I went into detail on the background behind this challenge on the Isle of Wight half Island report (see Isle of Wight Half Island Challenge ) so to summarise, my mum passed away from cancer last September. I wanted to take on a tough challenge to raise money for Cancer Research UK in Mum’s memory.
In the week leading up to the event, I only ran twice for a total of 6 miles, although I did have golf matches on Tuesday and Wednesday. I started carb loading 4 days out and also went to bed early. I had the Friday off work to finalise all my plans and invited my brother and dad round to discuss the plans for the following day, as they were my crew along with my wife.
As with my first marathon, a mixture of excitement and nerves plus a very hot Friday night meant I had very little sleep – somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. Alarm was set for 3:30 for me to have my porridge, hot cross bun, banana and water. I got myself ready and then my wife dropped me at Richmond for the start, an hour before the run commenced.
I collected my race number (learnt from Isle of Wight and attached it to the back of my hydration pack), map and timing pass, relaxed for about 20 minutes, a couple of toilet stops, 24 fl oz of Tailwind loaded and headed to the start pen. Having spent the first mile of the Isle of Wight being whiplashed by my timing pass, which is on a lanyard and then carrying it in my hand until the first mid-point aid station, this time I put my pass straight into my hydration pack.
The strategy for the race this time was to try and enjoy it, make sure that my running pace did not drop below 9-minute miles and walk the hills. I would adjust the strategy as appropriate during the run. The same mantra in place as the title of my favourite ultra book: RELENTLESS FORWARD PROGRESS.
A 5-minute warm up/dance routine and then we were off at 6:30. There was plenty of good humour around in the first few miles. We were running on the flat Thames Path and I was surprised how easy I managed to hold back my pace as I had often struggled with this in training. Rather depressing but amusing at the same time was the carnage of a good Friday night out at Richmond and Kingston with bottles and plastic glasses strewn all over the place, but fortunately just to the side of our route. Having been used to walking the hills in both training and the Isle of Wight race, I think that there was only 1 small hill before we reached the first mid-point. As my wife and I had forgotten to put the Baby Bel into my hydration pack, I picked up a pack of salted peanuts at the first midpoint.
The next 3 miles or so were also flat, so after 10 miles, I had only walked twice. As predicted, at 8am came a downpour. Although my back was soaked in sweat (joy of running with a hydration pack), I had decided to carry my Gore-Tex top and put it on to prevent being totally soaked. We made our way towards Croydon on road and after 15 miles, we arrived at Oaks Park, which was the first main aid station. Great to be met by family crew and a beaker of Tailwind as instructed, who took my hydration pack, changed handkerchiefs (not a glamorous job!), gave me a cold buff, so I could cool my face and neck down, emptied any Tailwind left and loaded fresh and ran through the number of questions that I left: do you have any blisters? Do you need fresh socks? I confirmed that I was happy, tied my shoelaces a little tighter as I was getting a bit of lateral movement and set off.
The next time that I would see them would be at 56k. I always thought that it was positive to have the middle main aid station beyond halfway, but it meant 2 long sections totaling 20 miles. We had now left the tarmac and roads behind and headed through fields and trails, which I much prefer and part of the North Downs Way, which I had not run before. There was probably a group of about 20 of us about 300 yards apart and although I was running mainly on my own, I would either catch up a few or vice versa and most people that I spoke to were doing this type of event for the first time, which surprised me. As we approached this sections midpoint, I was feeling thirsty, so I had a cup of water and squash and loaded a pack of Tailwind powder into my hydration pack.
As I headed towards the 30-mile mark, my legs were getting a bit sore, but they still felt strong. I knew that once I got passed 31 ½ miles, I was into the unknown, as I had never run this far before. As I got close to the 50k mark, there were quite a lot of stiles. Having made a mistake at one of these at the Isle of Wight, I was careful on these to avoid slipping and also to prevent overstretching and risk any feeling of cramp. As we reached the 50k mark, I was still using my walk the hills, run everything else strategy, although understandably, the pace had slowed a bit. I was now looking forward to seeing my family again and managed to get there with a nice run into the screaming crowds and the support of my family. I was oblivious to it, but apparently the microphone announcer commented sarcastically on my hat – a nice light blue baseball cap with back and sides to keep my face and neck in shade as much as possible.
The strategy at this point was to get fully changed and also change my watch with the same Forerunner 620 that Graham Kelly had kindly lent me. Although, the plan was to spend 20 minutes here, it took me the best part of 10 minutes to fully change, so I told my brother not to worry if I go over this time. After all my goal was to finish rather than worry about time. As planned, I used my meal ticket to get some pasta (olive and sun blushed tomatoes) and a raspberry and white chocolate muffin washed down with water. I really struggled to eat this and after eating what I could, I stood up and immediately felt sick. I sat back down and leaning over fully expecting to see the contents of my meal reappear, the first thought was that this is not a good situation with so long left. Fortunately, I was not sick and still sat down, I started to feel a bit better. I asked my wife if I was looking pale. She confirmed that I was not looking pale and I thought that I would probably be OK. As I headed off for the next section, clearly concerned, my brother had a quick chat and said don’t worry about having to stop if you need to.
I walked for the first couple of minutes just to ensure that I was OK and then was back into walking the hills and run the rest strategy. I was concerned about the state of my stomach, so waited a little bit before having a bit of Mars and being fairly sparing with my use of Tailwind. The Tailwind was now struggling to quench thirst for me and I was relieved to get to the next mid point aid station where I had a couple of segments of juicy orange and slowly drank some squash. I was now nearing 70k and although I was thankful that all of the training that I put in was enabling me to retain my strategy, it has to be said that my definition of a hill at this point had a much smaller gradient than on any previous run. I kept imagining getting to the finish and got emotional about my mum and then before I got too emotional, got myself back in check as there was lots more work to do.
Although I had done all of my training runs without music, I had packed my mini iPod in case I needed it. 3 miles from the next main aid station and with 15 miles left, it was time for tune-assisted running. This definitely helped for a bit and I was delighted to see the family again. Although, they had been tracking my iPhone they were amazed to see that I was still running and that I had got over my wobble at the 56k aid station. I decided that I did not want Tailwind now and asked for weak blackcurrant squash to drink now and put into my hydration pack.
No other changes needed and as I set off for the mid point station about 5 miles away, they appeared around the corner wishing me good luck. Although the legs were aching, my running form felt good and I got off to a good start. All the advice from experienced ultra friends and books focus on keeping eating. With this in mind, I had a bite of my flapjack and tried to wash it down with blackcurrant squash. At this point I gagged and once again thought I was going to be sick. I walked for a while to get over this feeling and as it passed I got back into the strategy.
Arriving at the final midpoint before the finish at around 86k, I took the opportunity to sit down, grab some water, fresh pineapple and a couple of orange segments and consume them slowly as this was the last time to fuel before the finish. This was fine and then we had the climb of the day from the bottom of the South Downs to the top. At this point, I was very close to a guy that I had been close to for a number of miles. At the bottom of the climb, we caught up with the walkers, who had started from the 56k mark. We walked up this climb together and as I got to the top, I gave myself a minute to enjoy the magnificent view. After a steep rise, you want a steady decline and that is exactly what was in front of me. I must have run for a good couple of miles as I headed into Falmer. A few more climbs and runs to negotiate, but I was now passing the k markers in the 90s – so close now! I managed to keep running and reached the start of the racecourse, I walked up the slight incline until I got to 99k. It was time to put away my iPod. I could see the finish in the distance and hear the cheering. It was mainly uphill, but that was not going to stop me running it. My family were cheering me on as I approached the finish. I gave a kiss to the sky and sprinted to the line. I had done it. I was an Ultra runner! No need to collapse – I had enough strength to get my medal, get big hugs from my family and pose for a couple of photos.
I like statistics: my training started on 11th January and has typically consisted of 5 days training plus stretching/weights/Pilates (all at home). Up until the week before final tapering week, I had run 831 miles at an average of 43.76 miles per week with the longest week being 68.77 miles.
I know blisters can be a big problem for us runners, but I was able to complete the 100k without any damaged toenails or blisters. I did some research and then bought the book ‘Fixing your Feet’. Most of you probably know about cutting your toenails a few days before the event. I had never previously filed down my toenails, so that there were no jagged edges. I have a callus on one of my toes, which I have been filing down and using foot moisture cream on. It is not perfect yet, so I taped it with a product called Leukotape P. I put Engo Blister Plasters in the front and back of each shoe and rubbed Body Glide (drier version of Vaseline) on to the bottom of my feet. I have been trying different pairs of socks, but used Injinji socks for the first 56k – they have a slot for each individual toe. I used Armaskin (based in Australia) socks for the last 44k. The socks and blister plasters are not cheap, but for me it was definitely worth it.