Giants Head Marathon – Time to embrace the hills again

I ran the Giants Head Marathon, my first White Star Running event, yesterday. It was a well organised, friendly and inclusive race set in a stunning part of the world, rural Dorset. I’ll be going back to do another WSR race for sure.

Finish time: 5:06:05

Finish position: 126/465 – top third

Age category position: 21/57 – top third

[Superb, naughty bling for this race]

[Feeling relaxed and running steady at the start – 8 minute miling without realising it! Photo: Rob Hannam]

[Clearly not enjoying yet another hill in the early stages of the race. Photo: Rob Hannam]

[Just before taking a wrong turn and getting lost, around halfway]

[Enjoying running again, especially as it’s downhill, in the last couple of miles. Photo: Rob Hannam]

[This is the WSR sweeper, complete with broomstick! This lady does all their races as sweeper apparently. Excellent! Photo: Rob Hannam]

Things I learned (or was reminded of) in running this race

  • I need to get much more hill running in my legs to be prepared for the 10,000 feet of elevation gain over 50 miles (5 x 10 mile laps) at the Wendover Woods 50 miler in November

[Mile 2 and the hills begin!]

[Yep. It went on foeverrrrrr!]

There is no need to panic. One of my strengths over the last few years has been in climbing the uphills. I manage to hike with purpose and sometimes find myself overtaking people on the way up, even if they do then overtake me on the way down! I could definitely tell that I haven’t done much hill training this year when I was on the hills but this was a conscious decision to build fitness and consistency using the TrainAsOne platform. I’ve run done I’d my longer runs with hills but haven’t really got into hiking much, or trashing my quads on the downhills.

Action: I have 4 months to get some decent hills in my legs and especially practice hiking up and running down steep hills. Butser Hill and Kingley Vale repeats need to feature heavily in my weekend training runs. My initial thoughts are to do BH/KV sessions once a fortnight with the other longer weekend runs including some sharp and technical climbs.

[A decent Butser Hill route from a March 2017 run with Phil Hall]

[Now this is a hill rep session! Kingley Vale is a great place to run hills]

  • I really don’t like running in the heat

Sometimes I’m okay running when it’s hot but yesterday I struggled at times. I stayed on top of my hydration, taking on enough water at each checkpoint to get me to the next one without running out. I doused myself in water at the checkpoints to keep cool, which worked well. I never overheated but could feel myself struggling at times, on the climbs in particular. I’m writing this rhe morning after the race with a splitting headache, so am most likely still dehydrated.

Action: Continue to be mindful of hydration. I ran the SDW100 on a very warm weekend in June 2015 and got it done. I also ran the NDW100 in August 2017, again in very easy conditions and with some tricky climbs. I didn’t finish that one but that was because I wasn’t sufficiently trained not because of the heat. Remember to continue to drink after the race, but not too much.

  • I continue to give in during races, paying too much attention to the devil on my shoulder and their negativity when things get tough

I resolved at the start of the race to run wherever it was flat or downhill. My commitment to this gradually ebbed away as the heat took its toll and my legs, having run no further than 17 miles in one go since last October, complained increasingly loudly in the second half of the race. At a few points in the race I quite literally had a word with myself and with a “Come on GC!” began to run again and kept running even when the devil was screaming at me to yield and walk “just for a bit”. At other times, I yielded.

Action: Finish reading The Chimp Paradox! I was most certainly paying too much attention to Gremlins in my thoughts yesterday and this affected my decisions and the outcome.

[Currently on loan from the Learning and Development library at work and being digested slowly. Lots of interesting stuff so far]

Action: Revisit past successes and how I overcame these demons to believe, keep going and achieve more than I’d ever thought possible once upon a time. See SDW100 blog and my comment above and the mile 50-60 of my NDW100 in 2017 plus the Facebook post from 2012 below about running 30 miles in 24 hours (2 x 15 mile runs, back to back) only 2 months after running my first marathon.

[We sometimes forget what we can do and how far we’ve already come]

[This weekend Jim Walmsley broke the Western States 100 at the 3rd attempt. He was committed to breaking the course record and ran at record pace in 2016 (got lost 7 miles from the end) and 2017 (DNF due to nausea) and did it at last]

  • Pay attention to the race markings!

There was one point around 11 miles into the race where I and half a dozen other runners completely missed a sign and marking tape and added around half a mile to our race. Doh! I’m good at finding new ways to get to places in trail runs (AKA getting lost and somehow finding the way!) so this is no surprise. The fact was that the then we had to make was marked behind the gate we had to go through and we’d ploughed on ahead as it was out of our field of vision.

Action: Stay alert! Don’t blindly follow other runners and remember to look all around for signs and tape.

  • Avoid the sugar train in races for as long as possible

I’ve recently been experimenting with different nutrition on long runs and races. I tend to do a lot of my weekend long runs in a faster state and this has generally worked well as they are mostly at an easy (economy) pace. However, as I build towards WW50 I need to revisit eating during runs and retrain my visit to do so. Using the 33Shake pre/post run shakes has worked really well in my part two races, providing sustained energy for the first hour and a half. I was “fuelled” yesterday by 1 x Tribe bar (Peanut butter and banana) 1 x 33Shake gel, some watermelon, some pretzels, and in the later stages some Coke and an amazing peanut butter muffin. My energy levels were good but could have been better.

Action: Stay on top of nutrition during races and keep experimenting with different nutrition in training.

Summary

I had no specific time goal for the race. When asked for one the day before by a colleague I said I’d like to think of could finish in between 5 and 6 hours. I did. I’m happy.

At several points during yesterday’s race, particularly in the second half, I found myself doubting my ability to get back to running long distances at several points along the route. I then remembered to enjoy the journey and what I’ve previously achieved that I’d never have thought possible.

The Giants Head Marathon has given me lots of things to work on but also provided a great day out. Onwards.

Kit choices

Trail shoes – Brooks Pure Grit 4

Socks – Hilly Twin Skin

Both worked fine. No blisters ๐Ÿ‘

Shorts – Ronhill Stride 5″ Twin shorts

First time wearing. Minimal chafing in the heat. Really comfortable ๐Ÿ‘

T-shirt – Higher State crew t-shirt

Wore this for the whole of my SDW100 race in 2015. Really comfortable ๐Ÿ‘

Cap – Inov-8 running cap

New purchase as my Run Breeze one has a year in it (still using it though!). Worked fine. Didn’t overheat ๐Ÿ‘

Race vest/pack – Mountain Hardwear Single-track race vest with 2 x Scott 500ml soft flasks

Used on training runs. Perfect for this distance ๐Ÿ‘

Nutrition – 33Shake pre-race shake and in-race gel + Tribe bar + a few aid station top ups.

All good ๐Ÿ‘

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Team Super Bob does an adventure race

Today is the first Father’s Day since my Dad passed away at the end of June last year.

Today I celebrated the life of my Dad by doing a good deed (raising much needed funds for the Rainbow Centre) and getting a good workout in at the same time. Our fundraising page can be found here:

http://bit.ly/teamsuperbob

My cousin Louise Carter suggested that she, my brother Greg and I do a sporting challenge together just for fun late last year. We found the Rainbow Superhero Challenge, involving run, kayak and bike legs, and signed up as a team.

When we found out that the race was on Father’s Day we came up with the idea of doing it as Team Super Bob and I got some t-shirts printed.

The plan was for each of us to do one of the three legs as a tag relay. Despite the fact that we’d missed the bit of the race rules that stated team members all had to do the 3 legs when we explained our reason for doing the challenge Rob Piggott, the race organiser, was happy to let us go ahead as planned. Phew!

My good buddy and fellow runner Phil Hall sent us a good luck message in the morning along with this motivational image, which made us chuckle. Love it Phil!

Anyhow, I started the challenge by running 3.5 miles from the Waterside Sports Centre in Portsmouth to the Hayling Island ferry, where Louise got in the kayak and paddled back to the sports centre before tagging Greg for the longest leg on the bike.

During the run leg I was happy that I managed just under 8:00min/mile pace, at least until I hit the muddy beach section, and pleased that it definitely felt more comfortable at that pace than it would have done at the start of the year. If I hadn’t been running back I’d have pushed harder but I wanted to save some energy for the return leg. My training using the TrainAsOne platform is definitely helping, with fitness building gradually. I certainly feel fitter and stronger than at any time since my London Marathon PB in April 2016.

Along the way we were each tasked with taking certain photos and collecting specific items to gain points. My tasks were to take photos of a bridge, a pub, a national flag, of both feet in water, and a selfie by the Lifeboat station. I managed all of these but Rob only gave half points for my feet in water effort despite my argument that no depth was specified and I did indeed have both feet in (about an inch of) water!

Having handed over to Louise, I then headed back to the start, much to the confusion of other adventure racers who running towards the kayak point and being passed in the opposite direction by another racer! An easy paced economy run back to the start took me 5 minutes longer than the first leg but left me feeling like I’d had a decent and varied workout. Much needed ahead of my first marathon since London 2016, the Giants Head Marathon in Dorset next Saturday. I’m preparing myself for lots of hills!

Greg set off on the bike leg just after I arrived back at the Waterside Sports Centre. He returned so that we finished just after the two hour mark. Challenge completed.

Job done.

It was great to try something new and race with my brother and cousin. I think that Dad would have been proud of our efforts and I had a few years on the run and later as the reality of our first Father’s Day without him around hit home.

This was for you Dad. We all miss you so much and will keep making you proud xxxx

Running reflections: racing and volunteering

Racing

I’m not a competitive runner. I’ve never been a particularly fast runner, although I’m working on improving my pace over all distances this year.

Since I started running races in 2005, with my first Great South Run (a 10 mile road race), I have run a fair few events. As I build towards my races later this year I thought that I’d try to summarise my race experiences in a few words, so here goes nothing…..

2005

Great South Run – I just ran 10 miles!

2006 – 2012

Great South Run – New PB; Not a PB; Finished via ambulance, blagged medal; Hula girl fancy dress run; Beat Phil by 2 seconds!

2011

Great Gorilla Run 8k – gorilla costume running on warm September day, got medal from Bill Oddie

2012

Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon – first half marathon, just about beat 2 hours

London Marathon – distance debut poorly paced, finished smiling

Devil Run 15k – a cracking, hilly run around the Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead

Portsmouth Coastal Marathon – DNS as wife sick, ran solo on Boxing Day unsupported with race number

2013

North Downs Way 50 – surpassed expectations on ultra marathon debut

Clarendon Marathon – cracking runchat with Phil

2014

Steyning Stinger Marathon – led James Elson, sloppy underfoot, brutal

Leith Hill Half Marathon – snowy, icy peak, fun on descent, cooked breakfast at end a winner

North Downs Way 50 – injured ITB, limped it in

Endure 24 – 80 miles of slippery mud, mangled feet

Royal Parks Ultra 50k – chasing sweeper, ran past deer

Great South Run – paced brother to target time

2015

Winter Tanners 20 miles – superb LDWA event, FiPo tastic running in the Surrey Hills, got it done

Malvern Hills Ultra 52 miles – bloody hills, got lost, superb views

South Downs Way 100 – debut 100 miler, paced well, walked in dark, big smile at finish

Alice Holt 10k – surprised myself with sub-50 minute finish on undulating trail course

Portsmouth Coastal Festive Half Marathon – ran without looking at watch, steady and controlled

2016

Why Not Run 6 hour timed event – did 5 laps, 23 miles, smiled again

Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 50k – amazing scenery, shame about the ITB issue, more limping to the finish

Autumn 100 – paced by Ash and Rod new PB, fell over 3 times

2017

Arun River Marathon – good first half, poor second, Amberley Mount joyous, mental strength waning

North Downs Way 100 – DNF, poorly prepared, didn’t deserve the #BuckleForBob, will be back

Portsmouth Coastal Marathon – another DNS, this time due to my illness, destined not to run this race!

2018 (to date)

Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon – PW performance, paced abysmally

Winchester 10k – perfectly paced, almost a PB

Over the years there were also a few Santa Runs, a 10k solo and two 5k runs with my son Andrew, all great fun

In compiling this list I’ve been reminded that I’ve yet to run any of the following races:

  • 5k (Santa Runs and parkruns aside)
  • 100k
  • A track race

All of these are now on the running to do list!

Volunteering

I broke my volunteering duck at the South Downs Way 50 in April 2013 and have been hooked on helping fellow runners along their way ever since. Smiles, banter, hugs and encouraging words go a long way when you’re racing (or plodding, as is more often the case for me).

I’ve volunteered for the following race organisers and highly recommend their events:

Hermes Running (Race Director: Dave Ross)

I’ve only helped out once here, the Thames Meander Marathon, but I got the opportunity to chat with 80 year old runner “Rocket” (pictured above) among others while volunteering near Barnes Bridge with Fiona McNelis. Dave Ross is a superb runner and a top guy who looks after his runners.

Believe and Achieve (Race Director: Robert Piggott)

I’ve helped out at race registration, handed out medals and goodie bags, and swept the course as last runner marshall. Robbie puts his heart and soul into these events and is alwats appreciative of the volunteers.

Centurion Running (Race Director: James Elson)

The expression “Centurion Running family” us often used by runners to describe how these races feel and that’s a great summary. James, Nici, Drew and co make all of these events run like clockwork, supporting volunteers and runners alike. From helping out at race registration to bottle filling, good preparing, race timing, finish line medal awarding and sweeping up, all of these volunteering shifts have been an absolute joy.

Sussex Trail Events (Race Directors: Jason McCardle, Chris Ette, Danny Cunnett)

I’ve volunteered at the Cranleigh aid station on the Downlink Ultra for these guys in the last 2 years. Great guys who know how to look after their runners and are creating some original and challenging events.

Progress: Portsmouth Half Marathon to Winchester 10k

What a difference 3 weeks makes…..

Sunday 4 February:

A Personal Worst (PW) half marathon performance at the Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon of 2:07:41.

The weather was perfect, chilly but sunny, although with a bit of a headwind on parts of the first half. 2 years ago I ran a half marathon PB of 1:50:15 at this race. I knew going into this year’s race that it’d be a big ask for me to match or beat that time, or even to go sub-2 hours, given my current level of fitness. As a result, I decided to run on feel and not look at my watch to take the pressure off while seeing what I could achieve.

The first half went well but the wheels came off in the last 4 miles. I didn’t stop and walk though. I’m happy with the outcome. I have something to build upon now as I work towards the longer stuff in the second half of 2018.

3 weeks later:

O

Oh so nearly a Personal Best (PB) at the distance at the Winchester 10k road race, crossing the finish line in 49:53, a whole 4 seconds later than my PB set in 2015. How the heck did that happen when I couldn’t run a decent race 3 weeks earlier?!

Reflections:

  • Drills, mobility and pre-race warm up

A warm up run before the race is something I’ve not done before and that, combined with dynamic stretching as practiced in my fortnightly PT sessions and drills shared by Ronnie Staton set me up well for the start.

  • Pacing

I paced sensibly for the first 2 miles – the polar opposite of my half marathon pacing in Portsmouth – and “embraced the suck”, as Matt Fitzgerald says, in miles 4 & 5, before finishing strongly. My average pace for the race was bang on 8:00/mile, a pace I’d not been able to maintain for more than a couple of miles for a long time.

  • Running relaxed (mentally)

I had no specific time goal going into the race, hopeful that I’d manage something between 52 and 54 minutes. I tried to maintain a constant pace, eased off when I needed to in the first 2 miles, pushed on up the inclines, and made the most of the descents. I focused on the process and not the outcome – at least until the last mile when I knew that sub-50 minutes was a possibility!

  • Smart training with TrainAsOne

I’m starting to believe I can recover past fitness levels and surpass them. My training is based upon my race goals, with workouts set and adjusted run by run via the @trainasone platform. It was strange comparing my running stats from January and February this year to 2017, with my mileage almost halved this year. I’ve been running 3-4 times a week since starting with TAO in November. Consistent running is key here. I’m rebuilding patiently as I head towards more ultra marathons – especially the 5 hilly as hell loops of the @centurionrunning Wendover Woods 50 in November – and judging by this performance it is working well.

What next?

Next up for me is the Giants Head Marathon in June, my first White Star Running race and one I’m looking forward to. I’m hoping to get another 10k (road) or half marathon (trail) in before then to see how I’m progressing.

I’m feeling optimistic, determined and committed. Oh, and really enjoying my running again ๐Ÿ˜€

You’ve got to start somewhere

“Fall seven times, stand up eight”

Japanese proverb

As 2017 draws to a close it’s time to reflect upon another year of running.

Positives:

  • Ran a self supported 53 miles from Horsham to Chichester in a day
  • Paced Zoe Norman for 25 miles up, down and along the Ridgeway at the Autumn 100
  • Gained valuable insights into running smarter and stronger at Ronnie Staton’s Train Like A Champion workshop
  • Explored some new trails with Phil Hall, the “I’m sure it’s this way” run from Droke to the South Downs Way and back in particular
  • Ran on the trails with my brother Greg for the first time
  • Stood on the start line of the North Downs Way 100 in August and got to 66 miles before being timed out, only 5 weeks after my Dad passed away
  • Met even more excellent people in the running community
  • Volunteered again and loved each and every moment of these races
  • Managed to avoid injury

Negatives:

  • Experienced my first DNF at the North Downs Way 100
  • Had to DNS the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon for the second time, this time around due to illness
  • Failed to run with any consistency, averaging 3 runs per week
  • Fell out of good habits after Ronnie Staton’s Train Like A Champion workshop, lacking focus
  • Continued to pile on the weight due to bad habits and ended the year 21lbs heavier than I was when I ran the South Downs Way 100 in 2015

Plans for 2018:

  • 2 x 50 mile races – Chiltern Wonderland 50 (September) and Wendover Woods 50 (November)
  • Marathons – Giants Head (June),  the Lunertic (July)
  • Half marathons – Portsmouth Coastal Half Marathon (February)
  • Shorter distances – parkruns once a month or so, and one or two 10k races to build speed in the first half of the year

What will I do differently?

I almost wrote what I hoped to do differently but,  as Ronnie Staton rightly says, it’s time to commit.

  • Work with my personal trainer at work (free one hour session every fortnight) to build strength
  • Try Pilates sessions as an additional part of training 
  • Complete Train Like A Champion drills every week
  • Follow the TrainAsOne plan, which has been generated to meet my plans for the year and adapts as my fitness builds
  • Eat less, specifically cutting down  on the sweets, chocolate and cake that are my weakness
  • Move more, including lunchtime walks when at work and being more active generally (less sofa surfing)
  • Return to my practices from the first half of 2015, when I slept longer whole training for the South Downs Way 100
  • Focus on building my mental strength so I can suffer for longer in races – the shorter distances and interval runs in training should help here

Where am I now?

  • Current fitness – 26:58 parkrun on 30 December 2017 (PB 25:15, set in 2015)
  • Current weight – 14st7lbs (racing weight/ideal 12st7lbs)
  • Current state of mind – determined (grrrr)

Learn. Adapt. Improve. Repeat.

Onwards.

What I learned as a pacer at the Autumn 100

I’m a back of the pack runner. Last year I completed my second 100 mile race, the Autumn 100, and in doing so maintained my 100% finish record at this distance. Unfortunately, that record now stands at 67% (2 finished out of 3) after my DNF at this year’s North Downs Way 100 in August. I’m determined to get that NDW100 buckle in 2019 after volunteering again (if chosen) in 2018 and was yet again bowled over by the wonderful trail running community when I received four offers to pace me and one to crew me in the 2019 NDW100, all from friends I’ve made since my ultra marathon debut in 2013. You know who you are. Thank you again.

I am thankful to my running friends Ashley Hurd and Rodrigo Freeman for their help as pacers for leg 3 and leg 4 of the Autumn 100 in 2017. I chose to run my first 100 miler, the South Downs Way 100 in 2015, without a pacer and was delighted to get hold of that buckle on my own, although the company of fellow runners Cath Rooke and Dan Park for large parts of the race were a much needed boost. 

As I was a little wary of the Autumn 100 (correctly anticipating that I wouldn’t get around to recceing any of the course) I was relieved when Rod agreed to pace me for the final leg, especially as he is a much faster runner. When Ash later contacted me to offer his pacing services for leg 3 I quickly accepted. Those guys helped save my race.

Fast forward to 2017 and I offered to pace my good friend Phil Hall for the second half of the SDW100.  Unfortunately, he had to withdraw before half way for health reasons so my first time pacing at an ultramarathon would have to wait.

Cue Zoe Norman messaging me after my finish line volunteering stint at the Chiltern Wonderland 50 miler in September. I had the absolute pleasure of handing over the medals to all of the CW50 finishers that day and was delighted to see Zoe cross the line. She had brightened my day at the NDW100 with the requested M&S Iced n Spiced bun thrust into my hand (and quickly consumed, pre Calippo) at Reigate Hill aid station. Star. 

Zoe finishing CW50 – a lovely shared moment 

[Photo credit: Liam Gibson]

I was taken by surprise by Zoe’s request that I pace her for leg 3 of the Autumn 100. The night section, up onto the very exposed Ridgeway.  I was also thrilled that this wonderful lady, who I’d only met a year ago when we both volunteered at the Reigate Hill aid station for the 2016 NDW100, clearly trusted me enough to do a good job and get her on the way to her second buckle. I quickly agreed and got some essential supplies….

Zoe also got me some to say thank you, not just M&S Iced n Spiced buns but also the race saving jelly snakes!

So what did I learn when pacing Zoe?

  • Pay attention – I forgot to check that Zoe’s water bottles were topped up at the first aid station, something I quickly remedied at the next ones
  • It’s rewarding – focusing upon another’s needs (as with volunteering) brings its own rewards, in thus case seeing how Zoe transformed from lacking energy on the way out to pushing and on a mission on the way back to Goring

Ready for action – hamming it up for the camera before the Ridgeway wind!

[Photo credit: Liam Gibson]

  • Mental strength matters – having the self belief and determination to keep moving forward after more than 50 miles is a true show of character, especially when you feel sick and lack energy as Zoe did on the way up to Chain Hill

That JD fudge!!!

[Photo credit: Lou Fraser]

  • JD fudge is simply superb – thank you Lou Fraser for powering me up the nasty little stretch from Bury Downs to Chain Hill, then giving me a boost on the downhill (and more uphill than I remembered from the way out!) back from Bury Downs to Goring
  • I can run without getting lost sometimes – mainly thanks to the consistently good course marking at Centurion Running events
  • Jelly snakes really are just the tonic in long races – they not only helped me at NDW100 but in pacing duties too

    I was also reminded of the following through my experiences at this race:

    • Centurion Running set the bar very high for all ultra marathon events – volunteers and organisers alike 

    Chain Hill aid station – glowing awesomeness on a blowy Ridgeway!

    [Photo credit: Gareth Allen]

    The Bury Downs volunteers – it was a little bit darker by the time Zoe and I reached them!

    [Photo credit: Lou Fraser]

    • The Ridgeway is hilly and exposed – thankfully, I remembered how cold it was last year and was waiting enough in 3 layers and a waterproof jacket even as Storm Brian continued to work its windy way across the country overnight

    The Ridgeway elevation profile and route for leg 3 – I’m planning to run it in daylight sometime to see it properly!

    • A friendly face can make such a difference to a runner during an ultra marathon – despite the difficulties posed by running in the dead of night with  a head torch lighting  the way, I spotted several runners I knew as they passed us on the way out and or we passed them on the way back, made a point of saying hello and smiling, and noticed how such a small gesture gave them a lift
    • There is almost always more that you can give – barring injury, which I know affected some of the runners (notably the guy who completed the race after breaking his foot 40 miles in, ouch!), if you can just keep running for a few minutes at a time it really makes a dent in the miles in the later stages of the race 

      I’m delighted that Zoe got her buckle, and a new 100 mile PB which is 2 hours quicker than her SDW100 finish time. Superb running Zoe!

      The smile that makes running 100 miles worth it – and it’s lovely to have played a part in that

      [Photo credit: Liam Gibson]

      In summary:

      I enjoyed pacing Zoe so much that I’m certain I’ll be doing more pacing in future events. Running, volunteering and pacing are all worthwhile and rewarding aspects of this sport I’ve grown to love. Now if only I could learn how to crew…..

      North Downs Way 100: Not getting away with it this time

      The 2017 NDW100 was my third 100 mile race. It was my A race of 2017. It was also the first 100 miler that I failed to finish.

      Background

      My debut at this distance, the 2015 South Downs Way 100, went well. I trained well and finished it with almost 2 hours to spare. I ran my second 100 miler in 2016, the Autumn 100. After an injury affected build up I managed to finish that too, sailing a little closer to the cut offs but crossing the line with almost 1 hour to spare. I decided after the A100 to abandon any notion of completing the Centurion Grand Slam of 4 x 100 mile races in 2017 and focus on a good performance at the NDW100. This gave me almost 10 months to train and prepare for the race. Surely I would be able to produce a performance I’d be proud of with that amount of time to train? 

      I don’t race often each year and my only plans before the NDW100 were to do the Arun River Marathon in May (I struggled but it’s an absolutely beautiful route and highly recommended) and a self supported run of 50 miles or so (I ran the West Sussex Literary Trail at the end of April and it was an amazing experience). Our annual Easter break to Tenerife included a lot of technical hill running and gave me renewed confidence. I attended Ronnie Staton’s Train Like A Champion workshop for runners in April and learned a lot about prefab and building a stronger running body. All of this was designed to support my plans for a good race in August. 

      So what happened?

      Training experiment 

      I’m a planner. I’m very organised in my professional life and generally in my training. For all of my races up to the end of 2016 I had initially downloaded template plans then written my own. This had worked well until I tried to plan training for both the London Marathon and the North Downs Way 50 in 2016. I injured myself in the marathon and as unable to start NDW50, leading to a frustrating and tentative period of rebuilding ahead of A100. I decided to take the pressure off in 2017 and experiment by training without a specific plan, making it up as I went along every week. 

        My running after a 4 week break post-A100 (far too long a break in hindsight but one I took as a precaution due to my injury affected year and because I felt like a break) was once again based on heart rate training, Maffetone Method style(ish) from November until May. Pretty much all of my runs were at an easy pace, very slow initially and then a little faster as my fitness improved. I did run some of my long runs without focusing on heart rate and going by effort instead, finding that my heart rate was generally at or just above target in these cases anyway. I was focusing on time rather than distance in my training and running back to back long runs most weekends rather than one very long run (typically 3-4.5 hours/16-20 miles on Saturday and 2-2.5 hours/10-12 miles on Sunday), which seemed to work well. My weekly training mileage was typically 30-40 miles. 

        Problem #1 – inconsistent training

        While I was getting the long runs in I was not managing to get regular weekday runs in, sometimes only doing 3 runs a week with 2 of these being weekend long runs. I trusted myself too much and needed the discipline of a training plan and scheduled runs to tick off, even if I swapped some of the sessions or made minor adjustments depending upon how I felt and how my training and fitness was progressing. 

        Problem #2 – diet and racing weight

        It’s no coincidence that my best ultra marathon performance to date, my first race above marathon distance at the 2013 North Downs Way 50, was achieved when I was in the good physical shape and several pounds lighter. To be at racing weight I need to lose around a stone, something I failed to do in 2017 as I let my appetite for all things sweet get the better of me and wasn’t disciplined enough. 

        Pre-race events 

        jurek

        The last few months have been very challenging. 

        I was served notice of redundancy in May. This was unsettling, even though I’ve been looking for a new challenge for a while, and I have yet to secure another job after leaving in early July. 

        A good friend from running and #MIBUltraTeam leader, Mark Thornberry, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May. 

        My Dad was admitted to hospital with an infection in mid-June and sadly Dad passed away at the end of June. It took me a while to process this, and I’m still coming to terms with my Dad’s passing. 

        Running and training resumed eventually and gave me comfort.  When my Dad died I questioned whether I could or should run the NDW100 and I had a few weepy training runs discussing the issue with my Dad. Before long my commitment to running the race was even greater than before. It seemed appropriate to face it head on and use the race as an opportunity to prove to myself once again that I can overcome difficulties and as an expression of my gratitude for all my Dad did for me and the way he managed his deteriorating health due to lung disease over the last few years with few complaints. This race would be for my Dad. 

        Being the gent and all round top bloke that he is Mark Thornberry promptly offered to pace me from Detling to the finish, an offer I happily accepted. I had the pleasure of running 23 miles around the Surrey Hills and along parts of the North Downs Way with Mark in mid-July, promptly tripping over some tree roots on the NDW less than half a mile from the end, landing heavily on my right shoulder and then side of my head. 

        This was almost a carbon copy of the fall I had on the Ridgeway during the A100 and, as then, a visit to the NHS walk-in centre confirmed that I hadn’t broken anything. This time though I had heavy bruising to my right shoulder and was advised to rest from running for a week. Therefore, exactly a week later I ran a flat 8 mile trail route with a friend to test my shoulder. On both that and the 9 mile trail run with my NDW100 pack and kit 3 days later my shoulder was sore and uncomfortable but manageable. I decided not to run any more in the week before race day to allow my shoulder to heal as much as possible. I stopped taking ibuprofen and paracetamol two days before the rac even though the shoulder was still uncomfortable. I was definitely going to run the race.  My sole aim was to finish before the 30 hour cut off.

        Registration and race morning

        As I live fairly close to the race start in Farnham I decided to drive up to register and get my race kit checked on the Friday night. It was good to catch up with volunteers Nikki Yeo (local cheerleader, recent convert to ultra marathons and a good runner), David Harvey (fresh from running Western States 100 and the Lakeland 100 in the last 2 months, respect), Phil Bradburn (Grand Slammer in waiting with questionable taste in running socks), Louise Ayling (Grand Slammer and ever reliable aid station captain), Nici Griffin (race organiser and hugger extraordinaire), and James Elson (Race Director and all round good guy). I was back home before 8pm so had plenty of time to rest/panic before race morning.

        My good friend and running buddy Phil Hall picked me up just before 4:30am to drive me to Farnham. It was great catching up and chatting running plans on the way. Thanks for the pep talk Phil. As we arrived at race registration I had the opportunity to chat with Matt Bevan (all round top bloke, runner and personal trainer who loves the South Downs Way) and Ian Lang (another Grand Slammer in waiting). Begore long it was time for the traditional pre-race briefing from James Elson. Little did I know how useful his comments about what to do if you are lost would prove to be in the later stages of my race…

        Heading down to the start where the North Downs Way begins I caught up briefly with Stuart March (photographer extraordinaire who always had a smile and a high five for the runners), Tracey Watson (double Grand Slammer and going for another this year, a total machine and so humble to boot), and Tim Lambert (Rockstar runner and indoor plant expert). A few words with Phil before the race hooter and then we were off. I was on my way to get that buckle.

        Farnham to Puttenham

        Remembering how I’d paced myself really well at SDW100, I set off at a steady pace which felt consistent with the easy running pace of my long training runs. I was wearing my Suunto Ambit 3 Run, set at 100 hour battery level, but didn’t look at my pace. In fact, I realised after 20 minutes of running that instead of starting it when we set off I had pressed the wrong Burton send switched displays. Oh well. Adding 20 minutes to my time would give me something to do and concentrate on as the race progressed. 

        Having run the NDW50 twice before I remembered the first 50 miles, recognising sections of the route as I made my way forward. It also helps that Centurion races are very well marked. I was soon arriving at the first aid station in Puttenham, greeted by a beaming smile and encouragement from Nikki. A quick top up of water and a few snacks in a freezer bag and I was on my way, having decided to make a concerted effort to minimise time spent in aid stations in this race (yes, we all say it every time but one day I’ll get it right).

        Puttenham to Newlands Corner

        The next stretch to Newland Corner was uneventful, with more steady and controlled running, remembering to drink  a when thirsty and trying to stay on top of nutrition by eating little and often. The day was warming up by now and although not as hot as last year’s race day it was humid. It was a joy yet again to see Stuart March snapping away, always guaranteeing that as a runner you’ll break into a smile and do done running for the camera!

        After seeing Lindley Chambers (guru of UK trail running) for the first time – I’d see him again on arriving at Newland Corner – it was a pleasant surprise to bump into Matt Buck (Dragon’s Back race finisher and master of the back to front running cap look) on a run with some of his clients. The hills were staying up get longer at this stage, although running downhill was great fun. The stretch down from St Martha’s Hill reminded me of the running terrain around the Devil’s Punchbowl in Hindhead. Beautiful scenery. I began to catch myself thinking about how far I still  had to run  to get to the finish and emotional it would be crossing the line in Ashford, quickly focusing on Gary Robbins’ race mantra “Don’t think, just do” as I sought to avoid using excessive mental and emotional energy and draining my reserves so early in the race. It also helped distract me from the discomfort I was experiencing with my bruised shoulder on and off.

        [Motivational card in race vest]

        At this stage I started to feel some running on the little toe of my right foot so I sat down to attend to it as soon as I arrived at the aid station. While a volunteer refilled my water bottles – yet again that Centurion volunteers were a ray of sunshine and support through the the race, so thank you all – I removed my Injinji socks and put some more Lanacane on my feet. Thankfully there were no signs of a blister.

        Newlands Corner to Box Hill

        Problem #3 – being over cautious and losing valuable time

        I had run part of this and all of the next stretch with Mark on our circular route in July and during my recce run from Ranmore Common to Reigate Hill and back in June. Remembering to take a few moments to look at the scenery around on the hilltops as I entered from yet another wooded section, I started to tire during this section. I love woodland trails but after taking a tumble on my run with Mark I was running cautiously in these sections, wary of tripping up again and ending my race.  Goodness knows what anyone would have thought had the seen me having a full on Basil Fawlty moment as I recognised tree roots which I had tripped over previously and exchanged some choice words and shakes of the fist as I ran (carefully) past…

        [Inspiration for my tree root rant]

        Before long I was heading along Ranmore Common towards the lovely descent  a through the Debbie’s vineyard, stopping briefly to ask someone’s  a crew for a water top up as I had almost run out and knew there was another 2-3 miles to go until the next aid station. Thank you mystery crew man. Thereafter I carried a third soft flask of water with me as the sun shone and the temperature increased. 

        I expected to arrive at the 24 mile aid station, at the foot of Box Hill, between 11:00 and 11:30am. I got there bang on 11:30, with 90 minutes to spare until the cut off. Mark was waiting there with a smile and a pork pie (which was an absolute treat), having greeted all of the runners coming through before me. Stopping again to sort my feet out – still no signs of a blister, more lubrication applied) I the grabbed my first drink of Coke of the day, water top ups and some food to eat on the hike up to the top of Box Hill. 

        box hill ndw100 (2)

        [Photo credit: Mark Thornberry]

        Box Hill to Reigate Hill

        Once across the stepping stones the steps beckoned. Many, many steps. Bloody steps. Head down, pork pie and munchies consumed, I was soon at the top and soaking in the views. This section is the list gnarly I’d run on the NDW to date and I knew that my progress to Reigate Hill would be slow after my recce run reminder. I relaxed, tried to run wherever possible and hiked the climbs with purpose. I didn’t dawdle but was very cautious in the twisty, narrow, rooty sections. 

        The onset of a thunderstorm and a downpour of rain on my way up Colley Hill and Reigate Hill didn’t dampen my spirits – I’d been looking forward to a Calippo at the hut on Reigate Hill all morning so I duly bought one! 

        reigate hill zoe

        [Photo credit: Zoe Norman]

        By the time I reached the aid station at Reigate Hill I was only just over an hour inside the cut off. My safety buffer was reducing and it made me nervous. Thankfully Zoe Norman (smiler and fellow Reigate Hill volunteer in 2016) was waiting for me with a smile, a hug and an M&S Iced and Spiced bun – the food of gods on an ultra marathon. Thank you again Zoe. A quick chat, foot check and lube, and food and drink top ups and I was off down the hill. Not running, eating a Calippo and a bun.

        Reigate Hill to Caterham

        The trail was now slippery after the heavy rain, which has stopped as I left the aid station. From here onwards the trails and fields were slippery underfoot, making the narrow sections with brambles one side and barbed wire on the other tricky to negotiate. I trod carefully and lost more valuable time. No complaints here though – the conditions were the same for all of the runners. During this section my brother Greg texted to ask me how it was going. I told him that I could feel my energy levels were low and my shoulder has been troubling me and quite uncomfortable for a fair few miles. This was a low point in my race but an encouraging text back from my brother lifted my spirits.

        I was, however, getting increasingly anxious about missing the cut offs now. Wherever running looked a possibility I ran. I pushed on. I continued to hike the hills with purpose. I made the most of the road sections on the way to Caterham, once more in the rain, and I kept pushing and moving forward. I wasn’t giving in without a fight and reached the aid station at Caterham with over an hour to spare to the cut off. At least I was consistent!

        Once again checking my feet I discovered a blister on the big toe of my left foot. It hadn’t yet burst but after taking advice fun the volunteers one of them cleaned it then drained it and covered it with one of my Compeed plasters and some zinc oxide tape to keep it in place. That’d do for now. It did the job for the rest of my race, do thank you volunteers. However, this cost me time and I left the aid station in the company of fellow back of the pack runners Emma Lewis and Ali Amanat and with only 60 minutes to the cut off. 

        Caterham to Botley Hill

        The rain had stopped by the time I left Caterham and it wouldn’t rain again. Progress continued to be slow, with lots of narrow single track trails and those bloody “Dave Stuart” steps to go down near Oxted. I was so far back in the race that I missed the great man himself (another Grand Slammer). I ran through the fields and hiked as quickly as I could up Botley Hill to the next aid station. I was pushing as I looked at the time to the Botley Hill cut off reducing. 

        By the time I reached it I had 40 minutes to spare so I grabbed a boiled egg with salt (genius), jelly with rice pudding, and fruit to eat and some egg sandwiches, banana bread, fruit and sweets to eat on the way. I left with about 35 minutes to the cut off.

        Botley Hill to Knockholt (50 mile aid station)

        I kept pushing now. As I got closer to Knockholt and the half way point I passed a couple of runners who were walking and talked of being timed out at the next aid station. No bloody way was I getting timed out. I managed to run most of this section, bar the uphills and a few short walking breaks, and got to the aid station with 45 minutes to the cut off (like I said, consistent!). 

        It was great to see Kiernan Easton (the whistling runner), Alma Botes (saviour of many a race with her hot food) and Ilsuk Han (multiple 100 mile finisher and such a consistently paced runner who hunts people down but in a nicee way). 

        Hot food consumed โœ”๏ธ Rice pudding consumed โœ”๏ธ Running top, buff and cap changed โœ”๏ธ Chafing addressed and socks changed โœ”๏ธ Jelly snakes from drop bag added to doggy bag (wish I’d taken the lot rather than half the bag, they were ace) โœ”๏ธ Banter with Kiernan โœ”๏ธ Irn Bru taken from drop bag to drink on the run โœ”๏ธ Out with 25 minutes to spare โœ”๏ธ

        Now I’d like to have left earlier but I really needed to address that chafing before it got unmanageable and sort my feet. I still had a chance. I was going to carry on and keep pushing. 

        Knockholt to Wrotham

        After spotting Ira Rainey (Mr Green Man Ultra) on way out of the aid station and exchabging greetings I walked out of the village and up to rejoin the North Downs Way and head to Wrotham. I had 3 hours and 20 minutes to cover the 10 mile stretch. It was going to be dark soon and I hadn’t recced any of this part of the route. This was going to be close.

        It started really well when I failed to spot a huge horizontal tree branch and promptly ran head first into it. Doh! 

        Dazed but not confused I stopped by the gate at the top of the hill to get my head torch out of my pack and ready to use later as the light was starting to fade. I also turned my cap around so I looked like a skater dude (or pratt, take your choice) and would be able to see where I was running properly. There was a lovely downhill stretch then, less wonderful with 50 miles in your legs than 10, but a welcome release nonetheless. 

        Problem #4 – lack of knowledge of the whole route

        I was soon at the road and checked my Harvey’s map of the NDW for the first time to avoid heading the wrong way. There was tape marking the way but as the light faded it became more difficult to see tape ahead and I wanted to be sure I was going the right way. I was, which is strange feeling for this, let’s say, inconsistent navigator.  Anyway, I managed to stay on the NDW – once again checking the route when I found a Centurion arrow pointing obebway but the NDW another (pesky kids messing about with the signs) – and soon had my head torch on. Now this was both a blessing (I couldn’t see the hill climbs and more bloody steps that awaited) and a curse (I couldn’t see you hill climbs and more bloody steps that awaited) for me as struggled to calculate how fast I had to run the flat and runnable sections and saw my safety margin on the cut off for Wrotham aid station eroding as I marched on.

        With hindsight, I really shouldn’t have hiked the whole stretch through Otford. It dragged on for ages and was a runnable incline. The next climb was up yet more steps at Otford Mount. I need more steps in my life to be ready for this race next time!

        More slippery fields eventually led to a long, steady incline to Wrotham and the aid starion. I could see lights in the distance and as the time ticked away I ran this uphill stretch with renewed determination. I dug in and continued running where I would normally have stopped for a breather, desperate to about missing the cut off and not wanting to look back later and wish I had kept running for another few minutes if I did miss the cut off. 

        [This is how I felt as the cut off began getting closer]

        I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the aid station, running up to the hut and grabbing some food and water top ups. I was out with 10 minutes to spare but forgot to ask for some pants. Bugger. I was wearing my Runderwear (which I love) and was hoping I wouldn’t be too late to get a free pair from the Runderwear crew, completely forgetting to ask in my haste to depart. Anyway, the volunteers bid me farewell and good luck.

        Wrotham to Holly Hill (well, almost)

        Now things got very tricky.  I had 1 hour 35 minutes to run 5.7 miles.  This would be a struggle and I knew that I would have to run at a faster average pace than I had managed in the last 10 mile section, a mere 16.5 minutes per mile. I couldn’t afford to walk too much given the hill climbs still to come.  I wasn’t giving to though and would keep going. Don’t think, just do.

        Then I made my first call to James Elson. I got confused about which turning to take at the roundabout. I was moving more slowly in the darkness (despite my head torch and a full moon, go figure) and could feel my energy levels dropping but pushed on.

        Dropping down from a field and trough a gate I completely missed the tape on the gate a few yards ahead and trotted along the road, getting confused when I could not see the NDW marked at the next junction. Retracing my steps after again reviewing my map I soon spotted the tape and went through the gate snd in towards Trosley Country Park. Idiot. Time was flipping away and fatigue was clearly affecting my concentration.

        As I entered the park I came to the realisation that unless I ran as hard as I could on a good day (and I was almost 65 miles in) then I wouldn’t make the 1:15am cut off at Holly Hill aid station. I walked through the park (maybe I should have kept running) until I reached the green gate. I left the park with 10 minutes until the cut off. I had about a mile to go toHolly Hill. Maybe I could do it? 

        Then I couldn’t find the way to go. I got confused. I could see some red tape but where was the next bit? I just couldn’t work out which way to go next, despite looking at the map several times. Which was the right way? The NDW marker post sent me back downhill but that meant heading away from the direction I needed to go to get to Holly Hill. Surely they couldn’t be right? Right then I knew without a doubt that my race was over.

        I rang James Elson again (sorry James, I promise I don’t have you on speed dial now) and explained that I was going to miss the 66 mile cut off and was a bit lost. After a bit more exploring I called James again and he kindly arranged for two of the Holly Hill volunteers to come to meet me at the exit from the park and give me a lift to the sweeper bus. By now the sweeper has been through and all their had been removed so I was even more disoriented.

        I texted Mark Thornberry to let him know that I wouldn’t make it to Detling and to thank him again for offering to pace me. I do wish that I’d had the opportunity to “enjoy” (after 82 miles) the final miles with  Mark. Thsbk you, my friend.

        As I waited at the green gate for the volunteers I took a few moments to reflect and posted this update on Facebook, summing up my feelings at that moment:

        fb1

        The aftermath 

        After getting to the finish at Ashford via the sweeper bus around 6am on Sunday I caught up with Stuart March and Nici Griffin once more, ate a delicious and much needed sausage in a bun and has a coffee. I spoke with a couple of other runners who’s finished the race in under 24 hours – total respect on that course – and got changed before sharing a taxi to Ashford International station with Sarah Cameron (2nd place lady and very modest up  a boot) and the ever persistent Cat (who also DNFd) to catch my train home.

        Waiting for the first of 4 trains I’d be taking to get home (3 changes necessitating staying awake to get home and not end up miles away) I sat and started to scroll through the comments on my Facebook post from earlier in the morning. Reading the supportive and encouraging comments from so many friends and family was quite emotional, especially when I saw the comments from my brother and my Mum, who summed up how my Dad would have felt and what he’d be saying to me if he was here right now:

        He would have been very proud that you gave it your all. That’s what he instilled in you from a young age and you learned the lesson well. Head up son and walk tall. Xxxxx

        The tears started to flow once more as I felt a mixture of sadness, relief, disappointment and pride. Writing this blog post brought all of these emotions to the fore once again.

        I didn’t get that buckle or to raise a toast to my Dad at the finish line with his favourite beer. I will do. I will do. I will be back.

        What have I learned?

        I am stronger than I thought – I can keep running for a lot longer than I often do in races (sandbagger)

        I need to do the following:

        • Ensure there is structure to my training
        • Run more often and consistently, as I missed too many weekday sessions
        • Include more variation, including fast and tempo running sessions
        • Return to weekly hill repeat sessions, which worked so well for SDW100
        • Get more confident running on technical trails and around tree roots
        • Recce the whole of the race route where possible
        • Recce the last 40 miles of the NDW100 route ahead of my next attempt

        A DNF is a valuable learning experience and not a sign of failure – after all, it’s only jogging

        I need to try different socks – maybe going back to the Drymax ones where used for my first ultra or trying Injinji liner socks rather than the full trail ones

        Egg sandwiches are a winner after 43 miles of running

        Jelly snakes are fantastic race nutrition

        What will I do now?

        • Take a week or two off running to recharge – but not as long as after A100 as I don’t want to lose fitness 
        • Review and refresh my training – get back to writimg my own training plans and running more consistently
        • Be disciplined and complete regular strength and mobility sessions – do Ronnie Staton’s drills weekly
        • Get my tendency to overindulge and eat “all of the food” under control – cut down on sweets and desserts 

        I’m ready.

          Some recommended reading and listening for ultra marathon runners:

          Tim Lambert wrote an excellent blog post on 100 mile races and the importance of mental strength – you can read this here

          Gary Robbins is a superb runner, having completed and holding the course record for the brutal Hurt 100 (Google it!) sbd so very nearly completing the Barkley Marathons this year at the third attempt – listen to his story and approach to running here

          Forget the “I’ll be back” clichรฉs, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an astute operator and his interview with Tim Ferriss covers topics including mental strength, training and competition – listen here

          A final note – Mark Thornberry’s GUCR fundraising run

          This meant that he missed out on running the Grand Union Canal Race, one of his main goals this year after completing the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam in 2016. Mark went public with his news the Monday after NDW100. He’s determined not to go down without a fight though and plans to run the 145 mile length of the Grand Union Canal, from Birmingham to London, over 3 days in early September 2017 to raise much needed funds for the liver unit at Kings Hospital in London. Mark has invited his friends and family to join him for part or all of the run or provide support along the route and the response from the running community has been overwhelming. I’m proud to call him my friend and I’ll be joining Mark at some stage on his run. 

          If you enjoyed reading my race report and/or take anything away from it to help you in your own struggles, running or otherwise, the it would mean a lot to me if you would give whatever you can afford to support Mark’s fundraising efforts. You can find out more and donate by clicking here.