Well where to start? Chris, John & myself were all to make the journey down south from Aviemore to take on our 1st 100 miler in the south of England. John was support crew, whilst Chris & i were to attempt to run it.
Travelling down started at 5am on the Friday & a trip to Inverness airport with a quick flight to Gatwick. Once we boarded the plane & the doors shut we found out that there was to be an hours delay before we took off due to Gatwick being busy, surely Gatwick is always busy?? We eventually arrived down in the big smoke & made our way to the car hire place which ended up being a dodgy back street portacabin with some of Del boys cousins running it. After a lengthy time & having to agree to pay an extra £50 for some ridiculous reason of bringing the car up to European standards we got on our way. We loaded the in car Sat Nav with directions to Southampton & after an unexpected trip to Morrison’s car park (thanks sat nav) we arrived at our hotel. John being the driver quickly nipped to the toilet whilst Chris & myself got out of the car, closed the doors only to find out it automatically locks, so we spent the next few minutes looking at all of our running gear in the locked car & hoping John actually had the key with him?? Thankfully he did & the mini panic could now end.
The following morning started with the alarm going off at 4am, showers, porridge pots & bananas & last minute repacking of race vests. Then a short 15 min journey to the start. We’d already registered the evening before, so it was just a matter of hanging about & soaking up the atmosphere.
GPS’s enabled, race brief done, good lucks to each other & from John & a see you on the other side & we were off!! As with all races the 1st mile gets carried away with all the excitement & come the 2nd mile you need to reign it in a little as it’s going to be a long day. My plan was & always had been to finish in under 24hrs & i knew various pacing strategies to make this happen, so walk the ups & run the flats & downs at a conservative pace was the plan. After a few miles i heard a familiar voice from behind, it was John Samways who was also running, i had hoped to meet up & run some of the race with John so this was a good start to the day meeting so early. We had a good waffle about training,life,races,work etc etc & we both had a similar race tactic & time goal so we kept together until mile 24. I’d been feeling that the pace we were running was just a little quicker than i wanted to go & the temperature was slowly rising & i was beginning to feel it, so i warned John i’d probably fall back pretty soon, we wished each other well & off he went slowly into the distance.
At this point i was thinking, you’re doing well, keeping an eye on the pace & conscious of the heat & slowing slightly to account for it. I’d meet John at certain checkpoints & as time went on i’d mention the heat more & more to him, i was really wanting to see a river on the side of the trail & jump in! When i’d get chance i’d be soaking my buff & pouring water over my head. I’d plastered myself in sun cream at the last check point only to find a tap just afterwards & try & have a shower in it to cool down then realize i’d just washed off all the sun cream! Doh!! Coming from Aviemore you do most of your running in cold weather & throughout the winter mostly in minus temps, so running in the mid twenties with what seemed an off the scale humidity was causing me some issues & did i bring that cap i thought about bringing? No of course i didn’t! I brought about 4 of everything else but didn’t bother with a cap to keep the sun off did i??
Pace wise i was still well on track even though i’d been struggling with the heat. I seemed to have a system for the aid stations – fill bottles, 1 with water, 1 with Tailwind, drink a mug of coke, eat some fruit & savoury food as quick as possible, don’t sit down & get going. This was working ok & you’d leave & for the next couple of miles feel good but as the race went on the feeling good time would get shorter & more of a gradual what’s going on with my stomach? would take over. By the mid 40’s miles i was eating less at the stations due to my stomach feeling worse & worse.
I arrived at Washington (mile 54) in 11hrs 19mins which was certainly on the slower end of my schedule. Forced down some pasta that i wasn’t enjoying eating in the slightest, which was a bit of a down moment as i’d originally been looking forward to this checkpoint as it was going to be serving hot food & i like to eat food!! I met John there & was hoping to change my top & sort a couple of things but he didn’t have what i wanted with him & i was starting to get agitated. We met again shortly afterwards at a crew point & by now i was getting paranoid of meeting him at points that aren’t allowed as you can get disqualified for this. So i find myself saying to him i can’t see him at that point as it’s not a designated area (the heat & lack of food were obviously starting to make me not think straight), John points out the 2 marshall’s stood right next to him & 2 others about 10 meters away & they assure me all is good. So i change my top, get my poles & cables for charging my watch on the go, say thanks & head off up a hill.
I’d been looking forward to getting the poles for some time now as i felt i was going to need as much help as possible. As i’m going up the hill i’m trying to take some food on board as i know i’ve not been eating or drinking enough, but my stomach is in knots, i want to throw up but can’t & every time i try & put anything in my mouth even on the 1st chew i can’t stomach it & stop eating, the same went for the water, as soon as i had even a sip my stomach would be yelling at me saying it didn’t want anything. For some time now as well, when i start to run my stomach gets worse & after a couple of miles from Washington i see a bench, sit on it, work out how far i’ve got to go (44 miles) & work out if i walk a 20 min mile from that point to the finish i’d still have plenty of time before the cut offs. Walking was easier on the stomach than the pain i was feeling when attempting to run. This did mean me accepting that my sub 24 hr was probably out of reach but maybe just walking for a few miles my stomach might calm down & i’d be able to eat & drink again??
It took me 2 & 1/2 hrs to do the 7 miles to the next checkpoint Botolphs & when i got there all i could do was sit on a chair, pour water over my head & ask everyone i saw if they had anything for upset stomachs? Nobody did. I had brought Imodium & paracetamol with me but i’d tried the Imodium & it wasn’t really the right thing. So i’d start popping paracetamol in the hope that might work? The Marshall’s asked if i wanted any food or drink but again i couldn’t face it, so off i went looking at my timing sheet checking the distance to the next checkpoint. It was all about just reaching the next checkpoint by now. I started up the next hill trying to phone John to ask him to get me something, anything to settle my stomach, but either he had no signal or i didn’t. I was weak & swaying side to side trying to get up that hill with only my poles keeping me upright.
I meet John on top of a hill somewhere, i don’t really know where? I don’t really know what’s happening anymore. He asks me with a serious voice how do i feel as i’m not looking good, i think i tell him i feel like crap. He’d bought me a sandwich from a garage which i force 1/2 of it down before putting on my headtorch & swaying off into the distance. We’d agree to meet at the next checkpoint & i remember saying to John he’d have time for some sleep as it was going to take me a while. Well between Botolphs & Housedean Farm (15 miles) it took me 5 hrs 40 mins to get there. I was a stumbling sideways shuffling wreak at this point. Now somewhere at this stage of having the time of my life an old foot injury decided to come back & say hello. The same injury that stopped me from running for 18 months a couple of years ago, oh the joys!! So it’s pitch black, your’e on your own running on uneven ground in a place you’ve never been before, you haven’t really eaten or drank properly for the past god knows how many hours? You’ve been moving forward for the past 17/18 hrs, so what’s a sensible thing to do? I’ll tell you what isn’t, see a field off to your right go & lie down in it & try & go to sleep! I was totally exhausted, i’d been running on empty for hrs, i hadn’t been able to walk in a straight line for ages, my stomach was still going crazy & now i was limping badly with my right foot swaying to the side & sreeching at me in pain with every step i take, so of course going to sleep for 20 mins in a field in the middle of nowhere will solve everything, won’t it? I lay there for what i think is no more than 10 mins but could have been any amount of time really? I couldn’t get comfortable for some reason & when i decided that this was actually a rubbish idea, i get up feeling really cold & what’s that? I can’t open my left eye! I’ve either been bitten by something or have taken a reaction to whatever i was lying on!! I stumble forward a few hundred meters before stopping to get out some warmer layers from my pack. Some runners go past asking if i’m ok? Yeah i’m fine, just a bit cold, do you have anything for a bad stomach? No? No problem, bye now.
I know how to have a good time eh?
At some point during the evening/night but i can’t remember when? I get invited into a very posh house that’s having a wine tasting evening! It’s a bit bizarre but some very friendly folk invited me in & gave me an Alka Seltzer!
Housedean Farm (i think? though it could have been another checkpoint?) eventually comes into sight, i sit in a seat listen to a very chirpy marshall ask me what can he do to help me? I ask for anything that might settle my stomach but again no. I sit in a seat & watch 2 other runners get loaded into an ambulance & told they aren’t fit to continue. So i try & look as positive as i can eat a small amount & drink a cup of tea before they tell me the same! There’s no way on earth i’m going through all of this not to finish!
I continue on, I’ve now come to look at pacing in a different light, I was working as hard as i possibly could to crack out a 20 min mile & this felt quick!! This goes on for some time, daylight breaks, i wait for the power of the sunrise to give me some extra life, it doesn’t.
I finally make it to the checkpoint with the YHA where i meet John, i tell him about the foot & ask for the deep heat, off comes the shoe & on goes the deep heat & in go more paracetamol & off i go again, i’m just wanting to get this done & not hang about.
Up another hill, down another hill both as slowly as each other, i’ve continued with my sideways shuffle with the foot swaying to one side, my left hip joined in the fun ages ago due to me trying to keep the weight off my right foot. I think it was at this point i started having a conversation/argument with my feet! ‘Why can’t you be like the left foot?? That just does what it’s supposed to do! But no you’ve got to be a pain in the arse & play up again haven’t you??’ This went on for some time…
I’ve started swearing to myself quite a lot by this point ‘keep f***ing moving’ & other such phrases that kept me moving in a forward direction. I’m getting closer now, albeit slowly but i know i’m getting closer to the finish. It’s properly light by now, probably about 8am? I’m doing my shuffle downhill steadying myself with my poles & i see a group of girls obviously on some sort of hike or D of E? They’d stopped to get something out of their packs & i glance across whilst shuffling past & realize I’ve slever dripping out of my mouth as i stumble past!! Oh my god! What must i look like???
The last couple of checkpoints come & go, i keep going past them, i’m on a mission to get to the finish as soon as i possibly can, i’ve lasted this long without food & drink, i don’t need anything now to slow me down! I’m getting a bit emotional at this point, trying to fight back some tears, ‘don’t do it it’s a waste of energy, keep going!!!’
I finally get to the outskirts of Eastbourne, it’s like running through someones back garden down a slim path with nettles everywhere, the path is too slim for me to do my shuffle & i have to put more weight on my foot, ahhhhhh. You reach the roadside & i see another runner who passed me waiting at the crossing, i think if i cross now i won’t have to wait at the lights, so off i go across what was an empty road only to find a car coming towards me & me having to break into a 3 meter sprint! Ow! Eventually you round the hospital & find the athletics track, there’s people cheering you on & i find myself smiling for the 1st time in ages. The finish did feel pretty special, the whistles & cheers, i was going as quickly as i possibly could right to the line (last mile pace was 22:17 pace but felt like a good 8 seconds quicker!).
I collected my buckle, my t shirt, shook some hands, had some hugs, met with John, asked how Chris was doing? How did John do? What was his time? Went inside & phoned Ingrid but had to cut the call short as i suddenly felt dreadful. Time to visit the Ambulance dudes waiting in the corner, next thing i’m getting all sorts checked & lying on the floor with my feet raised!
A few days down the line & the foots still bad, but it was all worth it. It’s amazing at what you’re capable of even when everything is against you.
Bring on the Ring O Fire!!
Chris made it with minutes to spare, & overtook last place with 1/2 mile to go! Well done Chris 🙂