Centurion South Downs Way 50 Mile Race – A Race Report of Sorts

The Boyf ran the SDW50 last weekend….50 miles on a hot sunny day….here’s how it went in his own words!

image - Bib 88 and SDW50 medalFor the TL:DR Crew:

I ran the South Downs Way 50 Mile point-to-point Trail Race at the weekend (8th April 2017) organised by the fantastic Centurion Running crew. I started in Worthing, ran up to the South Downs Way and followed it all the way to Eastbourne. I set myself a challenging time of 9hours and sneaked in with almost 3 minutes to spare. As I crossed the finish line at Eastbourne athletics track in the light of the setting sun, I tried my hardest not to vomit over the legendary Mimi Anderson as she congratulated me and placed my medal around my neck – my sprint finish for the last 3km was a little harder on my system than I expected. In terms of my Centurion 50 Mile Grand slam attempt, that’s South Downs Way done and dusted, with the small matter of North Downs Way, Chiltern Wonderland and Wendover Woods left to complete in 2017. Back in 5 weeks. If you’re that way inclined, go sign up for a Centurion Race. They’re ace.

For the Technical Manual Reading Crew:

I had my first taste of Centurion Running events last year when I entered the inaugural Wendover Woods 50mile race, which involved 5x10mile laps of Wendover Woods, all on a damp and foggy November day. After finishing that particular race, and having such a good time doing it, I thought I should attempt the 50 Grand Slam in 2017 – this involves successfully completing all four Centurion 50mile races within the race cut-offs. The first race of the 50 Grand Slam calendar is the point-to-point South Downs Way 50 (this race) and finds the unsuspecting runner hot-footing it from Worthing to an athletics track 50miles away in Eastbourne. Sounds simple enough…

image - SDW50 route

The one thing you can guarantee when running any part of the South Downs Way, there will be lumps. There are some chalky lumps, grassy lumps, impressive lumps, some not-so-impressive lumps, some rounded lumps, some pointy lumps, and then there are some lumps that have been to that special clinic in the USA to be “enhanced”. As you can see from the course elevation profile I’ve provided, this particular course has been vacationing in the USA for some time, and paid for the full “glamour model” enhancement package.

image - SDW50 Elevation and Aid/Crew Points

It may not look too intimidating on paper, but it is when you’re up close to it. I tried to come up with a suitable running plan to get me to the end without collapsing, and it was difficult to hit on a decent pace figure – mostly because there was no easy way to factor the lumpy bits. Anyway, now you’ve seen the course and the nice numbers to the left (metres of elevation), you can see why the race has a finish-line cut-off of 13hours dead. It’s tough. Cross the finish line one second after 13hrs? That will be a DNF then. Along the course there are several strategically placed Centurion Aid stations, each featuring smiling volunteers offering a free ‘eat-as-much-as-you-like’ buffet. There are also designated crewing points where your loved ones can refuel you from the boot of their car, and they can witness first hand your physical and mental demolition at the hands of the course (and the sun). I’ve attached each aid station/crewing point to the plot so you can see that these stops are perfectly placed. They are also a very welcome sight. The other thing that Centurion do very well is clearly mark the course with reflective tape and spray large orange arrows on the ground to indicate turns and deviations. I need these indicators, as I find it easy to get lost in a supermarket carpark.

image - Tailwind and water bottlesGetting Setup at Race Start HQ

Okay, the business end of the day. When I got to the race start point in Worthing there was a thick fog hanging over the place. This would be perfect to run in. I wandered into the café, had my running pack checked for mandatory kit and grabbed my race number. Two Fat Ladies – 88! As it was still quite early, I grabbed an hours kip in the car, woke up and set about getting my race nutrition organised. Traditionally, this would mean unpacking crisps, cakes, cookies, M&Ms, Oreos, more crisps, jellies, Gels and cheese rolls. However, I don’t need to do that anymore, as I’m one of those grubby Tailwind users. You can spot us exchanging little bags of white powder at race starts or locker rooms, and mixing it with water in dimly lit carparks in the early hours of the morning. For this race, I calculated that I’d need 5litres of water to cover my hydration needs over 50miles. I set up 10x500ml water bottles on the parcel shelf of the car and dissolved a Tailwind stick pack into each.

My plan was a simple one: Start the race at 9am and get to the finish by 6pm, all whilst consuming a litre of water every 10miles. Rather than stop at every aid station and crew point, I developed a suitable refuelling plan:

Point 1 Point 2 Distance Refuelling Strategy at Point 2
Worthing (start) Botolphs (Aid Station) 11 Miles Refill 1litre of water at aid station
Botolphs Devils Dyke (Car Boot Sale) 4.5 Miles Two new bottles of water from Crew
Devils Dyke Ditchling Beacon (Car Boot Sale) 6.5 Miles Two new bottles of water from Crew
Ditchling Beacon Southease (Aid Station) 12 Miles Refill 1litre of water at aid station
Southease Firle Beacon (Car Boot Sale) 2.5 Miles Pick up Mountain Dew and Red Bull from Crew
Firle Beacon Alfriston (Aid Station) 5 Miles Refill 1litre of water at aid station
Alfriston Eastbourne (Finish) 8.5 Miles Eat Jaffa Cakes

image - jaffa cakes and crispsThis was to be my second race where I rely solely on Tailwind for nutrition, and as such, I decided to take a leaf out of the Ultra-running training manual, which states that “bags left at the race finish should be in the form of a 5p Tesco carrier bag (other bag vendors are available) and it should contain only nutritional essentials”. So I grabbed a Tesco carrier bag and put a single bag of crisps and a half-eaten box of Jaffa cakes inside it, all ready for the finish. Now I was ready to go. But, there was a problem. Someone had switched the Sun on and the fog was burning away. It was also warming up. I had wondered if the met office prediction of 13DegC would remain true, and knowing their history of fake weather forecasts, I started to think that this could be a warm and breezy day. So, loaded up with kit and water I headed off to the start corral. The race brief covered the usual stuff – follow the red and white tape, follow the spray arrows, don’t turn right out of Alfriston as you’ll end up going over the seven sisters and don’t follow other race organisers’ signs. The final words were to look after each other out there and enjoy the race. Definitely.

Running out of Worthing

And with that said we are off and running (pun intended). As I made my way out of the field at the start, I bumped into ultra/marathon runner extraordinaire, James Bennett! Out of 400odd runners, in a huge field, I’m running in front of someone I know quite well, unbelievable. As we chatted about things to do with marathon running, nutrition, injuries, 50milers and the inevitable 100milers, it turns out that James is doing the DOUBLE Centurion Grand Slam – which involves the completion of the 50mile Grand Slam series, but also the 100 mile Grand Slam series! Kudos on that James. Maybe next year for me… Before I knew it, we were well out of Worthing and joining the SDW, and out of my dodgy left eye I noticed that we were actually above the fog base. This is a sight I’m used to seeing in the mountains, but not in the UK! And it looked amazing. James and I were chatting so much that soon we were at Botolphs aid station and James had seriously picked up the pace, so with his next burst of speed, I made my excuses about him being too quick for me and off he went. Once at Botolphs, I refilled my empty 500ml bottles and grabbed a very quick hug from the wonderful Maryanne Aitken who was volunteering at the aid station. Fully refuelled, off I went.

Ditchling Beacon Looks Different in the Daylight

Time started to pass very quickly. The sun was warm, but there was a breeze. My primary focus now was getting to Devils Dyke, seeing Kat and grabbing some fresh bottles. The climb out of Botolphs is a proper moose. It’s long and steep and even managed to spike my heart rate over 200bpm (not been there for a while). Soon I was at Devils and could spot Kat almost 1000m away as she was wearing bright, dayglow orange leggings. What I didn’t know was that she’d popped into Tesco just after I started the race and grabbed 1kg of ice and an ice bucket. When we swapped over bottles I was pleasantly surprised to find my new bottles were icy cold! Loverly. After a quick hug, and having refuelled I was off to Ditchling Beacon. I hit Saddlescombe Farm quickly after, and as it wasn’t on my stopping plan, and I didn’t need any extra hydration, I got my number checked and continued through. I missed Clayton Windmills completely, which I’m sure was there, but I didn’t see anybody. Then, before I could orientate myself, or look at the views, I ran straight into Ditchling. I spotted Kat almost immediately (those dayglow orange leggings again).  This time I was in a bit of trouble with my crew… As I picked up new bottles, crew reminded me of the plan, and informed me that I was 30mins ahead of schedule and at risk of falling into the Danger Zone of running out too quick and paying for it after 40miles. So I promised I’d slow down and take the climbs in a less energetic manner. This proved to be very good advice, as a few miles out of Ditchling Beacon, the pain started show itself in my left knee and I was having a slight abdominal issue (think side stitch, but across my upper abs). I had begun to slow down whether I liked it or not.

image - the yellow brick roadIt is not 400Yards to Southease Aid Station!

My new primary goal was to get to Southease, as here I would find several friendly faces and it would signify that 2/3 of the race would be over. As I slowed, I started to look around some more, the views were stunning and worth the race fee alone. The sun was beating down now, but the breeze was quite chilly. I took a slug from my second bottle and was hit immediately with a different taste – it was Mountain Dew!! I’d forgotten that Kat had given me the Mountain Dew at Ditchling. Exciting times. The run to Southease was long – 12miles. I stopped momentarily at Housedean to top up one of my bottles with clean water (just to palate cleanse) and ran on. Southease was almost in sight. Then the weirdest thing happened – as I was nearing Southease I passed a guy who decided to shout “not far to go. The aid station is 400yards on the left”. However, it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close. The aid station was at least a mile away, and I had yet to cross the river or the railway bridge! The weird thing is that I’ve met this guy before, as he said exactly the same thing when I paced Louise Ayling on SDW100 as we were nearing Southease at 2am that morning! Weird. Finally, I reached the railway bridge at Southease and once crossed I ran into the aid station. Two thirds of the race was over. Once at the aid station, I was greeted by the smiling faces of Jon Fielden and Louise Ayling! This was a definite plus point, as I was still experiencing that troublesome abdominal and knee pain. Having a quick handshake and hug from them both, I refilled my empty bottles and ran off to experience the Southease climb… Time to go home.

Up, Up, Up to the Gate We Go!

As you can see from the elevation plot, the climb from Southease to Firle is a beast. It winds up the hill, has no shade and seems to be on a constant 60° angle putting pressure on the calves, shins and ankles. I’m sure my calves grew 2” hitting this climb. Then like that, it was over and I was on top of the hill. I passed a few radio comms towers and soon hit Firle Beacon. A quick glance at the watch informed me that I was now running later than scheduled, it was 15:45. I had 14 miles to cover and a little over 2hours to do it. At that point I said to Kat that the 9hr target had gone, and that she’d see me around 18:30. I was very glum and down, and she was slightly angry with me for worrying about times – just finish the race. I exchanged bottles again, and I put a can of red bull in my backpack for Alfriston, and set off towards Alfriston. I remember very little about the run to Alfriston, mostly due to reprimanding myself about bombing off so quickly at the start. After what seemed like an hour, I could see a town in the distance and I started to descend into Alfriston. As I approached the town, it began to get busy with traffic and I spotted arrows sprayed on the ground (as well as reflective tape). Still feeling annoyed and pretty grumpy, I passed a marshal who directed me into the Alfriston hall aid station, and who remarked on how fresh I was looking! That cheered me up. Inside the hall I refilled a bottle. Just as I was about to leave I heard a thud as my can of Redbull ejected itself from my backpack… weird. I’d completely forgotten about my can of rocket fuel, and would’ve continued without it if it hadn’t fallen out. In a daze, I opened the can and sipped from it as I hiked out of the aid station. I thanked the marshal for his help and directions, and continued on my merry way towards the Jevington. 41.6 miles done.

Go On, Follow the Exceat Sign. I Dare You. I Double Dare You MotherFudger.

I’m not clear on the time, but the sun was evening orange and beginning to dip behind the trees. I think it must’ve been around 16:45. I flicked the screen on my GPS watch to ‘Altitude’ and spotted that the climbs were almost done! I had a lump to negotiate before I hit Jevington and one final climb to home. After around 10mins the Redbull really kicked in, all my pains disappeared and I could feel myself wanting to speed up – so I did. I spotted the infamous ‘Exceat’ sign and reminded myself to continue on my current course and not to take that route! I didn’t need a run over the seven sisters right now… Once away from the town, I started to run and hit the chalky, rock hard climb out of Alfriston, which turned into a run 30secs/hike 30secs training session, just as I had practiced on my little hill at home. The views on this part of the course are STUNNING. Soon enough, the climb was done, I was over the hill (literally) and began the descent into Jevington (please return all tray tables to their upright position and fasten your seat belts). This part of the run actually had some shade, and it was most welcome. Once in Jevington proper, I was directed into Jevington village hall, but as I wasn’t stopping and I poked my head inside to inform the marshal that I wasn’t stopping. I then ran straight back out, through the church yard and back onto the SDW. I knew this was almost it. I looked at my watch. I was still behind schedule, but not as much as I was at Firle Beacon – I’d actually made up time. Cheers Redbull. Things were looking up.

A Trig Point is a Big Pointy Rock

My next worry was the troublesome trig point (big pointy rock) at the top of the climb. I’d the heard rumours, checked the route, checked google maps and read the centurion course description. All I could remember was “don’t take the wrong path at the trig point”. As I arrived at the top of the climb, I entered the field with the trig point in it. It was well marked, and there was a marshal who reminded me that I was almost home. It was now 17:32. Time was running out. I passed the trig point, spotted the centurion markings and hit the path with a million arrows pointing towards it. I’d done it. Now began the run down the hill through what is known as the “Gully of Doom”. I now know why it’s called this. It’s an old path running adjacent to the golf course, with a deep V-structure wide enough to fit one foot in at a time and is quite steep. I hopped from foot to foot to maintain my speed, got hit in the face with brambles and almost lost my footing re-joining the main path. This was tough enough at the end of a 50miler, I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to see how it feels at the end of a 100miler. It’s an annoying path, with annoying terrain, but my god was it fun to run down – even more so when jacked on a can of Redbull. Soon enough I was out and down in Eastbourne proper, and I hit real concrete! I looked at my watch, it was now 17:42. That took 10mins to negotiate, and 5mins too long. Bugger. After a little argument in my head about times not mattering, I decided that I could pick up the pace and get to the track 2.5km away in 18minutes. That could be done, if I didn’t get lost on my way, or get hit by a car crossing the road… Or eaten by a Bear. They have bears in Eastbourne you know. Vicious ones.

Sprint Once Round the Track and Don’t Throw up Over Superstars at the Finish

image - the Boyf checking his time at the SDW50 finishAt this point, I popped one ear of my ipod in (safety first and all that). I needed some inspirational music. For this I selected a suitably appropriate track from my metal collection – “Lawnmower Deth, You’ve got no legs” – A classic, and started to run. Properly run. Well, as much as I could after doing 48 miles. I followed all of the centurion markings and kept spotting little wavy red and white banners in the distance. I was on the right route. I checked my watch, it was now 17:50. 10 Minutes to save my race. I then came to an arrow that turned left and pointed toward a road crossing. The road was busy (Eastbourne on a Saturday evening) and I pressed the cross button. I waited an age. The light stayed green… The light stayed green… The light stayed green… Come on! Then I spotted a large gap in the traffic and remembering my green cross code I sprinted across. No problem. I needed to get a wriggle on now. The track was 1km away and I had 8minutes left. I turned a corner and crossed another road and found myself on a nice surfaced cycle way – time to speed up. So I did. My legs started to really move and people I passed started to wish me luck. One person even asked me if I’d really just run 50miles – not yet was my reply! I was now at full tilt, but I had a problem. I’d obviously started my sprint a bit too early, and I was now feeling quite sick. I kept on going whilst trying to keep the retching to a minimum. Then I saw the athletics track! Loads of runners who had finished their races were walking in my direction, all of them wished me luck. I saw James Bennett, who I had run with earlier in the day with his medal, he wished me luck and I felt another gear become available. I sprinted up the hill at full parkrun pace (thanks again Redbull) and into the finish area. I heard a couple of voices, one telling me to sprint and one telling me to go faster – so I tried. There was no one else on the track, it was completely empty. I checked the watch, it was 17:56. All I had to do was negotiate 400m of athletics track in 4 minutes or less. Then I felt the first stirring of nasty stuff in my throat. Two retches later and I had to slow my sprint. 200m to go. I rounded the last corner to hear people shouting and clapping. Always nice. And did a final watch check. 17:57. I crossed the line and was met with a big hug from Louise and a pat on the back from Mimi Anderson. Wow. At that point Mimi asked if I would like my medal, and as I bent my neck, I felt very sick indeed. I couldn’t throw up over a superstar could I? Luckily enough, I didn’t, but it was very close. A final hug from Kat and a few race photographer photos and it was all done. SDW50 completed. 50 Grand Slam event #1 done. I felt pretty good too. Kat joked about me running back to Worthing… Yeah, not this year love.

My Critical Analysis

Okay. I’m a Neek, or Gerd. Yeah, I’m a Gerd. I like stats and my Garmin Fenix 3HR gives me loads of stats. These are displayed below in all their glory for people to pick holes in, criticise or laugh at. I don’t mind. Having this kind of information shows me straight away that I screwed up. Those 10 little RED dots between Worthing and Botolphs tell the whole story – I went out too fast with 12 miles in the ‘Crazy Pace’ zone. That punished me later in the race by filling my body with all those lovely toxins and by-products that the athletics experts warn us punters about. However, somehow I manged to pull it back from the brink of a DNF (Duke Nukem Forever). It looks like the climbs actually helped me get my pace back and by the time Kat had warned me of my over-pacing, I’d actually managed to regain control of my race. The best part for me is the little red and yellow dots running into Eastbourne – I got my short little legs to move quite fast, and they were completely buggered at the time. The graphical analysis also tells me that the climbs were hard (to be expected, this is a lumpy course), but also the descents were quite hard too. The key thing for me is having this information available when I tackle this course again as part of the South Downs Way 100 next year, as this particular 50mile will be done in the dark, on head torch, in the mist, on legs that already have 50miles in them. This data will be quite handy.  So, I screwed up but managed to pull it back, and for that I’m off to enjoy my weight in pizza and beer. If you’re after a great race with top notch organisers on a challenging course, then this is for you. Or, if you want a walk in the English Countryside, with some superb views, just pop along to the SDW. Just watch out for knackered runners everywhere. And bears. Watch out for bears. The Sussex Bear is known for its ferocity…

image - SDW50 pace analysis

So there we have it! The Boyf done good….50 miles in 8:57:08!  I am so pleased for him, although obviously it all came down to my uber-crew skills and not his hard work!

When it’s not the Moonlight that’s Challenging

image text - When's it's not the Moonlight that's Challenging

SVN Moonlight ChallengeWell that didn’t go quite to plan!

On Saturday I headed down to Kent for the SVN Moonlight Challenge. This was on a new course for me (and SVN) and with loops of about 10km and an 8 hour cut-off, so I was hoping to get about 33 miles done. I love running in the dark, so was looking forward to this race as it ran from 4pm to midnight, giving me plenty of time in the dark to practice running with my head torch.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeI set off and settled into a pace that felt good, I was comfortable, not pushing too hard all felt great. I got the first lap done in 75 minutes, perhaps slightly fast, but I was feeling good and after a quick pit stop I set out on lap two. Again, I was running on feel….bimbling along happily and enjoying being outside in the fresh air!

This was the first mistake! Running by feel and not following my Garmin stats…I was sticking to my planned 4:1 run/walk strategy but running faster than I should have been.  I just didn’t realise it! Lap 2 was done, I grabbed fresh Tailwind bottles and headed out for lap 3. I decided to try something different at that point (testing pace ratios for my upcoming 50 miler) and decided I would do a lap at 2:1 to see how that panned out.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeHere comes mistake number 2! Shortly into lap 3 my temperature spiked & I knew I was working too hard. Since I was only running for 2 minutes at a time, not 4, I had subconsciously picked up my pace! I dropped pace and tried to settle down but the damage was done. It probably didn’t help that I had a small backpack on, making it hard for my upper body heat to escape, but as there will be days when I have to wear a pack to carry mandatory kit, I need to find a way to balance the practicalities of racing and my internal combustion issues.

Throughout lap 3 I was struggling to keep my temperature down, and my stomach under control (lesson learned – increase in core temperature definitely causes my emergency poop reflex! Thankfully I managed to do the loop without needing to stop on the side of the trail!).

As I ran I was trying to distract myself from thinking too much about needing a pit stop. I was busy listening to my music, and for once had it on the All Songs playlist. It’s funny that there are so many songs that you have loved in the past but forgotten about, that crop up when you least expect it. It made me think that I should probably listen to more music at home. At the moment I only listen to music when I run, but I think that when we eventually get our own house I might look into getting a wireless music system put in. I’ve seen these Panasonic Wireless Speakers that look really cool, so I’ll be adding them to my list of possible purchases when we have the space and the cash! Maybe then I’ll be able to remember what music I have available and get some new playlists prepped so I don’t listen to the same 30 songs over and over again.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeThings weren’t going great and in the final third of lap 3 I did a quick check of my heartrate, it showed as being up at 200bpm…..oops!!

The Boyf caught up with me at that point (as he was on lap 4) and I brought him up to date, but let him know I was OK and would just be taking it steady on my 4th lap (needed to get the marathon distance). When I got back to base camp the Boyf was there waiting for me! He wanted to make sure I was OK and when he knew I was going out again he sacrificed his race plans and decided to do the lap with me. We set out nice and steadily, mostly on a 1:1 run walk, but at a much slower pace than I had been doing. Anytime I felt like I was struggling we slowed down and took it easy. All in all things went well and by the time we hit the last road section to the finish I was able to put in some solid running without stopping to walk. I had finally got my temperature back under control (or my body knew the end was in sight) and we managed a sprint(ish) finish for me to get in and ring the bell at 5:51:39.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeI could have gone out for another lap, I had over 2 hours to walk 10km to get my planned 33 miles, but there didn’t seem to be much point in possibly stressing my body further. Instead I got changed and relaxed whilst the Boyf headed out to get his 6th lap of the day done!

All in all, I have learned that using my Garmin IS beneficial! If I had been watching my pace then it is likely I would have slowed down straight away, I would have been running well within my limitations and not gone crazy when I dropped to the 2:1 intervals and probably would have stayed pretty cool and managed to get 33 miles done comfortably!

So note to self, if you think you’re going slow enough, slow down! And use your Garmin!! I’ll be making very sure I stay very slow at the upcoming Fowlmead 50 race…..here’s hoping it works!

Taper time!

It could be said that I am in the minority, when it comes to both training and tapering, with a large bunch of the runners that I know.  They regularly run one or more marathons a week, in the race to attain 100 marathons or more.  I am taking things a little more calmly than that this year, and am mostly paying attention to my TrainAsONE plan….there are a lot less “off plan” marathons sneaking in this year!

I really want to enjoy my running and it’s important for me to balance life, work, running and supporting the Boyf with his race plans for the year too.  So I have eased back a bit and am enjoying the way my plan keeps the balance between distance and speed work.  My running distance has been less over the last two months than the equivalent time last year.  Not by much, but it’s enough that a runner could get freaked out by it and start to panic that they were under training. 

February trainingHaving run a number of sessions with the Boyf though, he has confirmed I am getting stronger and faster (backed up by the recent increase in my training pace after the TrainAsONE assessments I did).  This is a good confidence booster, as I was feeling strong in my December race too.  I’m hoping that in my race this weekend I’ll be able to get a good leg stretch and test out my Tailwind strategy for the rest of the year’s races.  I have my fingers crossed for a light breeze and cool temperatures to allow me to keep a decent pace and not overheat (for a change).

February trainingIt’s going to be a tricky race to pace as the laps are about 10km in length and whilst we have 8 hours alllcated for running, you need to be out on the last lap 6.5 hours after the start.  If all goes to plan I’ll be aiming to complete an ultra-marathon….it sounds a lot for a first race back, but when you have longer races coming up you just have to dive in!  The good thing is that I know huge distances in training aren’t essential to complete a marathon…my trust in TrainAsONE has paid off more than once and I know that as long as I get my head in the right place and conditions allow, I’ll be able to put in a strong performance.  With my longest run in the last two months coming in at around 16km (and that was because I combined 2 sessions), I know that I am not at a disadvantage compared to those banging out 18 – 22 mile long runs because I get to rest, recover and work on my speed (the best way to improve overall performance).

So what am I going to do to beat taper-mania?  Well I might spend some time doing some yoga (I have been a bit slack recently), and I will definitely be keeping up with my Butt Builder Challenge as this is helping my power on runs too.

Do you have any tricks for not going stir-crazy when you can’t train?

Race Review: Robin Hood 100

Image of text - Robin Hood 100 the one with interna over-heating

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I went for another run at the weekend (Robin Hood 100). It was supposed to be a pleasant, 100 mile bimble along the Chesterfield Canal, round Sherwood Forest twice and then back along the canal. What actually happened was the first canal bit and the first loop!

The day started off brilliantly when we couldn’t get out of the hotel car park because the code to lift the barrier wouldn’t work. Not for us, or the night porter. In the end he had to switch the barrier on and off again to trigger the “IN” barrier to lift as we drove through at high speed, hoping we would make it before the barrier dropped on us. Luckily we, and the car, survived.

Of course this still wasn’t a huge issue as due to my love of being early for stuff I think we were still in the first 5 runners to arrive at registration. Numbers allocated, RaceDrone trackers collected we set about faffing for the next hour. Getting Tailwind into bottles, drop bags loaded to the van to be taken to Aid Station 3, numerous trips to the loo, deciding if I wanted my jacket out (light drizzle) or not (drizzle had stopped). In the end I went for arm sleeves instead and it was the right move.

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The Boyf and I set off at 8am, taking it steady and positioning ourselves near the back of the pack. We weren’t in a hurry and the plan was to run 4 mins:walk 1 minute from the start. We stuck to this and made good time along the canal, reaching the first aid station (10.4 miles away) in just over 2 hours. A refill of our Tailwind….conveniently packaged in individual plastic bags, snip the corner, add powder to bottle, top up and away we went. The scenery was lovely and the course was empty! We barely saw anyone in the first 20 miles other than a couple of dog walkers, a runner and the aid station crews. We did see sheep, horses, pigs, cows and a king fisher!

Aid station 2 was just off the canal at 16.2 miles and we hit this at 11:32. Another bottle top up with Tailwind and here we went with the refined technique of adding the water to the plastic bag, a quick shake to dissolve and then snip the corner to pour the water into the bottle before topping up. Much quicker and a lot less sticky (plus the powder doesn’t blow everywhere). I was also adding Peppermint Oil or Sicilian Lemon Juice into a couple of the bottles to add extra zing! Plus the peppermint is great for cooling and keeping your stomach settled.

Aid Station 3 was just under 3 miles away (19.06) and we were there by 12:19. Although I had up to 20 mins on my plan to stop here we probably weren’t more than 5 minutes. Another Tailwind top up and a swap out of our first fresh bag of Tailwind and gels to cover us for the next 30 miles. Can you sense a theme here? It’s all about the Tailwind!!

Robin Hood 100
We continued to make good progress to Aid Station 4, we were into the forest trails now with greater tree coverage and an increase in humidity but the run:walk strategy was working well and we were making good time. Still slightly ahead of my “ideal” zone on my planner. Hurrah!

Aid Station 4 to 5 was where I started to feel the heat. Not the external heat so much as my internal heat. I could start to feel my temperature increase but at this point I wasn’t really acknowledging it. I think the Boyf may have noticed a slight slowing in my pace but I think at that point he put it down to me running the undulations. As he put it afterwards, I was running stuff he would normally have walked on a 24 hour race like Spitfire Scramble. At this point though I was happy, not feeling like I was trying to hard and felt as though I was running well within my limits.

Robin Hood 100

Aid Station 5, 27.78 miles was reached in 6 hours 37 minutes and after topping up my bottles I poured a glass of water over the back of my neck. This helped me fell refreshed and we headed off into the 10 mile loop that would take us past the Major Oak. I was really enjoying myself and the scenery, but as we dropped down into the forest the humidity started to take its toll. Once we were past the Major Oak we were finding more ups than downs and we adjusted the run walk a bit more to have slightly longer walk breaks to keep me feeling in good shape. By the end of the 10 miles things were starting to be more of a struggle though.

We arrived back at Aid Station 5 having taken 2 hours 40 minutes. So about 30 minutes longer than our 10ish miles along the canal had taken, but considering our legs were less fresh and the course was more undulating that isn’t a bad drop off. This aid turnaround took slightly longer, I had removed my t-shirt in a bid to cool off, got my water bottles refilled with more Tailwind and took time to get myself bug-proofed with Avon Skin So Soft…..this worked as I only have 1 mosquito bite on my ankle and whilst it’s a bit red it hasn’t blistered like the last 2 mega-bites I have had.

The Boyf and I headed off to Aid Station 6, this section was less fun, there was a lot more running on actual road, and the local drivers weren’t really fussed about giving us much room. Plus my internal temperature was really starting to spike. Despite not having any nausea at all (thanks Tailwind), I did start to get a couple of vomit-burps bubbling up. Not a good sign….this meant I was starting to properly over-heat and my body wasn’t happy about this. We were about 40 miles in when it really all did go wrong. Despite having my cooling rag round my neck I just couldn’t keep the pace. We slowed to a walk in a bid to try and keep me cool but by the time we got to Aid Station 6 I was pretty sure that it was game over.

Robin Hood 100

A lot of chat and analysis was going on as we kept pushing forward, but it was obvious I wasn’t able to run any more. My legs were feeling strong and I could keep my pace up, but if I did my temperature spiked and that wasn’t good. What was a worry was that we were pretty much alone on the trail, in the middle of nowhere with no mobile signal. We had trackers with an SOS button but didn’t really want to get in a state where we needed to use those. We carried on from Aid Station 6 to Aid Station 3 (back at the start of the 30 mile loop) as dusk, then darkness fell and decided that we would call it a day. There was no way it would have been sensible to set out for the 30 mile loop again. Yes I could have walked the remainder of the race, but I didn’t set out to walk 100 miles, I set out to run 100 miles! This wasn’t about gutting it out and ultra-shuffling to the end. If I was going to do it I wanted to do it safely AND in (some semblance) of style.

So we decided enough was enough….a gutting decision to make, especially as we were meeting our lovely crew member Fiona back at Aid Station 3 as she was going to look after us throughout the night. Best laid plans and all that! So at 20:41, 12 hours 41 minutes after starting we reached the 48.66 mile point (80.11km in Garmin distance) and handed in our trackers.

Huge thanks go to the volunteers who fed the Boyf soup (I couldn’t risk it for fear of triggering more over heating) and helped us get in touch with Fiona when we couldn’t get a mobile signal. She eventually managed to find the aid station location (not easy in the pitch-black with a post code that didn’t match the real-world presence of the station) and rescued us. A trip back to the village hall start point, a chance to change into fresh clothes, and then we headed to McDonald’s for a chat and burger. I can’t thank Fi enough for trekking halfway up the country, sitting and chatting to us before driving home again with minimal crewing complete.

We were back home before 3am, bathed in Radox Bubble bath with added Epsom Salts and Rosemary Oil (the perfect recovery combo, and the rosemary oil is great for soothing irritated skin e.g. mossie bites and bramble grazes!) and that was me out cold! Not the race I had planned but one that has given me much food for thought and a reignited plan for the future. More on that to follow!

My planned pace and real time arrivals:
My pace chart from Robin Hood 100....it was all going so well. Blog post to follow soon 😄

Garmin Stats (click if you can’t see the embedded version):

Race Review: Endure24 #marathon20

Last weekend was Endure24, a 24 hour race in Wasing Park, Aldermaston and my first 24 hour event as a solo runner.  I had entered the race as prep for next month’s 100 mile run at Samphire Hoe, and it was never my intention to run the full 24 hours, it was more to be a test event and one in which I ran through the night as practice to ensure I could stay awake throughout the dark section of the race.  As the race got closer I shifted my plan from sitting around from race start until sunset, then running through the night and stopping to a plan I hoped would give me some options for Samphire 100.  Instead I planned on walking the daylight section, before transitioning to running at night.  As I am not a fan of hot weather it is a worry for me that the 100 will be on the hottest weekend of the year and I will melt.  I wanted to see if I could manage to walk for a significant time and then pick up the pace so that I have some options available to me if required.

We rocked up to the park on Friday in order to get a good spot in the solo area and check the new tent worked.  It did! Speedily pitched and new tent neighbours impressed we were up and in place.  We spent the afternoon chilling in the tent, recce-ing some of the course and then escaping to the relaxed and comfortable hotel I had booked up the road!  One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be fully rested when the race started, not grumpy from an uncomfortable night in a tent.

We returned on Saturday morning, around 6:30am complete with McDonald’s (breakfast for me, Egg McMuffins on hold for Jools mid-race), and two cool boxes filled with ice from the hotel’s ice machine….total win as it meant I had no need to hit Sainsbury’s for ice on the way to the race.  We then proceeded to get set up and then dozed a bit.  Two cool boxes for drinks (& cheese and marmite rolls, cheese and pickle for Jools) and then a wide selection of food to munch throughout the race.

My final plan for the race was walk from the start until 8pm when head torches would be required, try and pick the pace up to a run and keep going until daybreak.  We headed to the start for 12pm, I made sure I was near the back and we were off!  I am a pretty fast walker, and I wanted to make sure that I was attacking the race with more of a power-hike than a dawdle.  The laps were 5 miles (8km) long, and that meant that I would have to complete 6 laps & 30 miles for this to count as a marathon in race terms.  The course was a nice mix of undulations, anything remotely like an up-hill would be walked even in the latter stages of the race, but I could see some bits that would be lovely for running on once I picked the pace up.  I also wanted to try and keep my “aid station” stops to a minimum if I could, although I had also said I would help crew the Boyf if needed so was planning on being quite flexible on timings.  I got laps one and two completed in 1:08:12 and 1:10:03, not bad at all.  After my second lap I stopped to pick up my poles.  I wanted to try them out before I was too tired to work out how to use them, just in case I did want to use them in the night.  They do take a bit of getting used to, but they are brilliant on steep up hills.  Overall they slowed me a little, but I can see that when you aren’t moving at too hiking pace, or the terrain is tougher then they would be brilliant.  I dropped them back at the tent and was planning to double-up the laps again to go direct to lap 5 without a stop but then I got a crew request from the Boyf and stopped again after lap 4 to do a water bottle top up for him.  I did the same after lap 5 and then headed out on lap 6 still moving really well and without any real pain or issues. I completed my 6th lap, and 30 miles in 7:49:02, ahead of the 8pm cutoff for collecting head torches.  Considering the extra time I had taken on crew/aid station stops I was happy with this and then decided to take the time to change clothes and socks before heading out into the dark and seeing if I could run.  My feet felt OK, I put more Gurney Goo on them and a fresh set of socks, but should probably have paid more attention to a small hot spot/blister that had formed under the rear of my left arch.  It didn’t look like a problem though so I stupidly ignored it.

30 miles walked in under 8 hours. Kit changed, head torch picked up and back out! Bring it on! #walkrungetitdone #juneathon #runstrong #runlong #marathonmaniac #thisgirlcan #loverunning #trainasone #trainsmarternotharder #garmin #fenix3hr #fabletics #fablHead torch on and I was off out for the next 5 miles.  I walked the long, gentle hill and then transitioned into a run walk strategy.  It felt good, I had a fairly fast pace and nothing really hurt.  I put in a fastish lap time and then went out for another one.  It was here that it all started to go a bit wrong.  I started to feel quite sick everytime I picked up the pace, and my foot started to notice the blister.  Shortly after 11pm I decided to visit the First Aid tent and get it looked at.  Drained and bandaged I was soon back out, but the nausea wouldn’t shift and I was constantly needing to stop for the loo.  I was walking more than running, but I was still moving forward.  The key thing was to keep moving until sunrise and see how far I could get. I finally reached the 50 mile point in 14:52:56, I was still moving OK and my bandaged foot was mostly pain free but I was feeling every stone and surface transition, tiredness was setting in but I knew it would soon be daylight.  I did another clothes swap, this was an essential one as I had managed to get sawdust all over my bum and shorts (it was used to “flush” the loos out by the water station) when I was rushing on another wee stop and it was itching like crazy.  I decided sawdust chafage was not going to be pretty and was grateful for clean leggings before heading out into the unknown of “beyond 50 miles”.  

I walked what was to be my last lap with the Boyf, collected a third hug from Paul Spooner & his fellow marshal Nick, and then chatting to Alex Penny.  Sunrise came and I decided that enough was enough, I had made it through the night, seen I could pick up the pace after walking a while, and couldn’t see any benefit to putting extra mileage in my legs. We did ponder going out again but in the end decided we had done what we had set out to do.  Shortly after I had crawled into the sleeping bag I heard the rain start to fall…..totally stoked to be in the tent and not halfway round the course!

What did I learn? 

  • Getting a massage when you wake up from a 2 hour nap is brilliant, my legs really benefitted and I managed to drive home without stiffening up top much, I even waddled less between the car and the house!
  • Blow-up tents are brilliant! It was quick to pitch and take down, meaning we actually took it home rather than just binning.
  • If you are weeing lots then your electrolytes are probably out of whack, don’t think that just because you are walking you can get away with just drinking water (that certainly didn’t work for me).  This probably also accounted for the nausea.
  • Walking for 30 miles in your running trainers that promote mid-foot strike will cause a blister. Run:walk is ok because the movement is varied, but nearly 8 hours of walking in them was not a good move.
  • I can pick up the pace after walking for 30 miles…..hurrah!  If I do have to resort to this at Samphire I will switch to my “walking” trainers though, hopefully that will minimise unwanted chafage and random blisters.
  • I really enjoyed Endure24, I extended my distance PB to 55 miles, kept moving forwards from dusk till dawn and my legs were still working.  It wasn’t the perfect race, but I made the right mistakes and it means I go into next month’s big one feeling like I can battle my way from start to finish!  I have 32 hours to do it, and if I have to take that long to get it done then I will.  I want the buckle & finisher’s t-shirt!

Lap Splits:

Endure24 lap splits

Click here for Garmin stats if you can’t see them below:

Endure24 Summary

Endure24 graphs