A100: 3 weeks to go

 

Photo by Leo

MONDAY (0 miles)

Yoga in the morning, foam rolling in the evening. Despite yesterday’s long(ish) run, I actually felt like I could have run today. But I stuck to the plan and gave my legs the chance to recover.

TUESDAY (11.6 miles)

The plan was to run with the newly-formed running club at work and then run home, all at a nice easy pace. But the only person who turned up is young and quick so I did miles at tempo pace and then jogged homewards. With a few miles to go I decided to see if I could respond to an increase in pace and to my surprise and delight found myself fairly flying along and didn’t want to stop. Just occasionally, there’s a pace and point in a run where it feels absolutely exhilarating to be running and this was that rare time for me. I guess this is the runner’s high you hear about. And bloody marvellous it was too.



WEDNESDAY (11.9 miles)

Again went out for a few miles after work  with the office whippet and someone else so again started out speedily. Soon settled down to a more easy pace for the journey home and got back feeling not too knackered.

THURSDAY (0 miles)

Probably could have gone to track for some mile reps (my original plan) but decided they wouldn’t be high quality so had a lie-in and did some extra foam rolling, which I definitely needed.

 

FRIDAY (5.7 miles)

For the first time in ages I got up in time for the Friday morning run with Fulham Running Club along the Thames. Was rewarded with some good chat with Leo (who is also doing the Autumn 100 – his first 100 but I’m sure he’s going to be brilliant) and some FRC ladies, as well as a beautiful sunny and misty river run. Was tempted to continue the run all the way to work but need to save the legs for tomorrow’s route recce.

SATURDAY (24.8 miles)

Cat, Dudley and Leo refuel at halfway

We picked a beautiful day to check out leg 3 of the Autumn 100, from Goring village up to Chain Hill, west on the Ridgeway. I was running with Dudley, Cat and Leo, all of whom are running the A100, and all of whom are a lot quicker and fitter than me. The pace was a touch hot for me and I paid for it in the final ascent at mile 20 but overall coped fairly well on tired legs. It was a stunning day out, although the wind up  there could be a bit challenging come the night of the race. If all goes to plan I’ll be up there from about 8.30pm until about 2am. Great to see it in the daylight and sunshine though!



SUNDAY (0 miles)

A day of rest. Lying down, eating, a spot of yoga and some foamrolling. Looking forward to an easier week.

 

Weekly total: 54.1 miles

This was peak week for my training. In the seven days from last Sunday to this Saturday I ran 71 miles, which I think is the most I’ve ever done in that period. So while I felt a bit disheartened to see the other looking so fresh after our recce, I won’t be running anything like as fast as them on race day, and I won’t have had quite such a big week. It’s easy to get distracted by other people’s running but I need to focus on myself and stick to my plan.

A plan which will now also see me doing more core strength workouts over the coming weeks. I’ve been neglecting them and even a few short sessions a week will help me to be stronger come race day. 20 days to go…

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A100: 4 weeks to go


MONDAY (0 miles)
Yoga first thing. Sore back by the end of the day. I think my body just gets confused when I don’t run!

TUESDAY (7.7 miles)

The run commute this morning and for a few miles decided to keep it easy all the way. But the further I went the better I felt so this ended up as a steady progression run. I think I’ve also finally found a route which is fairly direct but without too much foot or road traffic. Score!

WEDNESDAY (6.1 miles)

Nice steady bridges loop with Fulham Running Club. Great to catch up with people even if I didn’t fancy beer. Probably thinking about tomorrow morning’s track session…

THURSDAY (6 miles)

A beautiful morning by the time I headed home. By then I’d done 10x400m at a decent pace so happy with that.

FRIDAY (10 miles)

Worked at home so took the chance to do an early evening run round Clapham Common and back. Even at an easy pace I was pretty tired by the end. Four days’ running in a row is about my limit.

SATURDAY (10.1 miles)

A rare Saturday off running as I was volunteering at the inaugural Chiltern Wonderland 50, a new ultra from Centurion Running. My first time doing over timing and boy, is it hard work! Runners should be made to come into the check point one at a time with a gap of no less than 30 seconds 🙂 Great fun and good to see lots of familiar faces doing so well.

SUNDAY (17.2 miles)

A wonderful weekend of running altruismwas rounded off today when I ran to Kingston Bridge to meet Steph who was doing the Richmond Marathon. When I met her (at mile 16) she was a bit knackered, having set off too fast. So I just ran with her to keep her company and see how close we could get to her pre-race target of 3:35. She showed incredible grit to tough it out for 10 miles and finished in 3:37. Top effort from her and great fun for me. I also did some foam rolling which was considerably less fun.

Weekly total: 47.3 miles

My biggest mileage week for a while. This week I’ve been thinking about finishing the Autumn 100. Literally, how I’ll run (or possibly walk) those last few yards and how great it will feel. I don’t know if visualisation works, but I’m willing to give it a try. If nothing else, filling my head with positive thoughts feels good so I’ll keep doing that for now.

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A100: 5 weeks to go

MONDAY (0 miles)

Yoga am, foam rolling the calves pm. Seem to have gained a twinge in my lower back overnight. Probably just a reaction to it being Monday.

TUESDAY (5 miles)

It may be September but it was very warm even at 6:15 this morning. Humidity and early mornings always make me feel sick but managed to avoid blapping all over the Thames Path. A few form drills in the park followed by an easy progression run.

WEDNESDAY (8.2 miles)

Started the day with a short (25 minute) leg session, with lunges, squats and stability exercises. The plan was to run a quick 10k as part of my 8-mile run commute home. As soon as I picked up the pace, I felt something like indigestion which I couldn’t shake. It was also warm, and I set off too fast so after 5 miles decided to cruise the rest home. I don’t know what brought that feeling on but I also couldn’t eat dinner which is very unlike me. I’ve also had a bit of a cold and have been phlegmy on my runs, although maybe I need to lay off the milk and cheese for a bit.

THURSDAY (6.1 miles)


A couple of easy miles to track, some form drills to warm up and then 6x600m. Still feeling a mixture of nausea and indigestion so this wasn’t a great session. Also, as it was less than 12 hours since my last run, I wasn’t recovered. Still, got it done and I now have 48 hours to rest up, overcome this stomach issue and have a crack at my parkrun PB on Saturday.

FRIDAY (0 miles)

Early morning yoga and some foam rolling in the evening. Classic.

SATURDAY (4.5 miles)

One of the many great things about running with a club is that there’s usually someone faster than you. Well, there is if you’re me and you run with Fulham. So I asked my speedy chum Andy Han to pace me to a PB at parkrun today. He did his best but I couldn’t keep up and despite getting to halfway in 10:08, 20:19 didn’t happen. But given it was 25 seconds faster than last week, I’ll take 20:22. If I can work on my mental attitude when I’m getting fatigued I can crack this. Maybe even go sub-20.

SUNDAY (15.7 miles)

It’s the second Sunday of the month and another chance to run the Thames Hare & Hounds’ Second Sunday 5, a 5-mile trail race on Wimbledon Common. Cheap, cheerful and low key, usually – there were nearly 60 runners today – it’s a good, lumpy test and the perfect training for the winter cross-country season. I did this in July and finished in just under 40 minutes so the aim was to jog there, give it a go, and then run for an hour afterwards to get my weekend mileage up.


Knowing the course was a bonus and I felt comfortable with a pace of just over 7 minute miles until I reached the Toast Rack which is always a battle of attrition. Maintaining a consistent pace and finishing strongly are always my aim and with the exception of a girl who took off on the final descent, no one overtook me after the first half mile. My time was 37:00 so very happy with that.

Weekly total: 39.9 miles

Another good week. Every now and then I wonder if I should be doing more miles – which I will, a bit, for the next two weeks – but I’m confident that the good quality mileage I’m doing is helping to improve my overall fitness. Hopefully this will be at least as good as just doing more miles. We shall see in less than five weeks!

 

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A100: 6 weeks to go

MONDAY (0 miles)

10-hour flight from San Francisco overnight. 30 minutes sleep. Swapped an easy run for a nap.

TUESDAY (5 miles)

A few easy miles in some cheap new shoes. Turns out they’re cheap because they won’t last long! Comfy though. Also got a slightly painful but much needed sports massage in the evening.

WEDNESDAY (8.1 miles)

Resurrected the run commute, overcoming jetlag-related nausea to finish strongly.

THURSDAY (6.8 miles)

Early morning track session. Felt a bit nauseous (again) so started with 2×800, followed by 4×400, and then 2×800. Decent session and wasn’t even interrupted by the local geese. They must have known I meant business.

FRIDAY (0 miles)

Early morning yoga and that was it for the day. Absolutely shattered. Sometimes I love rest day.

SATURDAY (4.6 miles)

After a few weeks of shorter, faster runs, I had this notion that I might be able to get close to my parkrun PB (20:20). However, beating this meant 6:32/mile pace which seemed unlikely so I just set off at what I thought was a sustainable pace. Aside from a slack second mile, I was happy to finish in 20:47. Maybe next week. Also got my regular maintenance session at the chiropractor which should keep me in shape as I up the mileage.

SUNDAY (19.5 miles)

I’ve been sneezing all week and just assumed I was allergic to going back to work. But when I woke up with the feeling of a cold in my head I very nearly didn’t go for the planned long run. Felt a bit ropey for the first few miles but by the time I reached Richmond Hill for some continuous hill reps I was in the groove. While it wasn’t a quick run, I finished feeling strong, which is all I can hope for at this stage.

Weekly total: 44.3 miles

A good week. Need to focus on doing more strength work though. Starting to have muscle overuse injury thoughts. Mentally, I’m 100% ready to finish a 100-miler. Physically, I’m not so certain.

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A100: 7 weeks to go

NB You have not missed a week. I realised the ‘weeks to go’ referred to the start of my week, not the end when this is being published so we’re down to 7 now! (I never was very good at maths.)

This week has made me appreciate just how tough it is running in hot and humid climates. Fair to play to anyone who’s done Ironman Kona in Honolulu especially!

MONDAY (7 miles)
Went out with the plan of doing an hour, increasing the pace every 20 mins. After half an hour I was really struggling with the heat (25 degrees at 7.30am) and very nearly called it a day when I passed our condo with only 38 minutes on the clock. Struggled on and although I stopped for a dry heave at the roadside, rallied and managed to pick up the pace for the last mile. It was a good reminder that bad patches do pass – I’m sure I’ll have to remember this a lot during Autumn 100.

TUESDAY (3.5 miles)
Moved into a hotel yesterday and it has a gym. Took the opportunity to do some upper body and core strength work before a hilly 30 minutes on the treadmill. I’m not a fan of treadmills but it was blessedly cool which was a delight. Also banged my head on a low-hanging TV screen which was less of a delight. How I still haven’t realised I’m 6’2″ after all these years is a mystery.

WEDNESDAY (5.4 miles)
Braved the outside world this morning and attempted some fartlek. Soon found this wasn’t happening as the heat got a bit much and in the end just about managed 45 minutes. Had a good long stretch afterwards.

THURSDAY (0 miles)
Stretches, balance drills, lunges and some plank variations before breakfast. Breakfast was more fun.

FRIDAY (7.8 miles)
Set off slowly with the hope of finishing stronger and to an extent achieved this. Running in the heat has made me realise how important judging effort rather than pace is. Sometimes you have to accept that you can’t go as fast as you want and that’s okay.

SATURDAY (0 miles)
Flew from Hawaii to San Francisco.

SUNDAY (5.8 miles)
Took advantage of a late checkout and did some mile reps along the San Francisco Bay trail.

Mile 1: 8:55

Mile 2: 6:52

2 mins rest

Mile 3: 6:29

2 mins rest

Mile 4: 6:22

2 mins rest

Mile 5: 6:47

Mile 6: 8:56

Finally getting some speed back which is a relief. However, my form was definitely failing in the last mile rep so I still have plenty of work to do on the quality of form. More running drills and focus on technique required. It’s not much fun and I hardly know anyone who works on their form, but I firmly believe I will benefit from it if I can keep it up regularly.

Weekly total: 29.7 miles 



Not a huge week by any means but pleased to keep the running going while I’ve been away.

*FAT BOY ALERT*



Managed to put on 4 pounds in two weeks, which shows how well I’ve been living while on holiday (and also how middle-aged I am). Having said that, I’m running a mile considerably quicker now than I was a few weeks ago, so maybe it doesn’t matter? Either way, I’ll be hoping to shed some weight before race day. To be carrying any more weight than is necessary is not ideal.
Looking forward to getting back to some increased mileage weeks as the race gets ever closer.

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A100: 9 weeks to go


Finding a balance between enjoying the holiday and feeling like I’m still keeping fit isn’t easy but I’ve kept myself ticking over this week.


Monday (5.4 miles)

Jogged down to the Embarcadero (the piers in San Francisco) before 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back, as hard as I could maintain a decent 5k pace. Managed 6:57, 7:02 and 6:57 for the three miles which I was fairly happy with. Another mile or so back to the hotel and I was ready for breakfast.


Tuesday (14.8 miles)

With jetlag still a bit of an issue I made the most of the time awake and headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Running across an entirely fog enshrouded bridge was a slightly unnerving experience and as soon as I reached the Marin County sign and headland I headed back. The plan was to pick up the pace on the return leg but to start with I was struggling. Then I was passed by a girl either doing intervals or just much faster than me (probably both) and I had a ready-made pacemaker. I managed a negative split and collapsed in a heap back at the hotel.



Wednesday (0 miles)

Woke up in Maui, one of the Hawaiian islands, after an exhausting evening flight. Did some yoga to work out some kinks. Flying is no good for my flexibility.


Thursday (0 miles)

Did some snorkelling. That was about the extent of my exercise today.


Friday (0 miles)

Started the day with some body weight exercises to get the limbs and heart moving before heading out for what was meant to be a scenic 5-mile coastal hike. However, the trail was next to non-existent and when it passed through a nudist beach and we were enthusiastically approached and then followed by a naked man, we decided to cut our losses and leave sharpish.


Saturday (5.5 miles)

With parkrun yet to reach Hawai’i, I decided on some quarter-mile reps along the coast road. With numerous undulations and little in the way of a footpath it was a challenging run. And even before 8am it was fairly warm and humid so I was pleased with my effort.


Sunday (0 miles)

More snorkelling and saw a turtle! Very exciting. Bit of an upper body workout with all the swimming. Let’s call it another rest day.



Weekly total: 25.8 miles 

Not a bad week considering, with some good quality making up somewhat for a lack of quantity. Realistically, next week will be similar. On the plus side, I have no injuries and I’m unlikely to overtrain!

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A100: 10 weeks to go

I’m training for the Autumn 100, my second attempt at a 100-miler. After a long run on Sunday and a higher mileage week, this week was focused on easier runs and fewer miles.

Monday (0 miles)

The usual start to the week with some early morning yoga. I rarely want to do it but always feel better after.
Tuesday (4.7 miles)

I’d planned to get up early and do a few miles before breakfast but my heart wasn’t in it. Literally. When I’ve done more or more intense running, I sometimes wake up with increased heart rate, which apparently is a sign of overtraining. I took the hint and waited until lunchtime for my easy run. This time I found the Rotherhithe tunnel and ran through it as part of a 5-mile loop near work. Tip: unless you’re being chased by zombies, never, ever run through the Rotherhithe tunnel. I could feel the vehicle fumes sticking to my lungs as I ran and spent the afternoon coughing. Filthy.

Wednesday (4.1 miles)

I had a few local errands to run and so that’s what I did, literally ran from one to the next. Slightly shocked at how few cyclists in the area were wearing helmets. Maybe it was National Idiot Day. Strangely sore knee afterwards but probably just a reaction from Sunday’s long run.

Thursday (6.3 miles)

Having consulted with Podium Princess Cat (who had casually won a trail marathon the previous weekend), we postponed track until today. Amelia also joined us for 10 x 400m. Somewhat surprisingly, I found leading rather than following easier to focus on form (keeping my head still this week – I can’t do more than one thing at once), and felt pretty good throughout. I managed to improve my lap time to 1:15, which according to Strava is my second best time. Still no idea what my best time is. Managed to fit in some foam rolling in the evening, focusing on my left calf which had turned into a block of concrete during the day.

Friday (5.9 miles)

Another early start to meet a few fellow Fulham Running Club runners at 6:45 for an easy jog across Putney Bridge, along the Thames Path to Hammersmith Bridge and back to Fulham. Except the ladies are clearly a bit quicker than me with their average pace close to my marathon pace. I could have slowed down and run on my own but that would have defeated the object of a group run. Still, it was good to see some familiar faces and meet some new people on a beautiful morning by the Thames. Sunny, cool, perfect.

Saturday (0 miles)

An enforced but also much needed rest day began with some yoga before breakfast. I’m aware all this early morning activity is making me sound a bit virtuous but really it’s a combination of time available and absolutely required maintenance to keep my old body in some sort of reasonable shape. Barely a day goes by that I don’t wish I was doing all this training as a 23-year-old instead of a 43-year-old. Hey ho. Out of curiosity, I also weighed myself. 11st 4lb. Today I fly to San Francisco for a few days before moving onto Maui. I wonder if I’ll be able to do enough exercise on this holiday to a) keep my training on track and b) keep my weight at least stable while I’m away enjoying myself. I know, it’s a tough gig. But I enjoy a challenge. I also enjoy a beer and a burger…

Sunday (5.7 miles)

San Francisco is all hills. So it seemed silly not to incorporate some hill reps into my jetlag-early pre-breakfast run. Absolutely love running here, even when the weather isn’t amazing. And the grid system means you can’t really get lost. Already looking forward to going out again tomorrow.

Weekly total: 26.8 miles

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A100: 11 weeks to go

I’m training for the Autumn 100, my second attempt at a 100-miler.  This week didn’t quite go to plan, as you’ll see from the daily details below. But that’s all part of the fun. Being flexible, making things work and trying not to get injured.

MONDAY (0 miles)
Rest day. Got around to the upper body workout first thing, mainly press-ups and a few weights, with a bit of core thrown in for good measure. Also did some foam rolling in the evening. It’s no fun but I do think it helps my calves which are basically like concrete.

TUESDAY (6.3 miles)
At Barn Elms track at 6:30am for 400m reps with Cat. She is always winning races so I did my best to keep up. Managed to once out of 10 laps before my lack of -pre-run breakfast caught up with me and my energy was all used up. Current PB of 1:18 to beat next time. 400s are actually quite fun, I’ve decided. Which probably means I’m not going hard enough…

WEDNESDAY (7.8 miles)
Ran in to work. Fairly steady with a bit of pace to finish. Almost found the perfect route that’s a blend of scenic and not too pedestriany.


THURSDAY (0 miles)
Did some yoga in the morning. My plan to run home was scuppered by my inability to prepare. As I was expecting a delivery, I’d decided to work from home on Friday – and now I had no way to run home and get my laptop back. Idiot.

FRIDAY (6.8 miles)
Another early morning and alternate miles, one easy, one hard. My mile times for this are not currently satisfactory (6:51 vs my all-time PB from two years ago of 5:53) but that’s why I’m doing the track work. I won’t be running anything like this pace in the Autumn 100 but running fast improves form and makes running slower easier. Or rather, it should make my easy pace a bit faster.

SATURDAY (0 miles) The original plan for a short run before visiting the family in Sussex was superseded by some maintenance at the chiropractor. I’ve been seeing mine for years and as he’s a sports injury specialist, he understands that what I’m doing is ‘normal’. Joints and muscles loosened and I was feeling much better about Sunday’s long run. Also went a for a swim in the sea. Well, I splashed about a bit. It was hardly a workout. But yeah, let’s call it cross-training.

SUNDAY (21.5 miles)
Fed up with the usual routes, I got the first train to Walton and ran to the river and then along the Thames Path back to Fulham. Possibly went a bit fast for a long easy run but either way, the heat and fatigue caught up with me near the end and I pulled the plug a bit early. Very pleased that a) there is still a while to get fitter and b) it’s not going to be as hot on race day. I assume. Although given the rate of global warming, who knows?


Weekly total: 42.6 miles

A reasonable week, although I’m feeling less confident now than I did before the long run. The idea of running five times that distance (albeit a lot slower) is a bit worrying. Luckily, I don’t have a two-week holiday starting next week to interrupt this training block. Wait. Oh yes, I do…

 

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A100: 12 weeks to go

In 12 weeks, I would like to be finishing the Autumn 100, right about now, at around 7.30am on Sunday 16 October. The Autumn 100 is a one hundred mile continuous footrace on the trails of the Ridgeway and the Thames Path. I know both of these trails well, having completed the 87-mile Ridgeway Challenge in 2014, and 95 miles of the Thames Path 100 in 2015. Yes, I had to drop out five miles before the end. You can read all about that experience here.

So, I have some unfinished business, both with the Thames Path (although not that last bit in Oxford, just yet) and with the 100-mile distance. In many ways I am an archetypal ultrarunner. Male, middle-aged, trying to stay vaguely fit while seeing what adventures are still out there. I am never going to win a race but I’m determined to give it my best shot. And while 12 weeks isn’t perhaps the typical training block for a 100-miler, it’s probably more than enough to record what I’ve done each week and how I’m feeling about the forthcoming challenge.

MONDAY (0 miles)
Rest day. Had planned to do an upper body workout but realised when I woke up that I hadn’t quite finished cleaning the oven from the night before so did that. Which was an upper body workout of sorts anyway.

TUESDAY (8.9 miles)
Ran home from work which is Tower Bridge to Fulham via god knows where but it was longer than expected. Managed to pick up the pace for the last few miles.

WEDNESDAY (9.7 miles)
Meant to do an easy 4 or 5 miles at lunch time. Took a wrong turn, then another, then found myself in a wood. Signage was hopeless. Finally got back on track and the police had closed Tower Bridge. Finished knackered and absolutely starving.

THURSDAY (0 miles)
Decided I wasn’t going to do myself justice at track so did some yoga. Nice way to start the week first thing in the morning.

FRIDAY (5.7 miles)
Got up at 6am to run to Barn Elms track and did 400, 800, 1200, 800, 400 in the puddles. Felt good but my pace is not there at all. Have paid for 10 sessions (£30 – bargain!) so will be going most weeks until the race to help improve that.

SATURDAY (4.6 miles)
Skipped parkrun in favour of a much-needed lie-in and did a couple of very mediocre mile reps. Did overtake a girl who was walking though so that was something. Also did some foam rolling as my calves are a bit of a shambles. Must remember to do my quads as well.

SUNDAY (9.9 miles)
Went up Wimbledon Common for some hill reps with Andrew, for whom I’m doing a training plan for his first marathon. He is annoyingly quick but a good bloke so I forgave him as I chased him up the trail gasping for oxygen. Also managed not to get lost. Miracle.

 

IMG_5349

Weekly total: 38.9 miles

Overall, a decent week. If I can figure out the logistics, I’ll do a 20-miler next week. Feeling excited and optimistic about the race. Also a bit worried about my old body falling apart (again) at some point during it but let’s not dwell on that for now.

 

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North Downs Way 50

IMG_5073
I found the perfect prescription 
And I don’t care if its poison or medicine 
Too much is never quite enough 

I’m having a craving, I want all of your stuff

 

A year ago I was a little bit broken, both mentally and physically, from having to drop out of the Thames Path 100. I’d got a muscle injury and made the painful decision to drop at mile 95 rather than do any more damage. A few weeks later it was the North Downs Way 50 so I offered my services to Centurion as a volunteer. Having been treated so well by the aid station crew near Oxford I wanted to give a bit back to the community. I had a brilliant albeit knackering day as Centurion legend Nici Griffin’s “admin bitch” (my phrase) and as a result got a place in the 2016 race.

Even though I’d been lucky enough to get a spot at the London marathon, training had been geared toward this race. This resulted in less speed work, more hills, and three recce runs which meant I knew 90% of the route. This would have been 95% if I hadn’t got lost on one run but I was confident I knew where I was going. I wasn’t sure running London three weeks before was the best preparation but I hadn’t gone for broke so hopefully I had enough left to do myself justice.

I’ve got a heart in pretty good shape 

So come on let’s see how much of ya that I can take

 

Getting to Farnham (the start of the race) from Fulham on public transport for 7.30am was harder than I imagined but somehow managed to get there an hour early. Aside from the sleep I missed, this wasn’t such a bad thing, as it gave me plenty of time to catch up with a few old friends, make some new ones (Paul, Cat who was crewing for her dad Keith, doing his first 50, EmmaSusie and Shaun, and Jeff), and have a chat with the two female race favourites, Jess Gray (who I interviewed for Ultra magazine last year) and Holly Rush, another Twitter friend.

IMG_5068

Me, Ilsuk and Seanie. Ilsuk a bit hungover. Or possibly still drunk.

Kit check and registration went like clockwork as we waited for 8am to come round. James Elson did the funniest race briefing I’ve ever heard (you had to be there) and soon enough we were at the trailhead waiting for the off. With similar sub-10 hour thoughts in our heads, Ilsuk, Sean and I had a vague plan to run together and see how it went.

IMG_4890

Actually, I had quite a specific plan. I’d been looking at previous results (especially Sean from last year as I figured we were a similar pace) and one thing was abundantly clear. Runners take a lot longer on the second half than on the first. Now, this might seem obvious even to people who don’t run ultras, but on the North Downs Way 50, it is particularly the case. The flattish first half invites a speedy start and then the very lumpy second half tends to kick your butt. Above all else I wanted to be running for as long as possible, walking nothing but the steepest of hills. So my plan was to get to Box Hill (24 miles) in around 4 hours feeling not too bad and then do whatever it took to dip under a 10-hour finish. Or better still, beat my 2014 SDW50 time of 9:48.

The hooter went and we were off.

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Did everyone spot the Fairy Tree?

IMG_4895

No sign of N.W.A. Disappointing.

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Jazz hands! Seanie asleep in the background. (Photo: Stuart March)

The first half was a nice easy jaunt through Surrey, chatting with people, being surprised by familiar faces (hello Susie, Sophie, Cat, Claire and Dan!) and sampling the new (to me at least) maple bacon flavoured Gu gel.
falling

Susie catches me off balance

And of course, there was Allan Rumbles’ legendary bacon barge where this surreal sight greeted us.

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“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Ultra magazine‘s Andy Nuttall was marking down people’s race numbers at Newlands Corner and it was great to catch up. Well, say hello. I wasn’t allowing myself any more than a few minutes at any checkpoint. They are time thieves!

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Coming into Newlands Corner. Photo by Stuart March.

After about 20 miles, I started feeling a bit weary and had to remind myself that this is normal. Even though it wasn’t halfway, running for several hours is tiring, and that during ultras you have good and bad patches. The key is just to keep going. Somehow, without planning it, the phrase “be relentless” popped into my head became my mantra for the day.
Sean and I trotted into the checkpoint just before Box Hill and it wasn’t a moment too soon as I was absolutely ravenous. I wolfed down a few sandwiches and filled my hands with food for the walk up the steps. I was feeling in decent shape.
Mile: 24
Time: 4:07

Rank: 87

 

The steps are ridiculously steep but I’ve done them so many times now that I knew it wasn’t long before I’d be at the top and running again. Familiarity breeds contentment sometimes. It’s still a bit of an effort though.

I’m feeling all of your side effects 
From the body buzz to the loss of breath 
I’ve got a thumpin’ up inside my chest 

You got me lookin’ like a hot mess

 

The stretch to the next checkpoint at Reigate Hill is a tough one at times but I was hoping my conservative start to the race would pay off and I could begin to pick up a few places. In the middle of this section I suddenly heard my name being called and coming towards us were friends Marina and Rhianon who were out for a training run and to support those racing.

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All of the smiles with Marina and Rhianon

It was a real boost to see some more friendly faces and this pushed me on to Reigate with Seanie where we caught up with Ilsuk. I had a quick catch up with Mark Thornberry, fresh from his Thames Path 100 triumph, inhaled a few slices of watermelon (mmm, watermelon) and set off for Caterham, seven miles east.

Mile: 31
Time: 5:44

Rank: 74

 

I’ve got an appetite I’m over indulgent 
Yeah if I know myself I’m just getting started
I’m screamin’, I’m shoutin’, I’m yellin’ I want it 

You’re the big thing and I’m fanatic

 

Shortly after this checkpoint was a section I’d missed on my recce run. The beauty of getting lost on a recce though is that you see new sights on race day and thanks to the excellent marking by Centurion I had no trouble finding my way. After going under the M25 we reached the series of never-ending uphill fields and it was either that or the heat which prompted Seanie to have a break so I pushed on, visualising the finish line and hoping to see Ilsuk again before then.

Aside from a few twinges in my left shin, I was feeling quite good at this stage – better than I had during my much shorter training run, strangely – and while I wasn’t exactly breaking any land speed records, I was moving quickly enough to overtake a few people.

Coming into to Caterham aid station at mile 38 I saw Bryan and Susie again, who complained I was moving too fast for her to get a photo of me.

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Caterham, mile 38 (Photo by Andrew Muzika)

True or not, it was a great confidence boost, as was a similar compliment from Ben manning the aid station. I’d caught up with Ilsuk again, although he was soon off up and the trail and my chase was back on. I left Caterham at about 3pm, just ahead of 10-hour pace, according to climbers.net.

As good a guide as that was, I was confident of slowing down less than the average runner but who knew what the final 12 miles would hold? There were still a lot of hills to go and I wasn’t getting any less tired. Weird, huh?

I can’t keep still, I’m dripping with sweat 
I’m sucking my tongue and chewing my lip
And the loss of breath
The loss of breath
The loss of breath

The loss of breath

 

Every now and then runners’ crews would pop up and applaud as we went by. Even though I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, it’s a real boost to the tired runner. That and the beautiful trails of the North Downs Way.

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Wild garlic as far as the eye could see

A few miles of fields and gates with Ilsuk in sight, I eventually caught up with him at the bottom of Botley Hill. He assured me that no one ran it (video of the race winner apparently floating up it I saw later disproved this theory) and I was happy to take his word for it. As we came into the final checkpoint, Twitter friend Nikki bravely gave me a hug and some words of encouragement. It was around 4pm which gave us about two hours to complete the last seven miles and beat my target. But I really wanted to get in under my South Downs Way 50 time of 9:48…

Gorgeous single track. Nasty tree roots. Dappled sunlight. Near vertical climbs. Chipper cyclists cheering. Field after field of grass and crops and cows. Those last few miles were a mixed bag but between us, Ilsuk and I kept going, chasing down the group of three ahead, being relentless and dreaming of that big blue Centurion finish gantry. Finally we left the North Downs Way, went down the road to Knockholt Pound and up the path to the finish where I grinned my way to the line to be met by Jon and Natasha Fielden, timekeepers extraordinaire.
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Finish line smiles with Ilsuk (Photo: Stuart March)

Mile: 50
Time: 9:34

Rank: 53

 

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Happy finishers! (Photo: Stuart March)

Hugs accepted, along with a finishing medal, I sat down and enjoyed the moment.

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I’m feeling all of your side effects 
From the body buzz to the loss of breath 
I’ve got a thumpin’ up inside my chest 
You got me lookin’ like a hot mess 

But I feel the fuckin’ best

 

And I really did. As if it wasn’t already obvious from the photos, I was most definitely in my happy place on this race. This is in part thanks to it going well, but mainly because it’s a brilliant event (all of the thanks to Centurion and its amazing army of volunteers) and I spent the day with and seeing friends, be they other runners, known and unknown crew members, supporters and everyone else involved. I’m also fairly certain smiling makes it hurt a bit less so I’ll be employing the same tactics at this October’s Autumn 100 where I will get that buckle.

Final stats (according to Suunto)

Distance run: 50.8 miles
Elevation gained: 5,561ft
Race time: 9:34:45
Average pace: 11:29/mile
Finish place: 53/213 (199 finishers)

You might be wondering about the lyrics interspersed throughout this race report. They’re taken from a song by Lenno featuring Dragonette called ‘The Best’. It seems to be about the feeling the writer gets about someone they’re in love with but to me they also fit perfectly with how I feel about running ultras, and specifically a hilly one like the NDW50. In case Finnish disco pop electronica is your thing, here’s the video.

 

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