100 miles in one day
Following on from my previous post about my first 100-mile ultra I thought I would record, for prosperity more than anything, my journey along the South Down and just how I broke it in to manageable chunks that got me to my goal.
First of all I had to get myself to the start line, and bless my good friend Becky for picking me up at 4am and dropping me at the Matterley Estate to collet my number and GPS tracker. Then all I had to do was take a deep breath and cross that timing mat, and it was on.
Wow, I'm finally doing this, and my first goal is to just keep it slow for the first hour and come to terms that this is really happening. Not easy with all these other amazing runners to chat to and the adrenaline coursing through my veins.
Me coming out of the Matterley Estate to join the South Downs
Okay, I'm in a rhythm but have been going a bit too fast chatting to runners far more experienced at these things than me. Time to drop back and run at my own pace for a bit. Let's just get to my first crew stop at Mile 23. That tells you how crazy this whole thing is when 23 miles is seen as a warm-up.
Okay, I may have almost run a marathon already, but it's still early days and the excitement still hasn't worn off. And as I come down the long descent into Queen Elizabeth Country Park I'm finally going to meet my crew (Becky and Abi) for the first time. But due to my excitement and two hours spent chatting with Gary from Newcastle, I'm 20 minutes ahead of schedule and Abi only just comes running through the car park to see me before I head off again into the woods.
Now I set my sights on halfway. I've run 50-milers before so I know I can do that, and at mile 51 I'm picking up my first pacer, Mark. From then on in it's not all on me. I not only have company, but help to keep me moving and motivated. But it's hot, really hot. And getting there proves trickier than I thought, so I break it down even more and just aim for each of the 5 crew stations along the way where Becky and Abi can treat my now sore left calf muscle and drench my buff and hat in water to cool me in the ever-warming sun. And this is where I take my only tumble of the day, stubbing my toes on a rock in the trail and rolling commando style as my sunglasses go flying. But I'm fine, just my pride damaged and now dust clinging to me sweaty, sun-creamed, sticky limbs.
It was so nice to see Mark and his wife Sue at last, but poor Mark had to put up with me for the 5 toughest hours of this race. The sun was unabating, the tree cover non-existent and the terrain ever undulating. My energy and morale drained along with the last drops of water in my soft-flasks, and there were times where I seriously started to doubt myself. But Mark kept me going and distracted me with games that kept my mind alert. I'm now focussing on getting to mile 70 and pick up my last pacer, Matt, then the sun will start going in and I'll be on the last stretch.
Struggling in the heat as Alice and Sue try to tempt me to eat something
I knew about the emotional highs and lows of ultra-running, and been warned that in a 100-miler I would have times I would feel done for one minute, only to find a second wind soon after. But nothing prepared me for the extremes I was about to experience. As quickly as my malaise took hold, it evaporated as Mark and I began our last climb up to the next crew station. Suddenly I couldn't stop smiling and chatting and by the time we met the crew (as well as my friend Tam's crew) I was frankly manic!
As I sat down in the chair (yes, that is very much allowed I'll have you know) for the first time today the question "what do you want to eat" from Alice, who had now taken over crewing duties, wasn't met with a scowl and echoing reflux. Salt and vinegar chipsticks and a mixed nuts selection were quickly devoured as I told the surrounding audience everything that had happened so far in about 60-seconds flat and a voice that I can only imagine sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks. But I've made it to Matt, and here we go for the final 30-miles and the long-awaited night-leg.
From malaise to manic - freakishly happy with both my and Tam's crew
Okay, I may not be suffering heat stroke and battling nausea anymore. But let's not kid ourselves, this is hard. But I've come so far, so Matt and I start breaking it down even further. Just one long training run left to go - I've done so many of these over the past 18 months, what's one more.
14 miles, that's about 22km which is one of my regular runs to Southampton and back. That 's a pretty easy run in a training week - how hard can that be? But the legs are really hurting now. Running up hill isn't happening anymore, and running downhill is starting to really hit the quads hard, and this stretch of the South Downs really doesn't have much flat on it. So the going is slow , but Matt is doing a sterling job keeping my pace up and not letting me go any slower than I need to, with constant reassurance that there's just one more climb - which I swear he dais at least 3 times. And Alice comes up trumps with a piping hot Pot Noodle at some aid station I can't even begin to recall, as my mind has pretty much shut down at this point. She and her van just appeared like a mirage in the desert, but one that served real food.
Okay, so just one club training session to go now. And Matt and I have company as a chap with really bad hip pain called Daniel seems to have latched on to us. He doesn't say a lot, just mutters really, but I've gone so delirious I'm doing enough blethering for the three of us. Oh, and my cringeworthy habit of singing while exhausted at the end of these races has well and truly begun - and bad country songs that nobody else has ever heard of seem to be the order of the day. "If I could have a beer with Jesus" anyone?
Wow, just a 5km Park Run to go. We're descending off the Downs and this is really happening now! The technical descent to Eastbourne is slow going as I'm stumbling and paranoid about twisting an ankle. But we're so going to do this!!
We're finally in Eastbourne, on the flat, on tarmac, and I'm only bloody running again - just a Junior Park Run to go.
I'm here, I'm on the track with just 400m to go, and I'm sprinting... or at least in my head I am. In my head I'm on the beach in Charriots of Fire and nobody has ever looked so graceful on a track. Thank god nobody was filming it though, as I'm sure I looked more like some malfunctioning robot.
Can I run a 100 miles in one go? It turns out I can, but only by breaking it down into smaller goals that I could tick off along the way. Nothing is impossible, not with a little help from your friends.
Alice (night crew), me and Matt (my pacer for the last 30 miles)