day I was working three night shifts a week – 10pm-7am, followed by one hour of sleep before acting as sole parent in charge of an active and needy toddler the following day.  The only exception to this has been on Sundays when I would usually manage three hours of sleep followed by shared parental responsibility for the day.  Some evenings I would also manage to cram an extra hour of sleep in before my night shift began and towards the end I discovered that I could also fit in a 35 minute nap in the back of my car during my 1am ‘lunchbreak’ on a shift.  But it’s been far from ideal.
Going forward I have since handed my notice in at my night shift job (although have also now retracted it to work just one night a week when Dan and I weighed up the benefits.  One night a week should hopefully be sustainable going forward whilst also providing us some extra money to add to our savings pot.

The night before my first attempt at the distance I had planned on getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep, but a late meal out and early bird call resulted in not getting to bed until 11am and waking by 4am the day of the race.  Again, far from ideal.

Food:

I didn’t take enough food with me in my bag for the start of the race so, other than a nakd bar after a couple of miles, and a couple of grabbed sandwiches at the 10 mile checkpoint I had no other food with me until I met with my crew at mile 22.  I need to sit down and properly study the crewpoints for the next race and work out how much food I need to be taking on board between each checkpoint and ensure my bag always remains topped up.

When I first started working nightshifts I struggled with my appetite and eating.  Most of the other people I work with have a cooked meal during our lunchbreak (1am).  I decided against this as I love breakfast too much, and I like Oscar to have somebody to eat his lunch and dinner with each day, rather than have him eat on his own when he is still so young.  However, it would often result in me grabbing a large bar of chocolate/slice of cake midshift to perk me up and get me through when I was feeling exhausted.  I realised that I wasn’t doing myself any favours and having toyed with the idea for a while I switched to a more vegetarian/vegan lifestyle which is suiting me much better.  I’ll write more about my choices and decisions in another post at some point, but basically I’m not strictly vegan, I never choose meat dishes and have substituted a lot of dairy products with alternatives in recent months.  I don’t like the idea of consuming so much processed food.  If I wouldn’t be happy with Oscar consuming it, then I shouldn’t be either.  I’m much happier with my results since the change and have discovered so many great alternative meals as a result.

However, on race day, I knew that chocolate milk works for me and so kept this in as part of my plan.

Chocolate milk and an apple

Pacing:

I actually think that I paced SDW fairly well.  The going was much easier in the first half than I knew it would be in the second half, and in terms of when to run/walk, this is very much dictated for you with the hills and rough terrain.  I think I will have more problems when it comes to pacing when it comes to the Robin Hood event as it is a much, much flatter course.  I think I may need to stick to some kind of regular run/walk method in order to prevent running too hard too early on in the race.  When I ran the Grim 70m a few years ago I tried to stick to running no faster than 12 minute miles and no walking slower than 15 minute miles and that worked well for me, but it was a very different event – 10 mile loops.  The Robin Hood is three loops.  Two of 30 miles and one of 40 miles.

Darkness:

I have no concerns about running in the dark as I’ve always run trail through the night during the Winter months and so this wasn’t an issue on the SDW.  However, there were only 7 hours and 31 minutes of darkness in June compared to the 11 hours and 11 minutes I will have in September.  Although again, this could help prevent me from travelling too fast during the later miles and burning out before the end.

Core:

I worked religiously on my core at the start of the year but as life took over it was something that I neglected.  However, my core was still fairly strong due to the manual nature of my part time job.  Lugging full supermarket cages around a massive store is not for the faint-hearted and for several weeks I was placed on the juice aisle – one of the heaviest sets of cages of all and often working 8-10 cages in a night.  I ensure I walk a minimum of 10,000 steps each day, including a daily walk with Oscar, who I carry when he gets too tired.  We weighed him the other week and he’s two stone now!  I vividly remember my arms aching from carrying him at just a few weeks old when he was less than 7lbs!

Dan, Oscar and I(When Dan carries him, he takes the easy option of carrying him on his shoulders!)

Training:

I ran around 50ish miles a week in the months leading up to SDW100, although often didn’t record all of my treadmill runs on Strava.  I’m planning to run all of my runs outside in the build up to Robin Hood so as to remain accountable and analyse my pace/training a little better.  I took a full week off from training after SDW, and had a couple of easy training weeks before jumping back in with training again but I’m hoping to get back on it again now.  I’ve been out running with others a fair bit over the last couple of weeks and that always makes me feel more enthusiastic about getting out there for extra miles.
I have to be very organised with when I’m planning on running as I have Oscar at home all week.  I have to get up at 5:15am or run late at night around bedtime/Dan’s work or other activities.  I’ll be honest, on the days when I was super exhausted and struggled to get out of bed in the morning I did roll over and go back to sleep.  It’s something I rarely do as I’m such a morning person, but with so little opportunity to sleep this year I’ve really had to grab any chance I could get.  I need to ensure I slot any missed miles back in later in the day/week though as I want to ensure I give myself the absolute best chance of making it round on race day.
I didn’t complete as many speedwork sessions as I would have liked this year, and feel that I could increase my speed further, therefore completing the race sooner and helping to prevent tiredness setting in too early into the race.

My weakness will definitely be my tiredness on race day.  I thought that I would sail through on no sleep with all the experience I have of sleepless nights, but even though my work is very manual it is NOT the same as covering 100 miles on no sleep at all.

What are your stumbling blocks when it comes to training?
Do you analyse events after you have run them?