Posts Tagged ‘ultra running’

The Cotswold Way 100 Mile Run

23
Jun

It wasn’t really in my plan to bore anyone to tears with yet another ‘race report’ that’s only really of interest to the person writing it, but I suppose that since the Cotswold Way 100 Mile Run is/was my ultrarunning swansong I should write a few notes.

Now, for anyone contemplating a 100-mile race this is not for you. Much as I would have loved to have raced 100 miles I never had the courage and most certainly never had the self-belief that it would ever happen, hence I opted to tick the 100-mile box with a multi-day challenge option: 100 miles over four days, fully supported, with set mileage and camping overnight in runners’ villages and, best of all, no cut-off times to stress over. Many thanks to http://www.100milerun.com/cotswold-way-challenge/ for organising this challenge and looking after us all throughout. The route, of course, was the official Cotswold Way in its entirety – starting from Chipping Campden and finishing in the beautiful city of Bath.

Daily mileage:

Day 1: 16 miles. Elevation 2,000 ft. (Chipping Campden to Hailes)
Day 2: 30 miles. Elevation 3,633 ft. (Hailes to Cranham)
Day 3: 23 miles. Elevation 3,170 ft. (Cranham to Wotton under Edge)
Day 4: 33 miles. Elevation 2,930 ft. (Wotton under Edge to Bath)

Random thoughts:

I always ALWAYS doubted I could do it, purely on the basis of how I felt every time I ran a trail of anything over 15 miles. I was in pain for three days afterwards, so how on earth was I going to do four in a row? The answer is simple – and purely psychological. You go out to run 10km you’ll be tiring by 7 km. You go out to run 20 km, you never really feel that same tired until around the 14km mark or thereabouts. It doesn’t enter your head to feel tired before then, so although my legs were always trashed after 15 miles this was not an option to ‘succumb to’ when I needed to do the same another three times. Simples.

Before I get slammed for not appropriately acknowledging my 100-mile achievement (something I’m not very good at), I am going to admit that I am very proud of:

(a) my training, and

(b) I ditched my ‘walk one day’ option.

Did I walk? Well, of course! Who doesn’t walk during an ultra (elites excluded)? But my strategy had been to walk at least one of the routes in an effort to save my legs for the final ultra on Day Four. Didn’t need to. I’ll put this down to sticking like glue to my training plan, on top of an amazing training base – gleaned over the winter and all thanks to the BTRS Trail Series ( http://brightontriathlonraceseries.co.uk/ ). Without that trail series, and the support of the BTRS friends and athletes, I would never have got out of bed and put in those miles on all those stormy, freezing and unsavoury days.

And as for my training plan? Those peak three weekends of a 5-hour+ run on Saturday followed by 3-4 hours on Sunday were NOT FUN! I really did almost lose the will to live, but it’s all down to those toughies that I finished the 100 miles injury-free (apart from the obligatory loss of a few toenails). My most vivid training memory, however, was my delight at heading finally into the taper phase, a delight that rapidly evaporated when I looked at my first taper weekend – a run of THREE AND A HALF HOURS! For crying out loud! Did they misunderstand the word ‘taper’?

 

Day One – The Cotswold Way: Chipping Campden to Hailes

Shortest run. Three big consecutive climbs. Job done. Took it very easy (although I only have one gear so you could say the same every day haha). I spent today with a young girl called Kate and we had a lovely few hours together. Scenery? Hilly and green. The villages were stunning – so much love and pride in those gardens – gorgeous.

First night in a tent. Pretty much first night EVER in a tent. I claim the hashtag Born to Glamp. Definitely not born to camp. Now, just a few souls are privy to the story surrounding my first introduction to a tent and you’re not one of them. Sorry. There are some things that I just don’t want to go viral! I’ll save it for a drunken evening. That said, my lighter-than-light self-inflating air mattress was/is the best thing since sliced bread. Many thanks to  http://www.pillow.co.uk/ who were in charge of all our accommodation needs.

Special thanks to The Orchard tea room at http://www.haylesfruitfarm.co.uk/tea_room/ who saved my sanity with tea and served a fabulous dinner, too. Bravo on every level. Trip Advisor, here I come.

Day Two – The Cotswold Way: Hailes to Cranham

After a great night’s sleep and a super breakfast I set off with Kate but soon found my legs and pulled away, making use of any ‘free’ miles that I could. I was nervous about a long run the second day and this was not an easy one, either.

Today was physically the most challenging BUT … I made it. No villages today. Just trails. And a whole lot of green! Pretty and green. Greenly pretty? Whatever. You get the idea. I experimented with trekking poles today in a bid to save my legs a little. Did they do the job? Yes. Were they worth the effort? The jury’s still out.

 

 

 

 

Today’s run was further enlivened by hundreds of runners from Race to the Tower – who were all running the same route as us but backwards (well, they weren’t running backwards – you know what I mean) – towards the first tower we reached on Day 1 (see pic). It was lovely to have so much company out on the course.

 

 

 

 

 

Day Three – The Cotswold Way: Cranham to Wotton under Edge

Sleep was not particularly plentiful last night. I fully expected to wake up in a lake, since it rained torrentially all night and I think most of it came through my tent. Thank you Magnificent Air Mattress for saving me again.

Shorter day today. I battled with trekking poles v. no trekking poles. I put them away and then missed them so I took them out again. Hmmmm. If yesterday was the most physically challenging then today was the mental challenge. So near and yet so far. Fortunately, I enjoyed the route today. No villages, but so much variation in terrain it helped boost interest and enjoyment. This was the day I’d planned to walk and I walked the first few miles but after that running was just easier (even if it was a jog). I spent quite a lot of today by myself. Because I ran more than walked today I was perplexed when I saw my Garmin stats – which were little more than crawling speed. It took me forever to remember that the final five miles or so I’d hooked up with a trio of entertaining Scotsmen (one of whom was injured so they were walking) who then dragged me kicking and screaming into the pub for a pint a couple of miles before the finish – and I forgot to pause my Garmin! Oh woe is me!

 

Day Four – The Cotswold Way: Wotton under Edge to Bath

I had an awful night, mostly stressing about today’s ultra. I didn’t think I’d make it, my toes were throbbing – bruised, battered, black and blue. The Negative Committee was out in full force. I woke up and cried, then cried when I put my trainers on, picturing myself hobbling 33 miles. Then I discovered that breakfast, which was supposed to be at 7.30 a.m., had opened up early without any announcement. The queue was already mile long (no exaggeration at all there!) and I decided to skip it. So while I was sitting on a bench with a face like thunder and wallowing in my own misery and levels of pathetic that humanity has rarely witnessed, a lovely lad (who just happened to have run across Canada the previous year – as one does) sat down beside me and said he’d noticed me hobbling and could he suggest I take out my shoelaces and do them up a different way? As only the best Borgs do, I complied.

I had the BEST RUN OF ALL! Not only that, I think I ran (mostly due to the loveliest and wonderful-est running buddy Lisa) the entire route – barring the obligatory walks on hills. The sun came out and thankfully there were lots and LOTS of free miles to be had today. We crossed that finish line together and oh did that feel GOOD!

 

Best bits:

The finish line;
That cup of tea at the end of Day 1;
The medic who MADE me a cup of tea at the end of Day 2;
My tent revelations (undisclosed) 😊
Discovering that I am capable of more than I thought;
That air mattress – YES!
It only rained at night – yay! (Is this a Cotswold way thing???) lol
Master lesson on how to lace my trainers;
Dry-roasted peanuts and salt and vinegar crisps (aid station lifesavers);
Lisa (best running buddy ever);
Spotless portaloos and general bathroom facilities.

Less best bits:

Annoyingly random meal times without announcements;
No electrolyte drink options (mercifully not a problem for me, but needed by others);
Would really have appreciated a bottle of water at the finish line;
Green overload 😊 (up for debate)
A notice board with timetable of events would have made life easier.

Would I recommend? Yes.

Fuel per run:

2 litres water, approx.
1 GRENADE bar @ 10-15 miles
Handful dry-roasted peanuts (or 2)
½ packet salt & vinegar crisps (full packet Days 2 and 4)

Final day deviation: Banana (making up for skipped breakfast)
1 Mars Bar (ERROR ERROR ERROR)

All that remains is Goodbye

What a way to finish. I’ve done a few and seen some glorious places I would never have otherwise visited. Now it is time to bow out graciously (with a few battered toes). With thanks to the world of Ultrarunning for the adventures and proving time and again that finish lines really are more important that finish times (thankfully) – and I am capable of more than I think. For this lifetime, however, I bid you adieu.

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High Peaks 40 Mile Challenge 2012

21
Sep

(Post-script: I’m laughing my head off as I realise I’m writing this tale of woes and troubles while beside my laptop is a copy of my current read: Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run http://scottjurek.com/ … which puts everything into perspective! In short, the following ‘harrowing’ tale is, in reality, akin to having a tantrum because I had to run down the road for the bus! Here goes, though …)

FINAL RESULT: My first ever medal 🙂  2nd place … wait for it …. SUPER VETS (isn’t that fab?? I love it!)  10 hrs 30:46 – room for about 3 hours of improvement!!  Here’s the story:

My second foray into ultra-running and once again I was blessed with perfect weather – blue skies, warm sun, light breeze. Good start. In terms of comparison with my first ultra experience, however, that’s where any similarities ended. In fact, the difference between the two ultras was akin to the difference between a 5-star hotel and a room over the pub. There was no spoon-feeding here; no cotton wool wrapping. Somehow it made it much more real – and more natural; more challenging and also more daunting.

I bumped into Loxley Crawshaw in the car park – a fellow 100k-er from London to Brighton. A friendly face was most welcome at the start line although I knew he wouldn’t be around for long. We had two very different race plans – his being to go out hard and keep going, mine being to go out slowly and just do whatever to get to the finish, ever wary of my inexperience. I learned a lot during my first 100km race but I had a feeling this High Peaks 40 Mile Challenge was going to introduce a whole new meaning to the term ‘learning curve’. I wasn’t wrong.

A vague hand wave (there may have been a whistle, who knows …) and we were off. I felt good – and I loved loved loved the real ‘trails’! There was no warm-up to the first hill, though. Those peaks came thick and fast, the views were jaw-droppingly gorgeous and I was feeling on top of the world. My body, I’ve learned, will moan, shriek and howl like crazy over the first 15 to 20 km of any run, so I was quietly ignoring all the complaining and pacing myself perfectly, but it didn’t take long till I realised that one particular niggle was not something that was going to go away. Not five miles in and I was forced to stop and stretch my IT band. I was gutted. Demoralised, demotivated and downright pissed off. I hadn’t had an IT problem for months. Now? NOW? It had to surface NOW? In hindsight I figure it was those blasted initial downhills. Descents had reigned in those first few miles and the combination of hard surface and my obviously rubbish downhill technique now left me facing the entire rest of the race with an injury that was only going to get worse. I was angry and upset and bitterly disappointed.

But neither anger, upset nor bitter disappointment were going to be of any practical use in my quest to finish this race ‘no matter what’, so I adopted a philosophy of stretch, run what you can, concentrate on the ascents and limp/crawl/stagger all the downhills. At least I was not alone in my world of injurydom; fellow racer Kelly Thorn and I decided by the 10 mile mark we might as well introduce ourselves since it was becoming quite apparent that we were going to be spending a lot of time either together or within yelling distance. The company was hugely appreciated as the course got more and more demanding (in beginners’ terms, at least). The ascents got steeper and the terrain definitely ‘difficult’ at times. Mam Tor – the first biggie of the day – made Ditchling Beacon look and feel like a speed bump. Accessed by innumerable gigantic steps, I was very grateful for the hours I’d spent on Jacob’s Ladder in Brighton! At the top, our running duo became a foursome as we were joined by two MDS trainees on their first MDS training run – and who’d already put in a couple of ‘alternative’ kilometres … all in the name of training, of course LOL The subsequent and partly sub-conscious boy v. girl competition worked wonders for the rest of the course and proved excellent distraction from shooting pains up my right leg, now accompanied by a nostalgic childhood sensation of drying blood around the gash in my left knee where that ‘difficult’ terrain had scored a definite few points.

Mam Tor was swiftly and cruelly followed by Cave Dale which was, in short, brutal. Was it because I hadn’t trained enough? Was my nutrition already off at this point? Was it because it came so quickly after climbing Mam Tor? I still can’t answer that but if Mam Tor was steep, Cave Dale was Energy Sapper Extraordinaire – something that didn’t escape the watchful eye of a cute 4-year-old picnicking with his parents who summed it all up when he piped up as loud as can be ‘Ooooo, it’s really ‘ard werk, isn’t it? The observation brought all four of us to a walk, as we just couldn’t muster the energy to laugh and run at the same time!

It was soon after that that Kelly asked me straight out ‘Will you finish?’ I’d been really struggling, over-compensating with ‘alternative’ running styles and God knows what else! It was a defining moment, however, that moment when she asked that question, because it was the moment I realised I’d learned something about myself that I was quite proud of: it dawned on me that the idea of stopping or not finishing had never once crossed my mind. I’d thought of stopping to stretch, maybe even resting, perhaps stopping and eating something half-decent from my backpack, or attempting to tape my leg …. but I had never considered not completing the course. Perhaps that makes me an even bigger fool – it was a proud fool who kept going!

From the halfway point onwards, it got tough – somehow tougher than the 100km, which I thought was fascinating (and a wonderful distraction!). I can remember how tough it was because I stopped looking at the scenery. My entire concentration was taken up with placing one foot in front of the other (don’t think, just do!) – and ticking off checkpoints. Little did I know the highlight of the race was yet to come. My sincere gratitude goes to the elderly man who proffered the QUOTE OF THE DAY which I can honestly say lifted my spirits so much that I know I got at least another 5 miles out of them! In ten seconds of pure, absolute sheer magical genius, this gentleman pulled to the side of the trail and stood leaning on his walking stick watching us pass. As I limped up the trail, he hollered to his wife, a little further down the track. ‘Oi! Marge!’ he shouted. ‘I thought the paralympics finished last week!’

I wish I’d felt well enough to tackle the final 10 miles of the challenge with some of the passion they deserved. Not having a running buddy – or indeed feeling competent enough to run with anyone (!) – my off-road ventures tend to be short or, if not that short then it’s only because I’m lost – again! It was wonderful and exciting and exhilarating to explore what I suppose can only be described as my first experience of a real ‘trail’ run. I had no idea how to deal with the varied terrain underfoot. I’m sure it wasn’t that tricky save for my lack of experience and even an ounce of knowledge as to how best to ‘run’ over it. Being at the back of the pack has disadvantages other than simply keeping checkpoint marshalls from afternoon tea/dinner/sleep? It also meant that I couldn’t learn by watching how the ‘real runners’ actually went about covering these sections of the course. As a result it was slow and arduous instead of slow and exciting – or even fast and exciting! Besides which, I was distracted by a whole new sensation, namely the waves of nausea and trailside vomiting. Body was definitely saying ‘Noooooooooo!’

Thankfully, at the last-but-one checkpoint there was a HOT DRINK. It must have been the heat that enabled me to finally keep some fluid in my stomach. Just as well, as the MDS lads had set off quickly with renewed energy knowing that the finish line was close, and that meant only one thing: they had to be caught. They were caught. They were caught crying – or was that Kelly who was crying? I know it wasn’t me because I didn’t have the energy (much less enough fluid in me to create tears lol). Just 3 miles to go and look what appeared around the corner … the most lethal and horrendous gorge. It hadn’t looked like that on the map – it had just looked like a little hill, but it did (it really did) reduce competitors to tears!! OMG it was scary. I’d love to have gone down it on my bum but the path was only wide enough for half a bum-cheek! There was bugger all to hang on to and …. one wrong step and it was a long way down. Oh yeah! Scary times! But the bonus was that I didn’t give a toss about the ascent on the other side – the relief of reaching the bottom still upright was all the boost that was necessary.

The last mile was predictably interminable and I confess that terrain, nutritional errors, hydration hiccups and injuries had definitely taken their toll by then. The agreement with Kelly to sprint the last 100 metres together was torn up and replaced by a 50m pledge – which was subsequently also shredded. I think the final sprint was the length of 5 large paving stones which led to the finish line checkpoint.

So what’s next? Well, I’m off to google some videos on downhill-running. Right after that I’m going to google how to run on different types of terrain – although I have a feeling the answer will be something like ‘You’re supposed to just know how to do that, duh!’ Finally … well, me and the High Peaks have unfinished business, so next year …

Meanwhile, wishing the MDS guys an amazing experience in 2013. And Kelly Thorn? Thank you for your company and wishing you an incredible 5 days of running in October in the Himalaya 100 (yes, I’ve looked it up – wish I hadn’t )

Next: Paras 10 (October)
GRIM (December)
42-mile Peak District Night-time Team Challenge (2013)
Hadrian’s Wall (2013)
High Peaks 40-Mile Challenge (The Return!!) (2013)

Hmmmm … best get training 

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Poetic Ultra: Some Rhyme, No Reason

13
Jul

by Amanda Hyatt (12/7/2012)

 

You’ve got to be utterly nuts, you know,
You’ve got to be utterly nuts,
To choose to do an ultra-run,
And claim that it’ll be hard but fun?
You’ve got to be utterly nuts.

You’ve got to be out of your mind, you know
You’ve got to be out of your mind,
To train for months, through rain or hail,
And sun and snow, on road and trail,
You’ve got to be out of your mind.

There are those who’ve been locked up for less, you know,
There are those who’ve been locked up for less,
If you don’t stop conversing in code to your mates,
Talking fartlek and split-times, and LSD dates!
There are those who’ve been locked up for less.

The men in white coats will be round, you know,
The men in white coats will be round,
Fuelling for weeks upon flapjacks and porridge,
And trawling through websites for specialist knowledge?
The men in white coats will be round!

And you haven’t stopped grinning for weeks, you know,
You haven’t stopped grinning for weeks,
Come back from runs aching, dog-tired and in pain,
And beaming – can’t wait to get out there again!
You haven’t stopped grinning for weeks!

And you’ll never convince me it’s right, you know
You’ll never convince me it’s right,
Though you’ve never been happier, healthier, cheery,
And joyful of mind, though your body is weary?
You’ll never convince me it’s right

How hard can it actually be, besides?
How hard can it actually be?
To run a few hills, bit of tempo, a sprint?
Then lunch on a smoothie, a few squares of Lindt?
How hard can it actually be?

You’re leaving me no other choice, you know
You’re leaving me no other choice,
You, with your positive Yes-I-Can thoughts,
With your stresses compressed by your socks and your shorts,
You’re leaving me no other choice,

‘Cause I might just be tempted as well, you know …
I might just be tempted as well,
To feel just for once that adrenalin blast
After ultra miles run and a finish line passed,
I might just be tempted as well.

(Psst!)

I think I’m a little bit nuts, you know
I think I’m a little bit nuts
Stepped out of the zone, left the comfort behind,
And the magic appeared! Am I out of my mind?
The men in white coats may be bigger and stronger
But they won’t catch me up because I can run longer!
I did it, I tried it, crossed over the line
First ultra, one hundred k run and I’m fine!
So ditch the ‘too old’ or ‘unfit’ or ‘too slow’,
If ultra’s a dream, then just get up and go
‘Cause it’s never too late to be nuts, you know,
Get out there and give it a go!

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London2Brighton 100km – My First Ultramarathon: The Story

18
May

12 MAY 2012 – LONDON TO BRIGHTON 100KM CHALLENGE – superbly organised by ACTION CHALLENGE

Run – in my case – in aid of ROCKINGHORSE CHILDREN’S CHARITY

 

0355 hrs, Teddington Travelodge, London. Alarm goes off. Phone intentionally left on the other side of the room so I’ve got to get out of bed to hit ‘Snooze’! It’s a teeny bit early, but I need that nine-minute snooze time to re-group and start sorting my head without panic, stress or rush! Plenty of time for that later – in about nine minutes’ time.

0409 hrs. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!! Well, no, it’s not – but the ‘0409’ bit is right – sounds like it’s a good time to get up, too! Kettle on, shower, TV on to check weather. Blue skies all round = perfect. Already I can take waterproofs out of backpack and transfer to 50km drop bag – yay! Instant porridge at the ready, smoothie with guarana …. and all-important cup of tea! Breathe!

0445 – taxi in 15 mins. Tipping out my backpack yet again. Let’s just check if there’s anything else I can get rid of. I think I’ve done pretty well. I’ve seen pics on facebook of what some people are carrying. I don’t even have that much in my bathroom!! But maybe they’re right and I’m wrong? Who the hell knows? I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing here. You don’t need to pack a bag for a marathon so gearing up for this is as much guess work and personal choice as anything … and common sense, I think. And let’s face it, I’m not out to break any records, but I’m aiming for success at the very least so my knees are No. 1 priority, which means the less weight I’m carrying the better.  For future reference, I’m posting my backpack/drop bag contents separately. Right now, I’m more concerned about the fact that I’ve typed the words ‘future reference’! Worrying.

Taxi’s here. Bags packed, drinks sorted.

Time to go.

 

START LINE

Richmond Old Deer Park is a-buzz! Runners pour in and out of the registration tent – and in and out of the Portaloos! All look terribly professional and ‘in the know’. I definitely feel out of my depth – and almost a bit of a fraud calling myself a ‘runner’, since I’m well aware there’s going to be a helluva lot of walking involved!!! But according to the rules, the fact that I’m running ‘any’ of it classifies me as a runner rather than a walker. It’s scary to find myself in only the second wave of runners, though. My start time is 0615; the final wave of challengers won’t leave until 1030!

Paul from Rockinghorse Charity taps me on the shoulder and offers me an array of goodies – chocolate, jelly beans, face towels and I don’t know what else. I pick up a bar of chocolate, thinking that later on I’ll probably be screaming for the comfort (how wrong I was!).

We are corralled to a seemingly obligatory warm-up with ………………… Mr Motivator!!

*bites tongue* He’s superbly good at what he does.

He is. He really is.

Moving swiftly onwards …

We’re off.

Interestingly, nerves have gone. I’ve banished all thoughts of what’s ahead. My plan is to concentrate on just one kilometre at a time and to do what I keep telling my running clients to do: to ‘not’ – as far as can be helped – get easily mesmerised by that point on the ground that’s always a couple of yards ahead; to remember to look up and enjoy the view!

And what views!!! (Now, I speak for the first 50km. Things went rather ‘differently’ after that – but the first 50 were glorious!) Blue sky has made all the difference; the Thames is perfectly still, the path winds alongside it, passing houseboats galore. There are swans, there are geese and there are ducks on the path – and newborn ever-so-fluffy and delightful ducklings on the bank. I’m rubbish at finding words to describe just how tranquil and glorious it is so I’m going to leave that firmly planted inside my head rather than bore you with clichéd trashy descriptions that mean absolutely nothing.

My favourites moments in that first 50k:

The Thames Path at 6.15 in the morning. Glorious; and

Nonsuch Palace– or rather the wilderness that surrounds it! Apart from the most fabulous name, I turned down a path into an expanse of wild and wonderful wilderness that almost made me stop in my tracks! Feast for the eyes (how am I doing with the clichés??). It ‘took my breath away’. It …. OK, enough! You get the message. It’s in my diary under ‘Must Revisit!’

I spend the first hour or so juggling between watching my pacing for fear of going out too fast (although that term is extremely relative in my case lol) and chasing other runners in the distance for fear of getting hopelessly lost! I cannot find my way out of a paper bag so my biggest fear is not just taking a wrong turn, but not being able to read the bloody maps to find my way back again!! And that would most certainly not be due to a ‘lack’ of maps! Yes, I have the given route maps – but my darling husband – who is even more despairing of my inability to distinguish south from north as I am – has painstakingly spent hours printing out tiny section maps with details of every field, path, alleyway, tunnel and trail. I think the only thing missing is a list of names of the rabbit families living in the respective clearly marked warrens!!! But I learn two things very quickly. (1) That it is neither advisable to look for too long at EITHER the point on the ground two yards in front of my feet OR the view – because it only takes a second to sail past a directional arrow; and (2) once you get into the habit of looking for those arrows the Action Challenge organisers have done the most amazing job of posting them EVERYWHERE!! This might seem incredibly trivial but with such a lengthy challenge ahead it was very easy to get lost in one’s own thoughts, to get distracted, to lose focus – and that was all the time it took to miss that next crucial arrow.

Several kilometres go by and I’m continually fascinated by how much discipline this takes. At least, it seems like that, initially. Running along on my own, I spend the first hour making a point of not missing an arrow, not running too fast, not running too slow, not getting distracted by gorgeous views ……  so many things running through my head. Perhaps the nerves aren’t quite as ‘gone’ as I thought!! You live and you learn. Every minute of this race turns out to be a learning experience – and one which I wouldn’t give up for the world!

I start to settle down a bit. I can enjoy the views; I stop looking at my watch and start listening to my body instead; my pace sorts itself out; and I’ve got the hang of spotting those arrows! The plethora of arrows, however, is also responsible for one goddamned song to be hammering around in my brain for the next four hours. At the risk of showing my age, who remembers it? Sing along with me now ………………… Here they come, falling out of the blue; Little arrows for me and for you; We’re falling in love again ……… (followed by) ‘Little arrows in your clothing, little arrows in your hair; When you’re in love you’ll find those little arrows everywhere …’  Even more tragically, I have to admit that yes, I know ALL the words L  But it’s a small price to pay, I guess, for the incredibly helpful, accurate and prompt signage all along the route – a credit to the organisers (and one MASSIVE weight off my shoulders as I realise there is little worry about getting lost so long as I stay focussed).

You get the gist …. I’m not going to set out a km-by-km account of my first ultra! The only person who needs to know all that is me! But hey! It feels good to be able to say ‘ultra’! I remember I passed 46.2 km and I clearly recall letting out a very quiet and rather pathetic cheer because it was that silly moment when I could officially say I was an ‘ultra-runner’! I know – ridiculous – but at the time it was ultra-important! To me, anyway. Having failed to reach the start line of my first marathon four years ago, I’d never believed I’d be able to tick that goal off my to-do list .. and I’d just exceeded it. Yup! That felt good!!!!

 

Green Lane mid-point 11.9 km  I’ve settled down. 10 mins ahead of predicted schedule. Wahay – the advantage of being a runner is that there are no queues for the loos AND they’re all still clean. My day is made! Now, if only I can keep ahead of the pack lol  Quick top up of water bottle and I’m off.

 

CP1 – Oaks Park 24.7 km  Lunch! LUNCH? Are you kidding? It’s 9.30 a.m.  I’m taking 20 mins to regroup. This is where it gets complicated …. I’ve no benchmarks. Do I stop here or keep going? Is it good to sit down/rest or should I get the hell out and keep moving? To eat or not to eat? Not having any experience, I’ve no idea what to do here. I grab a cup of tea and sit down to work it out!!! Decide on 20 minute break which in retrospect I could probably have gone without. The problem is not the first 50km – the problem is not knowing what my body is going to do after that! Oh well … who’s to know? I can sit here and debate it …………………. Or I can get moving.

I grab a homemade flapjack from my backpack (these became my staple and thank God I made them!), top up drinks – one with water, one with High5 energy drink … and decide I can do the rest of my pondering/eating while I’m walking!

 

Orpheus Centre mid-point 37.6 km  Oops! My bottles are still full. That’s not good. I down a few cups of water and promise myself to have drained both bottles before the next checkpoint. Besides, it’s warm. Hat and gloves are off – for me, that means there must be sunshine! Mind you, it’s been hard work ploughing through all that mud!! I can’t decide whether the mud is irritating or funny.  I wish I could see how the ‘real’ runners are dealing with it. I wonder are they just going straight through it? I’m too chicken to try – it’s so slippery and up to 6-8 inches in places. I don’t think I could ‘run’ it even if I tried. I’ve done my best to get past it as quickly as possible, though.  Note: Ladies … when the path is narrow and there is a line forming of TWELVE RUNNERS (I counted) behind you … it’s time to move the f*** over!!!!!!  Am I right or am I right? To me, that’s just common courtesy – but maybe that’s why I never win everything. Maybe I should try holding up the field, elbows at the ready? Just kidding – but you know what I mean.

I’m out of there! More mud, mud, glorious mud. It’s a good excuse to walk, innit!!! But you’ve really got to have a sense of humour. I come across one section, stop dead and laugh out loud! The mud is so bad they’ve thrown down planks of wood followed by eight car tyres, tied together. It’s L2B meets Warrior Dash! Brilliant! I am so glad I’m running right now – I would not like to have to face this obstacle in the dark!

And then there’s the stiles. I think I’ve climbed over more stiles on this route this morning than I did in ten years living in the middle of Ireland! And some of them – Oi! – were constructed by VERY TALL FARMERS!! Jeez!  There is one particularly ‘high’ one that I’m struggling over when I hear a voice behind me.

Voice: ‘You OK there?’

Me: ‘Yes, thanks – it’s really high, this one!’

Voice: ‘Ah! Well, I think I’ll just go round it, then!’ (raucous laughter)

%£$%&$£^&!!!!!!!   Hate to say it, but yes, there is a big gap right beside it. Doh! What an idiot! But out of that laughter comes the start of a beautiful ultra-friendship! I’ve passed Stephen and Eric a couple of times en route as they stopped to take photos – then they’d pass me again twenty minutes later, etc. etc. As we pass that stile (or climb it, depending on your level of utter stupidity!!) … we are on the approach to the 50km checkpoint and are all starting to feel weary. As we jog along chatting about Lord knows what, we are joined by Neil and Stu … all making our merry way at roughly the same kind of pace. I have to say it is WONDERFUL to have the company and yet not be worried that any kind of ‘pace’ is being forced on anyone. We just settle in together and reach the next checkpoint an impromptu team.

 

CP2 – Felbridge Tennis Club – 53.5 km    45 mins ahead of my predicted time so happy but slightly shell-shocked. I’ve run 50km – woo hoo!! What else matters! Except the job in hand, I guess. My wonderful crew is waiting for me in the form of Karim. He grabs my backpack and refills my drinks. I help myself to hot food – God, that tastes good!  Haven’t eaten for a while. I thought I’d be constantly hungry. Wrong. Re-stock gels. Take bite of blueberry muffin, thinking something sweet wouldn’t go amiss. Wrong again! Stomach says ‘NO!’ At previous midpoint I phoned Karim and begged him to bring some fruit – grapes, pineapple … as I was gasping for it – but already I it’s a struggle to eat anything. Weird and unexpected! Down a half litre of coconut water, run through checklist again. Guarana shot – pure magic – and it’s time to go.

Loving, absolutely loving all the psychological ‘surprises’ along route – so, so different to anything I’ve done before.  A dodgy few seconds here. In the moment it takes me to stand up, my elation of ‘Wow! Already half way!’ switches to ‘F***! Only half way!’  At that very moment I hear a now familiar voice behind me (again) … ‘Ready, Amanda? We’re not leaving without you, you know!’ I just can’t tell you what a difference that made. I’m suddenly ‘part of a team’ and it’s all I need. Mindset readjusted. We’re off!

What’s more, I think this is my favourite 10k of the lot. I feel like I’ve got a new set of legs – the hot food? The guarana? The rest? Or great company? Whatever … it feels great. And, of course, I already know I’m going to finish this course or die trying … there’s no going back after half way!

 

Highbrook Field mid-point – 64.7 km  No stopping. Let’s just get this section done. The going’s good, the plan is not to break the rhythm.

Mud has been replaced by marsh and I’m not sure which is worse! Wet, wet, soggy uneven clumps of long grass and seemingly endless fields of it! Ugh!  Things suddenly start to go pear-shaped. A few injuries have crept into ‘the team’ and pace has slowed. Spirits still high!

 

CP3 Ketche’s Lane Field – 73.1 km  Final stop. Erm … (Note to Self: Don’t know what to change but something needs to change at this point next time round)  Spirits are high! Karim is there waiting – refills bottles. No energy drinks please! Can’t stand the thought of eating …. Until I walk into the tent. Bacon and sausages … that’ll do! Bloomin’ lifesaver. My stomach is just rebelling against everything else. I think it must be the fact that it’s hot? Everything else food-wise has lost its appeal – can’t bear the thought. Never mind, though. Home stretch, eh?

But it’s going to be tough … I’m ignoring everything but well aware that it’s not going to get easier. IT bands on both legs are screaming – it’s a familiar scream. I can cope. Karim reminds me I’d planned to maybe change trainers – I had thought different trail shoes might be good for coming over the Downs and a change of support would give my knees a break, too. It’s not going to happen. My feet are swollen (in fact, I think it’s just my big toes!!) … and I can’t even get into my trail shoes. Decision made, then.

Ibuprofen makes an appearance – and last guarana shot of the day. Quick change of attire – extra layer of clothing into backpack, hat and gloves accessible, headtorch accessible. Procrastination is not going to help. Move!

 

Wivelsfield School mid-point 81.7 km  We’re definitely walking now! There’s an interesting variety of geriatric gaits going on. The mud and the marshland in the dark aren’t fun any more. New tactics come into play. Stephen volunteers as army sergeant-major … whatever … and leads us in a strict Left-Left-Left-Right-Left ………… It’s hilarious but jeez, it makes so much sense why they do that!! It’s so hypnotic it really works! And you just have to keep pace! It’s pretty amazing, actually – from a non-army perspective! Definitely a lightbulb moment (or at least a headtorch moment!)

We’re not laughing quite so much any more. I think we’re struggling to keep upright! We stop here just a little bit longer than we should have. Neil has left us – determined to make that midnight rendezvous. He’s marched on ahead. Good on him! Eric has disappeared, too – accompanying a girl who we found walking on her own and who had no torch – complete madness! Stephen and Stu sit down and finish off a hot drink. I don’t dare sit! I’ll never get up again. I’m itching to keep moving before I come to a total standstill. It’s a wall. So it’s only maybe 3 feet high, but a wall nonetheless – needs climbing over!!

 

Swann Inn, Falmer mid-point – 94.4 km  I’m officially bloody freezing but I haven’t dared stop to access the layers from my backpack – I don’t want to break any kind of rhythm, I just want to keep going. Running is no longer an option so it’s dead slow – all the more reason to keep moving forwards! Relentlessly! Finally – a stop where I can layer up. I empty my backpack and everything goes on! Better! Eric’s back – waiting for dad (Stephen) to do the final stretch together. Stu is in serious trouble. It’s taken us a long long time to do this last stretch – there’s been a lot of downhill and it’s been a curse. Give me uphill any time!! Stu’s knee is a lot worse than mine – the only way he can come down the hills is backwards!!! At any other time that might be funny – actually, yes, we laugh.  At one point I look back at him and crack up completely because I honestly can’t tell if he’s walking forwards or backwards – his legs are so stiff it’s like watching a robot.  The water in that damned drum thing won’t heat. I don’t care. I’ll go on without it. The support crew guy says we should pop into the pub and warm up for a few minutes – too cruel!! He’s serious and has asked the pub for permission. He needs to run this race next year to understand how vital it is that that pub door never opens!!! Not here and not now!

6 km to go. Really can’t stop. The water’s not hot enough to make a tea, but one of the support crew ladies runs after me with a cup of warm water – better than nothing, she says. She’s right. We drink while we walk. Stu has stayed behind to get his knees strapped up. I’m not worried about him. I know he’ll finish – no matter what.

It’s definitely a trudge and these must be the longest six kilometres in history. Can’t see a thing, tiny uneven little tractor-wheel paths through fields, alongside roads … but at least I know where I am, now. I can happily tell the guys where we’re heading. Racecourse is just up around the corner. And …………… there it is! I’ve managed to keep my feet perfectly dry up to now. The racecourse grass is long and sopping wet. Drenched and freezing feet. Who the hell cares! Red flags up ahead. Spotlights. We’ve agreed that no matter what, we’ve got to run at least the last 200m. We break into a jog and a huge cheer greets our bobbing head torches from the finish line. Caitriona’s there with a gang of nine very loud teenagers …………. and there’s Karim … and Chris … and Rebecca!!  It’s just SUPERB!!! Dammit! Now I’ve burst into tears.

Finish line – Brighton Racecourse – 100km

 

Crossed the finish line. 19 hours 5 mins.

142nd place of 1362 who made it to the start line.

 

THOUGHTS:

What an experience!

You are never too old

What’s easy for one person can be monumental for the next; set your own standards and don’t chase anyone else’s

Recognise and ditch the excuses  – that done, everything’s possible!

WHAT is all the fuss about bloody jelly babies? Bought a packet. Total consumed: 1

and my philosophical gem for today …

When you can’t smash through that wall, step back and look for a way around it

(Note to self: the same could be said for stiles! Doh!)

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For ref: Backpack and Drop bag contents

18
May

Note: This is for personal reference only!! God knows but the contents hereinafter will possibly shock and appal the seasoned ultra-runner. Let me re-emphasize the fact that I had NO idea what I was doing or what was in store. I’m keeping this and will add notes as and when I acquire useful (and knowledgeable) titbits of information from the pros. Having said that, it kind of worked for me so it can’t be too far out.

ON MY BACK AT THE START LINE:

OMM backpack … tried, tested and I love it! I use a Camelbak on long cycles but found this heavy for running (all relative, I guess). The weight distribution of a Nathan 2-bottle race belt worked better for me.
GELS – about the heaviest item. 2 in my race belt and 4 in my backpack (Even this was too many – I didn’t use them before about 35km. Maybe I should have!)
Flapjacks – homemade and yummy. Heavy, though – in weight (all relative, of course). Two in backpack. Will have them for ‘lunch’.
Banana and packet of grapes (don’t know what kind of food will be available …)
Compeed – weighs nothing and just in case – rumour has it to treat immediately so don’t want to be waiting until I reach a subsequent rest stop.
Ibuprofen – don’t care what reason, but if a headache looms at the start line I really want to be able to get rid of it fast.
Vaseline
Money and a credit card (no coins – they weigh too much lol)
Route maps
Pen
Phone
Headphones (never wore them – the sounds of the wilderness were so much more appealing and there was no need to drown out the usual dulcid racket of bickering seagulls)
Sunglasses
Hat/gloves/tee (there’s always hope it’ll be warm as well as sunny?)
Spare socks
Light waterproof jacket
Checkpoint checklists
*Initially, waterproofs were in here but switched them to 50km bag when the forecast was clear

50km bag

6 gels (too few? Too little? Who knows? Haven’t got the ‘gel’ thing sussed yet)
Headtorch/batteries
2nd running watch
Waterproofs – trousers, socks and gloves
Xtra running layer
Trail shoes
Spare socks

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