It’s the night before I attempt to run 100 miles and I am packing my kit bag with my 7 year old niece. Jemima has my print out of the kit list I plan to take. She reads out the items, I raise them in the air for her to tick off and it goes in the bag. A cute game where she struggles with some of the more technical items (Salamon Lab 12 race vest, Calf Compression socks, Lucazade etc).
I then remember what I had written on the list to protect my nipples from chafing. “Tit tape?” Jemima reads out. Oops. “Pronounced T. I. T tape” I reply. “Here it is” and it goes in the bag after a lengthy discussion with Jemima, her mum and my wife about what its purpose is.
When we get onto packing the calories Jemima advises that I don’t need 10 chocolate bars. 7 will do – she can have the other three. I got the impression this one would be a great person to have crewing the ultra runs!
Early to bed. I don’t sleep well and am up at 5am to make it down to Samphire Hoe Country Park in Kent for the 8am start.
I spot a number of regular runners, some I had been communicating with up to the event regarding the excitement, planning and training (of which I had done none after recently recovering from a bulging disc). This race had been on our minds for a long time and finally here we were, some more prepared than others, all of us with our own goals but the ultimate one being just to get it done.
We sign some sort of emergency details form / pre-filed death certificate that Karen Commons is handing out just in case our loved ones need to be contacted in the event of an emergency. Traviss gives the race briefing and advises us of some timings. “8am tomorrow is your last chance to drop from the 100 mile race to the 24hr challenge and still be a finisher”. 8am tomorrow! These sort of times did not compute with me. There was a possibility then that I could still be running this thing at this time tomorrow. I made a rather ambitious and arrogant promise to myself there and then that I would not be here at 8am tomorrow. I’d have either finished or quit, if I was to see 8am and still be running then I’d have overstayed my time.
The race began and off we went. The weather was windy and a lot of the race is along a sea front wall. High tide was at midday and when it came we were battling sea spray and at times 60+mph winds. The first few hours were spent finding the right pace and place in the race. I share a few conversations and a pleasant lap early on around the 13 mile mark with Paul Commons where we talk running and how we got into this mess of running over 300 marathons between us.
I lose Paul and spend the next 11 hours alone.
Time passes very quickly on the ultras so while this sounds like a long time it didn’t feel like it. The high tide had backed out again and the winds were slowly dying down making the early evening shift quite pleasant. I was lost in my mp3 player with Billy Joel’s live at Shea Stadium album, singing along when I thought it was just me about.
We lose the daylight, domino’s pizza is served at the aid station. I grab my head torch and a few slices of pizza and quickly get back out. I was given an interesting stat by fellow runner with twins Jon White regarding stopping times. There were 26 opportunities to refuel and do what was necessary for this race. Just stopping for 2 minutes at each of these stops would put almost 1hr onto a runners finishing time! I decided then to stay as little as possible in the comfort of the aid station, grabbing the first thing on the snack table I could see, gulping down Lucozade and getting back on with it as quickly as possible.
10pm, 66 miles in and around 11 hours by myself, now running in the dark passing other runners giving each other a “well done” disaster struck. I started to fatigue very quickly. My mind was turning to mush, the legs are fine but the stomach is doing flips and twists. Luckily Sarah Galt arrives and recognises me in the dark. She is pacing for her husband Paul (winner of the race) who clearly needs no help at this stage whatsoever. She strikes up a conversation and I try to disguise my distress. I don’t really like being helped at a time when I feel this rotten but looking back at it I think without Sarah I would have tapped out at the very next opportunity. She keeps me talking and we exchange stories about family and less trivial matters. Anything to keep the mind off the body’s current discomfort. I tell her that for the last several hours I’ve been trying to catch up with friends Jon and Sarah (a great running team who have run around 100 marathons together) where I would then slow my pace down a bit and see a few miles out with some company. We plod on, Sarah Galt keeps the pace and runs ahead to the aid station.
I get to the aid station totally defeated. I think about those around me, my family and friends who (in my mind) are expecting me to see this through. I think about quitting. I could be home in bed tonight by 11:30pm. So what if it wasn’t 100miles, I’d done 66, that’s enough surely? People will understand. Crap weather, recent disc bulge injury and a bad night sleep prior to the race. I ask to sit down at the aid station, tell fellow race director Racheal that I’m not happy and don’t like her very much at the moment (jokingly) and look to quit. The other race director Traviss approached for “the chat”.
The next 40 minutes are a bit blurry. In a nut shell Traviss tells me that I have plenty of time left in the race to get this done but as I explain my symptoms to him even he with all his experience of finishing 34x 100 mile races starts to doubt. The one thing he did say that got me a tad choked though is how proud he said my boys would be of their Dad having run 100 miles. I think this statement alone took my hand away from ringing the bell and declaring defeat. The team sat me inside and force fed me toast and coffee. I waited, I sat and I see all the other runners. The place looks like an A&E room on a Friday night. We could have been mistaken for drunks as we probably displayed very similar behaviours. Some with bed head having napped in their cars after being a tad exhausted, some passed out on the floor, others shivering and close to being sick.
I had a different problem. I was sweating, a lot and not feeling the cold of the winter night. I waited some more having not officially quit the race. I would see what time could do for me. With the weight off my feet and the adrenalin subsiding I felt the colossal weight of exhaustion and tiredness come over me. This was not good. I did not want to fall asleep and pick this up later when the muscles had started stiffening. I was approached by the odd caring runner. The one that made me almost crack a smile was hero of the race Rob Cowlin. Looking at me rather seriously he gave me his own pep talk and then said “I’ll see you back out there”. He believed in himself so strongly at that moment it felt like something out of a movie, like a speech from Braveheart, Gladiator or equivalent with the Hans Zimmer music going.
I asked for more toast and coffee and noticed having asked for this the sickness was going. I was entering my second wind, had broken through the wall or to put it scientifically I had depleted all my glycogen stores and the body was turning to the fat reserves to fuel itself. The body’s normal defence mechanism when hitting the wall is to make you feel sick as it doesn’t want to make the switch to burning fat stores for energy. If the will power is there to hold through the switch from glycogen to fat it accepts and hey presto back in business. To make the comeback even better Jon and Sarah had made another loop and dragged me out with them for some more. I thanked Traviss, and Racheal asked if I loved them all again. Jesus man, I was so high on not being defeated that I told her I’d marry her once this was done.
Back in the game
This melt down had cost me around 40minutes. When I got back out with Jon and Sarah we were greeted with rain. Lots of it. The sight in front of my face was rain droplets and 2 metres of visible trail lit by my head torch. Nothing else.
Jon’s strategy for the race was a sub 24hour finish. He too wanted to be done by 8am. He had planned the living sh*t out of his race. Pace charts, minute miles, stop times, sun up and sun down times and he had been rewarded because of it. Sarah’s strategy on the other hand was “I just keep going until I’m told to stop”. We chat for 6 miles and even with the grim weather I cheer up immensely as we talk into the early hours of the morning about runs we had done, what to do next, will we make the 8am cut off. Having the company on ultra-running is a massive aid and the miles are chewed up all the quicker for it.
We hit the next aid station. Jon and Sarah go to their kit bags and I walk in to get some previsions. I come out and start panicking thinking that I had lost them and they had gone on to keep with Jon’s calculated pacing. I head out alone again and put the hammer down trying to catch up with them. Another 6 miles goes by and they are nowhere to be seen. 3am and I am back on the trails alone again.
I get to the aid station again and see the place swarming with fatigued, distressed bodies and in some cases (such as Ollie Dawson) flat on their backs with eyes rolled into their skulls. I was genuinely concerned for Ollie and looked round to see if anyone had given him a prod recently. I decided to let him be. He was where I was some hours ago I thought. I headed back out. A&E was oversubscribed. The kettle and toaster working double time to keep these people conscious. Big thanks should be given here to Gemma and the team who worked that aid station like superheroes!
I check my watch, it was now 5am and I had a bit of a moment. I’m going to finish this beast. I run, hard and try as little of the walk/run strategy as possible. With 3 miles to go at 6:20am and the darkness of night gone I experienced one of the most euphoric moments of my running career to date. This was in the bag. A massive weight off my shoulder. Everything is so much easier in the light. I come in for the final straight and see Jon going out for his final 3 miles with Sarah close behind. I’m speaking for him but I certainly think we shared a bit of a euphoric moment. Both being fathers of twins we know what hard is. We both shout something at each other. “Sub 24hrs baby!!!!” I say with Jon replying “Easy!!!”
I cross the line. Traviss congratulates me and asks what all that nonsense was about at 10pm last night but tells me not to worry – these things usually get lost in the detail. Unfortunately they don’t. A strong sub 23hr finish saw me presented with a gold buckle.
I won’t go into the details of the drive home or the rest of my Sunday as it was all rather hazy! All I will say though is that once the race was over I learnt that it had a 45% drop out rate. Fortunately all the people mentioned above crossed the line on that windy and rainy weekend.
Be like Jon. Plan it and plan it and execute it to the plan. If you can’t then be like Sarah or me. Find a Jon out there and follow.
Don’t try and “beat” your own goals. Your mind was of a sane state when making them. All through the first 66miles I was thinking that I could be done by 4am and running like it was possible. Most of us will be there overnight – likelihood is you will be too!!!
No one really cares about your race time. Only you.
Complete the race and running will never taste the same again!!!