It had been only 8 weeks since the South Downs Way 100. During that time I had little motivation and didn’t manage much more than a few short runs. The only ‘proper’ training I had managed was the Wendover Woods Night 50K race and a 20ish mile recce of the final section of the North Downs Way 100 route.
It’s safe to say training had not gone to plan. That was further exacerbated by the fact I had made a slight logistical error and managed to book our family holiday over this weekend. The upshot was that I would:
- Head out to Greece with the family the Sunday before the race.
- Spend a good week laying around in the sun and drinking Mythos / Ouzo.
- Catch an EasyJet flight back to Gatwick on the Friday (day before the race).
- Pick up the car and drive it to the race finish point in Ashford.
- Get a train to Farnham and stay in a local hotel on the Friday night.
- Run the North Downs Way 100.
- Stay in a local hotel when I finished sometime Sunday
- Get up at 2am on the Monday and drive back to Gatwick.
- Catch an EasyJet flight back to Greece
- Spend a recovery week laying around in the sun and drinking Mythos / Ouzo.
Of course, things went exactly to plan. No, they did, really! I’m as surprised as you are!
Let me elaborate a bit on step 6 (Run the North Downs Way 100)….
It was a 6am start on race day, which is good and bad. Good that it makes the most of summer daylight. Bad that it’s bloody early and deprives you of sleep on a day when you’ll be running through the night. I had a tiny advantage in that Greece is 2 hours ahead, so I’d been getting up at 7am (5am UK time) all week anyway.
It’s a Centurion race, and if you’ve read any of my other race reports you’ll know they have a slick process for getting folks kit checked, registered, race numbers distributed etc. Today was no different.
I knew it was going to be hot, around 25c so I made sure I had plenty of suncream on.
Just before 6am we had a race briefing and then they walked us down to the start of the North Downs Way. There’s a sign there, and I had time to get a photo by the ever present Stuart March. The start is a path, next to a road with nothing particular around it other than the metal sign.
Anyway we set off at 6 precisely. I kept things steady initially thinking that I should make the most of the cooler part of the day.
It was getting warm by the time I hit the first aid station after about 7 miles. Then shortly afterwards we hit a few hill. By now I was completely soaked in sweat from the humidity and effort (even though I was taking it much easier now). It was as if I’d just gotten out the shower.
By the time I got to the second aid station at Newlands Corner (15ish miles) I knew it was going to be a really tough day. t felt like I was dehydrated. I kept needing a pee but when I stopped to go very little would come out. Then a couple of minutes later I’d need again. Very odd sensation.
My goals were to get to half way in 12 hours, 75 miles in 20 hours and finish before the 30 hour cut-off. I was moving pretty well most of the day. Certainly some 18 minute miles, but those were on the hillier sections. I made it to the half way point at Knockholt Pound Village Hall in 11:45, so a little inside my target time.
A good 20 mins was spent here. I got changed, complete new set of clothes. Washed my face and arm/hands to get the grime and sweat off. Restocked my race vest and headed out again. Still moving well.
The next 10 miles all went smoothly. It was still super warm, but there was shade. I kept moving into shade where I could. At 60 miles there an aid station at Wrotham. I probably spent 12-15 minutes here getting some food and changing wet (sweaty) socks.
The First Hard Bit
Shortly after leaving the Wrotham aid station things get tough. My left calf was causing me a lot of pain on every step. Right in the middle of the calf muscle. Every step was painful, but it wasn’t getting worse if I walked.
I persevered. Given that this was the third of the four 100 mile Grand Slam races I was adamant that I would not give up unless I absolutely had to. The pain wasn’t getting any worse whilst walking so I just cracked on. Moving at walking pace meant I began to get worried about cut-offs. I was continually doing mental calculations to figure out what speed I’d need to stay ahead of the cutt-offs.
After about 20 miles of this pain and worry (cut-offs) I was really starting to get miserable. Definitely not enjoying things.
I cheered myself up slightly with the fact that I was coming to the 76 mile point and I’d get my drop bag. However I got the to aid station, Bluebell Hill, only to find that the drop bags were not till Detling at 82 miles. I had got to 76 miles in 19:49, just within my target time, but ugh… another 6 miles of plodding.
The Spooky Bit
It was around here there was a weird spooky field. As I reached it I could see a whole bunch of equally spaced lights. I kept going towards them and then started to hear this strange buzzing noise. Expecting to be the victim of some alien abduction, I carried on. Then I realised they were not light, but traffic cones reflecting my headtorch light.
They were laid out in lines directly under an overhead powerline pylon, which wass where the loud buzzing was coming from. Very worried now…
Now convinced I was going to get electrocuted I passed through the cones and powerline as quick as I could.
The Good Bit
Getting to Detling was a job. A chance to change kit, wash my face, get some food. It was a oasis of relief. Alas there is good and bad here. Right after Detling are ‘those’ steps. Wooden steps cut into the hillside. Hundreds of them. Just the wrong height and length to do them in one step and just the wrong height and length to do them in two steps. It was somewhere inbetween, a step and a short shuffle and a change of leading foot every few steps. Painful and very annoying.
When the various sets of steps, up and down, finally ran out I suddenly realised that my calf pain had gone. I couldn’t recall if I still had it when I left Detling. Either way the short stop at Detling or the infamous steps had resolved it. I could run again.
When I say run, of course, I mean shuffle for a short distance every now and then. Regardless it felt good. I started to feel better about the cut-offs.
The Second Hard Bit
Unfortunately the running (shuffling) didn’t last too long. By the next aid station, Lenham, I was getting ITB pain. This reduced me to a walk / march again. I found a weird kind of half limp with a twisting my foot at the end of the stride than worked okay. It kept the pain to a minimum and allowed me to fast walk / march. So that was it. I knew I was doing my biomechanics no favours and would probably pay for it later, but like I said earlier, this was the third of four 100 mile Grand Slam races. I wasn’t stopping unless it was absolutely necessary.
By now it was morning again and the sun was up. I made my way ever onwards. I knew this final section as I had recce’d it a few weeks prior. The miles crept up as I got closer to the end.
The End Bit
I hit the Dunn Street Farm aid station, listed on the race instructions as 98.4 miles. The Garmin was showing over 100 miles by now, and I still had about 4 or 5 miles to go. I spotted Graham Carter leaving the aid station as I was entering. I’d spoken to him many times on Facebook but we’d never met in person. I shouted to him introducing myself and we shook hands, but that’s all either of us could muster.
This final section, the home straight, was enjoyable on the recce. However now, all I wanted was for it to be over. Cut-offs would be okay. I calculate I would have an hour or so to spare. It was just a case of getting it done. The route cuts a path right down the middle of some fields with tall crops in them so it’s really picturesque. I couldn’t care less though. Time to get this done.
After those it’s through a small church near Champneys (what I’d give for a spa bath). Then it’s onto roads that spit you out at the top of Ashford. There’s still a could of miles, mostly downhill, to get to the Julie Rose Stadium.
The Finish Line
Finally I get to the stadium, hit the athletics track and shuffle my way around it.
Finishing in 28:53:28 for 153 place (of 188 finishers) and the third of my 100 mile Grand Slam buckles.
A volunteer brought me a chair and I promptly sat down and let the pressure drain away. All I could do was sit there at the side of the track with a cup of tea and a hotdog mustering up the energy to get changed and walk to my car.
One race to go. 10 weeks till the Autumn 100, possibly my favourite 100 miler so far and my first sub 24 hour 100.