As you know, I didn’t finish my first 100 mile race at Samphire Hoe……here’s how the Boyf got on!
For the TLDR Crew
I ran my first 100mile race in July 2016. It was hard. I didn’t eat properly. I didn’t drink properly. It hurt. A lot. But it’s done, and I earned the world’s finest finisher buckle and T-shirt. I learnt many things about myself and how much respect the distance demands. But make no mistake, it bloody hurt.
For the Technical Manual Reading Crew
A Quick Run-down
It has been a long year. HQ and I signed up for Samphire100 almost the moment it was released by the superb Saxons, Vikings and Normans team back in July 2015. It gave me a year to extend out my current running distances, get a bit fitter and get my hydration/nutrition right. The race was run out of Samphire Hoe, which is a great place down on the Kent coast, snuggled right below the White Cliffs of Dover. The course selected by the SVN team consisted of an out and back 3.71mile route, run 27 times. The time limit on the course was 32hours, but I’d checked my training and race paces, and it became apparent that I could potentially achieve a sub24 hour finish. Well, that was the plan…
Preparation. Preparation. Preparation
In June I ran 4 distance races, all as 100mile training. By the end of June (two weeks from race day) I was knackered. My training races were all about pacing, race nutrition, race hydration and learning to run on nausea and dizziness. It went well, but I was completely empty. We’d booked another bunch of marathons for me to run in that two-week run-up, but I decided to bin them and rest a bit. My two week taper consisted of running fast 5k/10k’s local to me, running a few hills and hitting the gym. I had no interest in running any longer than that. All in all, everything looked good. One thing though – I’d be running this 100miler without any support crew, as HQ would be running her own race and have no time to deal with my trials and tribulations during the race. I’d also be pacing myself with no additional pacing help, so my prep had taken this into account – so I thought anyway.
Race Hydration and Munchies
I have a problem with food. If I don’t have enough food, there are problems. However, things are different when I run. When I run, and once I hit 35miles, I can’t eat, and when running these ultra long distances you have to eat, or you will pay. So I’d been researching foods, gaining the opinions of those who’ve covered the distance before and come up with a nice tasty and varied selection of food ready for race day. This included gels, sweets, gummies, biscuits, juices, water, electrolyte powder, salt capsules, salted snacks, pot noodles and chocolate treats. If there’s one thing, I was prepared food and drink wise.
We turned up on the dusty doorstep of Samphire Hoe at 7am on Saturday morning, broke out our personal aid station tables, loaded up our water containers, unpacked all of our food and made sure that everything was available and ready to go when needed. We’d decided to park our car on the race route, about 100m from the main SVN aid station, that way I could drop into my personal aid station to grab my stuff at the end of each lap and hit the SVN aid station for anything else as I go out on my next lap. Easy stuff. Everything food related was packed into mini lunch bags, ready to pick up and go. No problem. All of my 500ml water bottles were in the boot of the car or in my ice box, cooling down nicely. Chilled. Having put smeary gloop in all sorts of unmentionable places, and kitted up fully, I was ready to go. My goal for this race was simple – survive. Oh, and to make sure I ‘survive’ before the 24hour point. This meant running a km pace of around 8:55mins/km for 24 hours. Sounds perfectly simple, doable, and achievable. To make 27 laps palatable, I broke the race into 4 races, each containing 7-laps (thanks Alex!). At 0800 I set off into the warm early morning Saturday sunshine… ready to take anything the next 24hours would throw at me. Maybe.
0-26miles – The First 7-Lap Race
The first lap was great. I executed my strategy to the letter and hiked out of the start gate, up the incline and out onto the trail. Once I hit the gravel path beneath the White Cliffs I started to run to the gravel hill and down to the seafront. Once at the concrete sea wall on the seafront I started to hike for a minute to let my heart rate recover, and made my way along the sea wall for a mile or so, past the early morning fishermen and all the way to the turnaround point. Having tapped the turnaround marker I began my trip back to the aid station. Back along the seawall to the gravel hill, another hike break. I am not running up the hill, it takes too much out of my legs. At the top of the hill I began to run again, along the gravel track, remembering not to turn back the way I came, but to continue on to the car park where my aid station was. I dropped in and swapped my water bottles over. It was hot and I drank 500ml on that lap. Time for some biscuits too. I jogged slowly from my aid station upto the SVN aid station and got my lap card punched. One lap down, 26 to go.
The next few laps came and went. The day got hotter and more humid, and I made sure I was drinking at least 500ml of fruity water on each lap. I was eating too! A few gels were downed, many biscuits were eaten along with some nougat. Everything was going great. Importantly, I wasn’t feeling nauseas yet, nor dizzy. On my checklist of things to go right everything looked great, and with that 7 laps were done and hole-punched.
26-52miles – The Second 7-Lap Race
With a quarter of the race out of the way, I was feeling positive. The timings were fantastic, albeit slightly faster than I’d expected, but that was no big deal and I was drinking and eating. It was around 1300 now, and I’d been on my feet for a little over 5 hours. All was good. As I started out on the 8th lap, I started chatting to a few more people and discovered that the race seemed to be going good generally. So much positivity out there and it was infectious. All was well until the 10th lap… Whilst coming back along the seawall from the turnaround point, I started to feel sick. I popped a slurp of drink and tried to swallow it down, but it didn’t work. The next thing I knew I ran to seawall and forced the drink to ‘re-appear’ which it did. This was annoying, as all of my recent food intake re-appeared too. In these situations I would normally call it a day as the nausea feeling can continue for quite some time and can become very unpleasant. But I’d trained myself to continue even when feeling shite – so I continue I did.
When out on the 11th lap I started to worry as the nausea wouldn’t go away. I spoke to HQ and she advised Gaviscon. That would be a lap away, so I trudged onwards to complete the lap and made it back to my aid station in a bit of a state. Once back at my aid station I sat down in our comfy camping chair – this was a mistake. I grabbed the Gaviscon, downed it and looked at my vast selection of food and started to feel sick again. Things were not good. It was around 1730, I’d covered 40miles, puked once and now was sat in a chair feeling like re-fried crap, and the sun was still up and it was still hot. After 10minutes sat in the chair, I got up and started out on the 12th Lap. The Gaviscon did its job and my stomach settled for a few laps, and no more uncomfortable events sprang up, but I was slowing down and my run rate was dropping. By the end of the 14th lap my feet were in bits, my quads were dying a slow death and I’d broken a nail. Life was getting bad. On top of that the bloody sun still hadn’t set and it was still warm. This was annoying too.
No More Races – It’s Mile by Mile
By the 50mile point, I’d binned the ‘7-lap race strategy’ (sorry Alex!) and decided that this was going to be a war, one mile at a time. Out on the 15th lap the sun finally showed signs of setting but the humidity remained. I’d stopped eating now, and the thought of food just made me feel even sicker, so I had to stop thinking about food altogether. Hydration wasn’t good either, I was down to small sips of water from my bottles and even those were trouble to down. I wasn’t salting either. I kept forgetting to take my salt caps, and when I did they also made me feel rough. It was getting dark now, and the laps were getting slower and more laboured. I just wanted to get to 60miles. I’d also stopped talking to people. In my eyes, everyone was doing far better than I was and I didn’t want to bring down their race, so I shut up shop and concentrated on my own issues. My worry now was that at the end of each lap, I was starting to find the chair at my aid station very very comfortable… The end of the 17th lap arrived and with it the end of the 63rd mile, and as my pace had died off, it was now 2230. The sun had buggered off and I decided to reward myself with a quick stop in my aid station chair. Blissful. I put my feet up on my cool box and just stared up into the star-covered sky.
I’m Calling it Quits
Ok. I’m a little hazy on what happened next. After nearly 25 minutes sat in my chair, I contemplated withdrawing from the race. There was chatter from the SVN aid station and from passing runners. Everybody in good spirits – except me. My low point had finally come. During the next 10minutes I contemplated what the hell I was doing running this race. The call to walk away and quit was loud and could be heard loudest from my feet. I took one final look at the White Cliffs, now illuminated by the yellow moon hanging over the channel, and got out of my chair, and began walking towards the SVN aid station ready to hand in my card. As I walked towards Traviss and Rachel to hand in my card, I remembered a little saying told to me by a friend – “Get friendly with pain. Get to appreciate pain. Learn to love the pain.” I then realised that I was about to quit my first 100miler because of pain and that’s not on. I wanted to own that finishers buckle. If I quit, that goes. I got to the SVN aid station and Traviss wasn’t around, and Rachel was busy dealing with an issue. In a fit of bravery (or stupidity) I banished my thoughts of quitting and got my card stamped. Out I went onto the 18th lap. Only 10 laps to go.
The Right Decision?
My decision to go out the 18th lap soon proved to be right. I was feeling pretty lonely out there now it was dark. Everybody had their crews and pacers and I was just plodding along on my own. I’d just taken off my backpack when I heard a familiar voice behind me – it was Liz V! She’d not entered the 100miler but was busy doing several distance challenges in the 32 hour time limit. Her company couldn’t have come at a better time! It turns that we both have an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths, and just having that common ground made conversation very easy going. Before I knew it, we’d discussed all kinds of great topics and my mind had forgotten about all my aches and pains. And with that, the lap was over! On the next lap I bumped into Louise T, and we ran a lap. On the next lap I ran into Jon F, again a fascinating conversationalist, which kept me moving forward one step at a time.
I hit the end of the 21st lap. I was broken. I’d chatted and laughed my way through 4 hard laps. But it was 0030 and the 24 hour target was on its way out. I sat back down in the chair of comfort and convinced myself that the goal now was to survive. With no time limits. Another 20minutes went by. The chair was comfy and now time didn’t matter. I was feeling sick again and leant over the side of the chair to expel anything out. Nowt came out, but my groin was now killing me. Now out of the chair and back at the SVN aid station the wonderful Dee offered me toast and a slice of pizza. Oh my god did I fancy those. I grabbed a warm piece of toast and a slice of pizza and went out. 6 laps to go.
The next few laps, upto daylight are a bit of a blur. I was dizzy. I was sick. I was wretching at most opportunities and now I was down to what resembled a shuffle – hurting my feet even more. I’d stopped drinking fully now. I didn’t really care anyway. I’d just wandered into a haze of bruising pain on my feet. Then, I bumped into the glorious Fiona, who give me some chewy mint sweets (2 bags for £1 a bargain) and some After Eights (from a previous SVN event), which were both amazing to taste and took my mind off throwing up. As daylight broke I had 3 laps to go and the sunrise was fantastic! But I was on my own again. I was also starting to see people with their ‘last lap’ flags – I’m not sure if this was an inspiration or a knife to the ribs. A bit of both if I’m honest. It was still warm and now getting warmer. I was walking more too and that didn’t help. I walked a lap with HQ and Lorraine just to try and get some energy back. 2 laps to go. On my penultimate lap and on my own again, at 95miles, I stopped dead in my tracks. I’d had enough. My feet were dead. My legs were dead and my head was dead too. I stopped and sat on the sea wall. I was done. I put my head in my hands and started contemplating the walk back to the SVN aid station where I would call it. Then a friendly voice asked if I was ok. It was Amanda out on another of her marathons. I think I replied “yes I’m ok”, but I really don’t know. With that I got up and moved forward. That little exchange was enough to remind me to move forward and get the job done. So I did.
Out on the last lap with a finish flag. Brilliant. I’ve 3.71 miles to go and I can finally sit my tired arse down. I’d been awake and on my feet for nearly 26hours and it felt like it. I was bruised, busted, broken and bissed off. When I came into the finish I wanted to stop at my aid station, but I was asked to run into the SVN finish. I tried to run, but my right foot was killing me. So I limped into the finish. It was done. 26hours and 32minutes of painful torture was finally over.
As I came into the finish, the legend that is Traviss handed me my buckle. Along with a big handshake, a “well done” and a “that was hard earned” he also told me that in the coming hours I’d vow never to run 100miles ever again, but by the end of the week I’ll be actively looking for another 100miler to run… He was right.
Sitting with the rest of the SVN crazy finishers, I felt pretty good. I’d completed the distance. But, at the back of my mind I knew that the shit had well and truly hit the fan. I’d spent over half the race feeling like I could puke at any minute and I didn’t handle the pain well. More importantly, I’d missed my goal of hitting the 24hour time. I hate missing goals. However, it was done, I’d done it, had an ice cream, put my feet up and sat in the sun with everyone else. Good stuff. By my own admission I screwed up. I went out too fast, got my hydration wrong, got my pacing wrong and found it difficult mentally to keep moving. Based on these realisations, I decided that there was no way on this blue marble I would ever run 100 miles again… In the week following the race, and at my request, HQ signed me up for two further 100milers and I set myself a target of finally running 100miles at the Spitfire Scramble 24hour event in August! Quite the turnaround! It wasn’t until the following week that I could run again, and then it was tough on my feet. My appetite returned with a vengeance and many pots of ice cream, slices of pizza and boxes of donuts were consumed. For days I stared at my buckle, thinking about how close I came to quitting that race. At one point I was a vocal cord oscillation and 10ft away from handing in my card…
If you’re thinking of entering a 100miler, this is a great race. But my advice would be to bring on a crew to keep you moving and maybe a pacer to keep you company over night or to get you to the finish. The SVN crew really do put on a top notch set of events and this one is no exception. The finishers buckle, tee shirt and general level of support was fantastic (the midnight supporting hugs at the SVN aid station were fantastic), and the location below the White Cliffs is mesmerising at times. The registration is open now for 2017, so if you’re reading this and contemplating a 100miler, this is the first I would recommend. Would I do it again? Without a doubt. Would I do it differently? Err…
Geek, Nerd or Annoyance?
I’m a bit of a stats annoyance. I like to look at my numbers and see where things went right and wrong. Numbers never lie. After a bit of tickling in excel I wound up with this simple graphic:
The blue dots are the actual min/km pace times. The white line is the 24hour pace target, and my physical breakdown started really early into the race, around 60km. That was not planned. The actual km times started to drift out and the last 100km of the race resulted in the majority of laps well over the target pace. The trend line (green) running across the race was aggressive from the start. I went out too quick and didn’t fuel for that fast start. I paid for that with a quicker breakdown and struggled to hold on. The km times over 15min/km were a result of me finding the chair too comfortable! It’s an unfortunate reality that I almost screwed this race in the first 3rd, and now I look at it from a data perspective I find myself fortunate to have completed this race at all. I’m actually amazed I finished in the time I did! I said before the race that I wanted to be quick in the aid stations and always be on my feet. At that I failed. I spent over 2.5 hours stood (or sat) still. If you want my advice? Never buy a camping chair, they’re far too comfy and deadly.