“Bee, why are you staring at me? I am not a flower??”
I wanted to toe the start line as close to a 100% as I could but after UTMB, it took me almost three to four weeks to fully recover and I still had the hip issue every time I went for a run. I decided to give as much time for the injury to heal before running another 100. Every time I attempted to do a proper session, I’d come back limping so I thought of not starting and volunteering instead just like last year when I had an amazing time spending 30+ hours at Goring. I had a couple of solid runs a few weeks before the race on the Limone Extreme Skyrace route where I felt good climbing as well as descending so made the decision to start and see how it goes. I also ran a hilly trail half the weekend before down south in Chichester (It’s closer to France than it is to Nottingham!) and things felt good but there was still this lingering feeling of “I HAVEN’T RUN MUCH IN FIVE WEEKS”, I usually like to go into race in a much better state of mind with a solid build-up rather than trying to recover in time. My only goal going into the race was to have fun and enjoy it and also of course to finish within the cut-offs and the only reason I would pull out would be due to a serious injury. The great thing about this race is the fact that it is four out and back sections which is 12.5 miles each way so it is extremely convenient to pull out when things are going wrong but also mentally easy to break down as you run back the same way to the central checkpoint at Goring which is another convenient place to drop and also the fact that it’s in autumn with 13 hours of darkness so we’ll be running the majority of the race in darkness which does play tricks with the mind. While planning I anticipated the possibility of dropping but during race day that thought didn’t cross my mind once.
In terms of planning I spent so much time fine tuning every detail before UTMB that I simply just used that plan, only that it would take half the time for me to get around and got some advice on nutrition from my friend and nutritionist Alexendra as I planned to eat normal food. I got the train down to Goring the day before and stayed at the YHA hostel same as last year when quite a few of my friends ran it. Popped into the race HQ to give them a hand and to say hi to everyone & it was good to catch up. Had dinner with Sam Clack who is a journalist and he was there to document the race from the BBC? Sam had a chat with my coach Paul Giblin earlier at Glasgow so we got chatting and I wouldn’t shut up about how amazing the trail running community is! Had fish and chips, which was a departure from my usual curry/pizza night before a race but it worked a week earlier at Chichester. Got back to the hostel to find out all the blokes I was sharing the dorm with were running the race too. One of them seemed a little nervous and had packed his entire house as it was his first 100 and here was Tom Garrod and me chatting about running 200 mile races lol. I gave him some advice about shoe choices and we had an early night. Got a decent night’s sleep where I woke up a couple of times as I tried not to oversleep and miss the start, we were up at 7-ish to get ready for the 10 am start, some of the lads left as early at 8 am and I was chatting to the rest as I planned to leave as late as possible as I knew registration is seamless and didn’t want to take up too much space at the HQ. One of the runners in the hostel decided not to start and I remembered her from last year when she had to drop, so we were reminiscing about our races this season while I tried to eat my porridge. Finally got my kit on and made my way to race HQ, a quick hello and hugs to all my friends who were volunteering and got chatting with Jon to ask him about how his recovery has been after his exploits at Tooting bec. He gave me some pointers on the route and also some advice on staying positive and so did Simon aswell! I got kit check done and bumped into Gary and we got chatting about TDG and got my bib really quickly. I then walked up to the start where we had a big queue for the loo. I calmly sat down at the far end of the hall when I tried to collect my thoughts while everyone else was chatting away. James Elson, the RD was also running the race but he still gave the talk before toeing the line.
Spur 1 – Goring to Little Wittenham on the thames path – #FlatIsBoring
We were off at 10 am sharp and I let all the speedy ones sprint past me as I knew this leg was on the Thames path and was quite flat so I wanted to reign it in as it’s very tempting to go out too fast and not have enough for the hills later on. The first six miles went swiftly and we were at the half way CP at Wallingford, I stopped quickly and filled my bottle while chatting to one of the guys from the hostel and ate a little.
I ran on my own until I met Claudia, we got chatting as I saw the pack tag on her rucksack and she was wearing the TDS wristband. I remember almost everyone from my chalet ran the TDS so we chatted about how horrible the climbs and the heat was this year, Cormet de rosalind resembled a hospital! She seemed lovely and her boyfriend was just ahead, he passed us and told us the turn-around was less than a mile away. I remember checking my watch and we got there way too quickly (1.45 hrs) so I decided to stop and get some food in at Little Wittenham. I bumped into Sharon who ran the race last year and I remember seeing her ahead of me on the conga line at UTMB before the Les Contamines CP so had a quick chat with her about the race and wished her luck for the Spine race before jogging back. I remember Chris Mills telling me to slow down as I was running too fast so I made a conscious effort to ease the pace.
I remember before the race I had three rules which I’d follow no matter how good or bad I felt,
1. Not to go faster than 5:30 min/km
2. Not to RUN UP ANY OF THE HILLS!
3. Never. Stop. Smiling. 😀
I was still following my rules, just that there were no hills in this leg which was very tedious as I had to run more than I had planned but knew that the next 50 miles would have plenty of hills to get me into a good rhythm. Got back to the Wallingford CP and then was running back and forth with Paul Reader who I didn’t know was Ian Walker’s mystery friend who he was pacing for the last 50 miles and this was his final race for the Centurion Grand slam (All 4 Centurion 100 miler’s this year). We went through this narrow single track and the guy ahead of me screamed after getting bitten by something, this spooked me a little before I started screaming too! A bee got stuck in my calf guard and kept stinging me, had to pull it out and I jogged it off. Didn’t think too much of it as in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal and this was the first time I got stung by a bee and it had to happen during a 100! We got back to Goring around 4 hrs 6 mins to get a massive cheer from Jon and Natasha who were time keeping and I asked them to post updates on my progress, it was so great to have them there as I had something to look forward to every time I left Goring. I got my drop bag given to me quickly and I ate the contents of the little bag that I kept for every 25 miles when I get back to Goring. Fairly quick transition, bottle filling and I was out for the next leg.
Spur 2 – Goring to Swyncombe on the ridgeway
I was looking forward to this leg as it was on the ridgeway and had some hills to keep me from getting bored! The first CP at North Stoke came really quickly after 4 miles, I was greeted by Mr.Chicken, Rich Cranswick. Ate some nibbles and kept running with a couple of guys, the next CP at Swyncombe which is the turn-around was 8 miles away so this was a longer stretch. It felt unusually harder to run as I couldn’t get any rhythm as it felt like everything was slightly uphill. Got my music on and kept running the flatter bits and power hiking the inclines, James ran past me and he felt super smooth as he led the race at this point. He asked me “Are you having fun?” and I remember jumping out of the trail and telling him “Oh yea, I’m just getting started!”, the rest of the leaders were running past me regularly and I was just being patient and taking it easy, I loved that towards the end of the single track the view opens up and you run downhill in a massive field only to climb up to the other side which was A LOT of fun and we went past this golf club where people were giving curious looks as a bunch of idiots were running a 100 miles! I remember by then I had a itchy sensation for quite some time and was literally scratching myself while running, it hit me that this could possibly be due to the bee sting as the area around my calf was swollen. There was a steep but short climb to the turn-around CP as it was right on top of a hill, I took it super easy on the climbs as it was too early to push.
I remember one guy who I passed knew who I was as we ran the Highland Fling and Oldham way earlier this year, I even shouted “Ding Ding!” before I got into the Swyncombe CP and asked for a cup of tea and ate a little, I remember asking them for anti-histamines to try to prevent the itchiness. One of the lovely volunteers told me that they’ll radio it to the next CP at North Stoke and I thanked them before running downhill where I went “Weeeeeee! This is so much fun!” while telling everyone who I ran past that the CP is just on top of this climb. I was starting to feel better and I realized that the entire stretch was as I suspected slightly uphill so on the return it felt so much easier and runnable. The best thing about this race is the fact that each leg is an out and back so you get to see people most of the time either running ahead of you or running in the opposite side so it was good to cheer everyone and spread my happiness! I felt really good on the return and did some of my best running in the entire race in this stretch as I got into a good rhythm on the narrow single track, got to the CP and took the tablets before faffing to get my head lamp out while chatting to the volunteers and asking them about the Rugby and football score, was quite disappointed that Wales were knocked out but happy that United won! Right back to this running lark, got my headlamp on and headed back to Goring. It was getting dark so switched my lamp on in sections with tree cover. Met up with a couple of guys who also were chasing a sub-24 time (As you get a special 100 miles in one day buckle for it) so I ran with them until Goring. Got to the CP to a massive cheer by Jon and Natasha when a runner behind went “I didn’t get that when I ran in!” and was told that I had to go see the medic to ensure I’m okay after Bee-gate. I had a chat with them and told them I got the puss out and the tablet helped as I didn’t feel itchy anymore. Used the loo, changed my tee to a slightly thicker top but it was warm enough for a half sleeve + arm warmers as I also packed a thermal just incase and got a windproof on as Chris told me it was quite windy at chain hill and the whole section is exposed as we go up and down some hills. I came in at 9.15 hours so was well ahead of schedule but wasn’t pushing it so took a longer break to ensure I felt good to tackle the night section. After spending about 30 minutes faffing about, I got told by the lovely volunteers to get out and keep moving so I sorted everything out and went out for the third spur.
Spur 3 – Goring to Chain hill on the Ridge way
The first stretch was all-uphill on tarmac and it just seemed to get steeper and steeper. As I spent far too long in the warm and cozy checkpoint, my body was struggling to generate heat and power hiking this bit didn’t help but in a little while I got going. I was passed by lots of runners with their pacers as they ran uphill (Pacers are allowed from 50 miles in). I decided to stick to my plan and I saw James run past me with Robbie Britton pacing him (He’d almost finished the third leg while I was only a mile or two into it, very impressive running by the RD! He went on to win the race), initially I mistook them for a car as I saw two headlamps up the hill so decided to jump out of the road into the bushes and wait for it to pass only to look like an idiot on the side of the road when they passed. I was having some negative thoughts as it was cold and dark, I still had about 12+ hours of darkness to negotiate which is essentially the entire race so just kept plugging along. The next CP at bury downs was around 8 miles away and I knew once we got on top of the ridge that it would get very windy. But somehow this section felt a little dragged out as I’ve been going uphill for quite sometime! I bumped into Sarah and Alex here and asked them if I may run with them as I felt like I could use some company. They both were really good runners so I did initially question myself if this was a good move as I didn’t want to slow them down.
They were chatty and we kept each other going with good banter but some of the pop culture references missed me probably because I wasn’t born at that time but somehow any conversation I have with ultrarunners ends up with poop talk! We genuinely find it amusing talking about our bodily functions haha.
After a long, drawn out section being battered by the wind we finally reached burydowns CP on top of a hill. It was super windy here and I felt really sorry for the volunteers who’ve been up here for hours. Got a cup of tea sorted and ate a little before stretching and getting a move on as Chain hill CP was only 4 miles away. There was a nice downhill here before it got undulating again, we kept cheering everyone we passed and the one’s who ran past us. After getting to Chain hill CP we got some proper food in and stretched things out a little, Alex and me went for a wee outside the CP and he stumbled into a horseshoe which he was parading at the CP. After some chat, we got moving again back to Bury downs CP. The return had lots of uphill sections and Alex was telling us to focus on our feet and think of it as a downhill so we can run up it. Sarah and I weren’t having any of it and kept power hiking.
We got to Bury downs and had more cake among other things as there was 8 miles back to Goring so eating now would be beneficial. On the return we spoke about our previous races and there was more “poop” talk lol. I think I drank too much caffeine with cups of tea at every CP and since I rarely drink tea/coffee in real life my body was flushing out water really quickly due to the diuretic which meant I had the urge to pee every 5 minutes. It was a little embarrassing trying to pee against the wind on top of a hill and then running fast to catch up with them but it was only a minor inconvenience as I kept drinking well.
We kept things simple and were moving well on the downhills and with 2-3 miles to go Sarah was feeling a little sick so we slowed down and took it easy. I kept checking if she was running with us or slowed down as Alex was motoring ahead. Since I’ve paced at these races several times I knew there was no point pushing it with the last 25 miles ahead of us and we were still well on schedule for a 21-22 hour finish. We rolled into Goring and got to the CP to sort ourselves out. I was feeling great so used the loo, ate extremely well thanks to a volunteer assisting me (I reckon she would have force fed me if I refused to eat haha) and switched my shoes as I anticipated more walking in this leg as Sarah wasn’t feeling too well but still remained extremely positive and determined to get it done. Alex was having a chat with a couple of volunteers asking about what pace we needed to run/walk to get a sub-24, since we ran the first 75 well we could basically walk most of it and still make it so that was comforting as Sarah’s stomach was giving her grief. Once Sarah was ready we headed out for the final leg which was super exciting!
Spur 4- Goring to Reading on the Thames path
We decided to run some bits and see how it goes but had a couple of wee steep hills in the beginning, which we were complaining about (as you do after 75 miles!). We had a good run/walk rhythm and when we ran we were running at a decent pace so Alex wanted us to keep doing this as much as possible to give us a cushion. We ran through some fields and ran sideways following toilet signs, which we mistook as course markers. We got to Whitchurch CP fairly quickly and had to go up a small hill into the checkpoint, I ate more cake while we waited for Sarah. Alex was looking at the clock and wanted us to hurry a little if we intended to walk most of it. We headed out in good spirits knowing that Reading was the next CP, which was around 8 miles away. I think we had some low points here as it was shit ’o clock and we were struggling to stay awake. Sarah was having issues too and shortly after the CP her husband Simon joined us for that leg. I had a wee sit down while we met him only to be told off by Allan rumbles who was pacing someone as he walked past us. We struggled up some stairs across a railway bridge to the other side and Sarah took a loo break as we guarded the trail. Having someone with fresh legs and a sharp mind was really helpful for us as we labored our way to the reading CP. Nothing much happened apart from a few drunk kids taunting us from the other side of the river. The people who ran past us looked like they were hating life which I found hilarious. After we got into town, we had to cross a couple of parks along the river and we started guessing where the CP was until we bumped into Susie who told us it was right across the bridge. Alex had the plan sorted but we starting to get behind schedule but didn’t want to lose the plot.
Another bridge and we finally made it to the Reading CP (Which was at the other end of town!). After 87 and half miles of running, we had to go up stairs to access the CP, Sarah struggled up the stairs so Simon and Alex had to push her up the stairs which was hilarious. I took a loo break and started refueling with strawberries and more cake while the rest were ready to go so they left early while I stayed back and got some food down. Spotted several people looking a little broken and they were chilling out at this CP, I was tempted to join them as it was cold and dark outside! I felt a little nauseous so emptied my bottle with electrolytes and filled one with flat coke.
After fannying around, I got myself sorted and started running to catch up with them, along the way I was cheering everyone who I ran past including Roz. Once I caught up we started chatting and we knew this was the home stretch. After a while of walking in the darkness, it was starting to get lighter and I remember Alex telling us “Look it’s getting lighter” and we were all looking at the other side at the street lights and nodding haha. The new day always brings new energy and we were starting to get chirpy again, we knew we were a little bit behind schedule so started to run some sections.
I felt fine and my leaky bladder was getting better as I stopped drinking tea for a few hours. I really appreciated having these three during the hard times so we can keep each other motivated to move forward. We got back to the car park where Simon left us and we made our way to Whitchurch CP and it was only 4 miles to the finish from there. We struggled up the climb and got some food in while Paul Ali (Who had just ran the Spartathlon a couple of weeks back) was waiting to sweep the course, he coaxed me to eat more ginger cake which I duly obliged. I think the biggest positive that I can take out of this entire run was the fact that I trained my stomach well to be able to eat cake even after 96 miles! Some of the folks around us were getting nervous if they’ll make the sub-24 hr mark and they were shuffling along while we knew it was in the bag so took it easy and we were talking about random stuff which kept us entertained.
We got to the river bank sections where people were fishing with huge poles which were a little annoying and Simon ran from the other side to meet us half-way through. There were a few Sunday morning runners going out for a jog, Sarah suddenly started chasing one of them as she thought she knew him which was quite funny as we were taking the mickey that she finally lost the plot! It was funny when she said “Shoot me if I ever want to do another 100!” and we laughed it off saying “Give it 2 weeks and you’ll come back for more”. I was so impressed with her determination and spirit even when she struggled she never complained but kept going with a smile on her face. We finally got around and started running a little before the finish when we were joined by Alex’s kids and it was quite emotional. We finished hand in hand and it was very special. Got a huge cheer from Natasha and Nikki along with massive hugs from them. I was elated but also a little tired and the effort didn’t quite sink in yet, got my buckle and was quickly whisked away by Richard Stillion who got back to Goring after the graveyard shift at Bury downs CP. Got my kit and sat down at the far end, felt really sleepy so put my legs up and crashed for 15 minutes before waking up and having a chat with Sam about how wonderful the race was and how I really enjoyed it. My body felt a little tight but once I got moving it loosened up, changed my clothes and was back out cheering the runners coming in and stayed until the last runner got in, there were so many people I recognised that it felt more like a family affair where everyone knows everyone.
I can’t thank the volunteers enough for giving up their time for supporting a bunch of idiots run across some hills. They are some of the most selfless people you’ll meet. They choose to spend their day handing out electrolytes, salt, and various snacks to runners in all manners of spirits. Race directors and racers alike rely on them for free, mostly cheerful labor and our sport wouldn’t be possible without their generosity.
Also my friends who volunteered at this race who kept me on a leash and didn’t let me faff around at Goring. One of my favorite moments of this year came when I finished the race and got a massive hug from Natasha and Nikki. So here’s to the friends I’ve made, ones I’ve become closer with, and ones I’m yet to meet.
I can’t thank my coach Paul Giblin enough for his unwavering support throughout this year when things have gone well and especially during the low points. I rarely talk about my running to anyone as I train by myself so to have someone to chat who is also equally vested in my progress has made a big difference to the way I approach training and racing. Running in general brings me happiness especially after switching to trails for the past few years and to be guided by one of the best runners in the world is a huge bonus and he is such a great guy to chat with too!
Last but not the least my family who although still think I’m barking mad to run a 100 miles still support and cheer me on regardless of my chosen adventures. I don’t share my racing exploits with them as what is normal to me might scare them off and get them worried but slowly they’re starting to accept that this is the new normal which is always reassuring.