Friday 11 November 2016

European 24-hour champs: The Albi Aftermath

It just wasn’t your day.  You’ll come back stronger.  It happens to everyone.  You’re only human. It’s only running.  You learn so much from races than have gone wrong.  It is what it is… I’ve pretty much heard them all since I crashed and burned at last month’s European 24 Hour Race in Albi. 

My life philosophy is:  It’s only a tragedy it if matters in five years’ time.  Given the importance of the race, I’m still on the fence as to whether I would class this as a personal tragedy.

It was my fourth outing as part of the GB team.  Since my last 24-hour at World Champs in April 2015, I’d had a pretty good racing streak.  Training had got well. Racing had gone better.  I felt faster, stronger and more importantly, had more self-belief than before. All the more reason why it hurts so much that things went so wrong.

I know I’ve had shocking races before. Who doesn’t?  I know I’ve wallowed in them, got over it and most have barely crossed my mind.  And if they do, it’s usually to laugh and joke about them. 

I’m still trying to work out what went wrong.  What I could have done differently.  I’ve internally processed this over and over again to point of mental destruction.  I’ve gone through every emotion from complete self-loathing to laugh-out-load hilarity at some of the moments that will forever remain comedy gold.

Was it just down to bad luck on the day?  Even before the race, my stomach was showing signs of, erm, distress.  I’m not really one for toilet chat, but there were a lot of toilet visits.  Running was going well and my lap splits were bang on the money.  Excluding the laps which involved visit to the toilet.  Of which there were many. By hour 12 there was nothing left in me and the downward spiral commenced.

Shortly after my pee was bright red and causing me major concern.  After telling my support, Eddie, I was sent to the medical tent.  The doctor asked me to pee in a cup and I handed over something that looked like beetroot juice.  The medic tested it, informed me it wasn’t blood it was muscle damage and was pretty normal. I was told me to drink more and they sent me on my way. 

Ultra-distance running has a tendency to strip you bare.  It can heighten emotions and leaves the brain susceptible to over-thinking and irrationality. All I could think about were the running friends who have got themselves in to life-threatening danger with kidney failure.   Recent chats with Ewan Dunlop and Jayson Lewis and how their families were told the outcome could have been much worse were playing on my frazzled mine.   

I love running.  It’s a massive part of my life.  But first and foremost, I’m somebody’s Mother.   I know in the cold light of day, this is all very dramatic but at the time it was hard to shake those thoughts.  Another few rungs down the spiral staircase.

A few more hours of running, not consuming enough calories, more toilet visits and I was done in.  I felt sick, dizzy and gaging on everything I tried to eat.  My muscles ached and my feet were a car crash, with blister popping and a dislodge toenail sloshing around.

I hit the wall hard and became really cold and incoherent.  I sat out for a while and piled on some layers, which meant my muscles seized.  Guy, the team physio, did his best to kneed out some of the crap, but then I felt guilty for diverting his attention away from the “real” runners.

Izzy was also having a tough time too and we ended up buddying up to do the death march.  I really just wanted to sit down.  Lie down.  Anything not to face the walk of shame over and over again, but Eddie wouldn’t let me.  I really didn’t see the point in it then, but now I do.  I couldn’t understand why she was trying to force feed me every lap, but now I do.

Looking at the clock there were still six long deadly hours to go.  Izzy and I laughed and cried together and talked lots about our 24-hour retirement.  When it goes wrong, it’s so hard.  It’s not like a distance where you give it everything to get to the finish line.  The clock keeps ticking whether you’re sitting on your arse, shuffling or sprinting around.  You just feel like it’s never going to end.  It’s so much easier to keep going when there’s a finish line in mind.    My finish line was a target distance, but that when down the toilet – quite literally – hours prior.

The finish was awful.  And the week following the race was even worse.  I just couldn’t take anything positive from it.  I’m not really a crier, but I shed many tears.  Having to relive the drama as people wanted to know “what went wrong”.    Any other race could have gone belly up and it would have gone largely unnoticed.  I, of course, had to choose this one.

I did, however, have a great time hanging out with the team.  There were some stellar performances from Dan Lawson – who won the race – Marco and James Elson, who took men’s team silver.  Like me, Steve and Paddy’s races fell way below the usual distance but there were so supportive and amazing on the course.  Robbie and Sharon called in time early on, both having started with an injury.  Ali made her GB debut to run 215km and finish first Brit.  Out of the 10 runners, only two (Dan and Marco)  ran ran a qualifying distance to be reselected for the team, which is pretty dismal.

After what Izzy and I went through and the things we talked about, I think we’re bonded for life.  Unfortunately the photos of us in the finishing hours may haunt us for some time.  
The final score was a very disappointing 179km, a little short of my 221km previous best. I felt humiliated and guilty for letting everyone down.   I felt even worse for Eddie, who left her three young kids and travelled from Morzine to witness my car crash.  Eddie is fiercely competitive and enthusiastic about everything.  She tried everything, but at the time I was convinced I was past the point of no return.

If I’m honest with myself, maybe I had lost my head for 24-hour running.  Maybe I was cocky enough to think the race would fall into line with my other races.   Maybe I was complacent enough to think I could rely on an ability to run long distances at a slower pace. 

What I have now is real fire in my belly to nail the 24-hour distance once and for all.  There is absolute no way I ever want to feel that way after a race again.  I have taken much stock, will sort out thing that went wrong and will working even harder to achieve my goals for 2017.  Alongside my moto on life and tragedies, I also firmly believe everything happens for a reason. 

Tuesday 23 August 2016

North Downs Way 100 race report

Top line: 1st lady, 6th overall in 18:34 (CR)
Strava stats 

THE REASON: This was a last minute entry, but not necessarily a last minute decision.  I procrastinated about this one for a few months.  My plans for the year changed somewhat when I was selected to represent for the GB team for the European 24 hour Championships in October.  I therefore had to give up my place at UTMB, as the races are too close together.  The opportunity to wear the GB vest won over an elite start at UTMB.  Not the worst position to be in, but it still wasn’t an easy decision. 

So, I “needed” another race to bridge the gap from SDW100 in June to Euros in October.  The only race that I really wanted to do was NDW100.  Only eight was after SDW100 and 11 weeks until the Euros, it was always going to be a gamble, but I had a mental list of about 10 reasons why I wanted to do it.  There was method to my madness.

The RECCE: I’d gone down to recce the second half of the NDW100 route a few weeks prior the race, before I made my final decision.  Of course I chose the two hottest days of the year, maxing out at 34 degrees, so that doubled up as good heat training.   Probably just as well I was treated to dry weather, as it was very much a stop-start run.  The course isn’t the easiest to navigate and I must have checked the map about 50 times over the two days.  I was definitely spoiled with signage on the SDW, as I only recall checking the map once over the 100 miles recce.  After that, and being the #racewanker that I am, I spent hours watching YouTube videos of the course.

So that’s how I found myself at 6am in Farnham on August 6, ready to run 104 miles on a national trail through the English countryside to Ashford in Kent. 

Farnham to Box Hill Stepping Stones

Pic by Stuart March
I was glad to get started, as the pre-race nerves were making me feel a bit nauseous.  After wriggling my way to the front the give RD James my jacket – I called it team privilege – I found myself in with the speedsters.  Other than a brief moment when (eventual) second place lady, Annabelle Stearns was in front, I lead from the start.  Not a position I’ve ever found myself in, and something I found quite unsettling.  I knew there were a few females on the start with impressive marathon times, so their easy pace was always going to quicker than my easy pace.  I knew I was within my comfort level, so wasn’t going too fast.  Maybe they were using me for pacing and were going to storm passed later in the race.  I daren’t look back.

Pic by Stuart March
What started as a nice cool morning, was soon heating up and within a few hours it was quite toasty.  I enjoyed the time exchanging conversations with a few runners, spending the majority chatting to Scott Ulatowski.  The man-child with a massive personality, I really enjoyed his company.   He’s a friend of my CR teamie Eddie who later told me she was watching the live results and said to her husband “Scott is either doing her head or she is enjoying the endless chat and it’s helping pass the miles”.   Oh how she knows my tolerance levels. Thankfully it was the latter, as we spent the majority of 50 miles within striking distance of each other. 

I had a sketchy pace/race plan, based on Sally Ford’s course record run of 19:20 last year.  I knew Sally goes off faster than me, so I used our split times from our retrospective SDW100 races as a gauge.  More race wankerage right? So my plan was to get to Box Hill checkpoint in 3:45 ish. 

Box Hill to Knockholt

So I got to Box Hill in 3:44:17, picked up some water at the aid station and pushed on as I knew I was meeting the lovely Karen Hathaway shortly after.  My GB team mate, Karen had kindly agreed to crew for me.  As the outright winner of epic races such as T184 and Thames Ring 250 – where she didn’t even bother having a nap – I thought it best not to show any weakness.

I was super excited about crossing the Box hill stepping stones.  After seeing so many photos of the famous stepping stones, it was one of my main reasons for choosing the race. No joke.  Is it weird to say I had a lump in my throat crossing over them?  Or maybe it was the fear of falling in!

Pic by James Leask: Box Hill Trig Point
There’s a cheeky climb up to the Trig point, so it was nice to have a break from running.  The NDW is notorious for lots of steps, and so it began.  But I was greeted by the first sight of Karen, so that gave me a massive boost.  I think it was love at first sight for Scott too, as going forward Karen was known as Mila Kunis.    

I had lost the ability to eat real food pretty early on.  I tried to eat a Trek bar, which took me forever.  I was really overheating and even the thought of food made me feel nauseous.  So my race fuelling was Tailwind, shotbloks and gels.

Scott and I chatted loads, pretty much covering love, life and the universe over the miles of woodland trails, open fields, villages and lots of gates.  Scott laughing at my inability to open most of them, without having a mild tantrum.  We parted briefly only at checkpoints, as he took for-like-ever!  But he caught up soon after.

We were joined by Dean for quite some time.  Dean was the chap who was hell bent on making sure I didn’t chick him on the SDW, so I’m sure he was delighted to see me.  As we started on the climb to Botley Hill, he was off.  Jesus, he can HIKE! 

Then Andrea from Venice caught up, annoyed that he’d gone off course a few times.  I shared a few miles with Andrea in Spartathlon, although I much worse for wear back then.    I did wonder why someone who kept getting lost would run about with earphones in.  Surely the logical step would be to remove them and just focus on where you were going?  That's certainly why I was saving my disco tunes for the latter stages.  My brain was way passed the ability to multi task. 

Arriving at Botley Hill aid station was fever pitch excitement.  I got to meet Cat Simpson is actual real life.  We’re Strava/Facebook/Twitter/Intragram friends – which is obviously a real thing - and although we’ve chatted, had never met in person.  Even when she was second female at the SDW, our paths still didn’t cross.

I didn’t need anything, so pushed on.  To be joined by Matibini Matibini.  I don’t think I could tire from saying his name, it’s just too cool.  After chatting through our running history, I figured out that Matibini was the guy who sat on my heels for the last eight miles of the C2C race in January.  Literally on my heels.  I only saw his face briefly when I passed what looked like a broken man walking, only to have him breathing down my neck for the remainder of race.  My biggest fear was that he was going to use me as a pacer again. For 60 miles!  I had to keep telling myself to calm the f*ck down. 

Then we went off course.  We got to a junction and followed the road to the left.    Running on, with Matibini a split second behind, I saw Paul Radford ahead with a map out talking to a driver.   On approach Paul said we had gone wrong as it wasn’t the route of the SDW50.  I checked the map on my phone and saw he was right.

Backtracking, which may have been half a mile or so, and picking up a few runners who had followed us we saw that someone had taking the race tape off the tree.  Scott was tying it back on, joking that I shouldn’t have left him.

The next 5/6 miles to Knockholt were tough.  It was ok in the shaded wooded sections, but out in the fields we were getting fried by the midday sun.  It was by far the lowest point of the race for me and was dying on my ass!  I kept reminding myself that Lakeland 2014 and Spartathlon were way hotter, and they turned out alright.  I knew I had to get through the next few hours and all would be ok.  And I prayed that Karen had managed to get the ice I asked for. 

I ran into Knockholt with Scott, and that’s where we parted.  Mainly because he was spending more time at aid stations that I was.  Although it could be that he’d had enough of my purple face.  My plan was to get to this 50 mile CP in 8:30.  Considering that was rough guess as I’d never run on the course and got a bit lost, I was pretty happy with 8:33.  Especially after a tough 10 miles.

Knockholt to Delting

There was no ice but a big bucket of cold water, which I soaked myself with.  I picked up some supplies from Karen and headed off – in the great comfort that I knew the route from here.  Mentally I could relax and get into the race.

The toughest part of the heat was out on exposed fields and running through towns.  Five miles on through Otford, I just felt lifeless.  I stopped in a cafĂ© to ask for some ice.  Although there were very few words exchanged and looks of mild disgust, the owner gave me three blocks of ice.  I put them in an arm warmer and tied it around my neck.  It was a little bit of heaven.

A little bit of spark was returning.  Passing through many fields and opening many gates, I was gaining on Lawrence Eccles.  Another Spartahlon runner from last year.  Lawrence always just looks so happy and we chatted briefly before I passed.  Through the wheat fields and onto the dry and hot trail to the next aid station in Wrotham.

Arriving at Wrotham, I couldn’t see Karen.  I stopped for a bit and filled up my bottles, hoping she would appear from a car.  A jogged on for a bit and still couldn’t see her.  Before the next road crossing I stopped to call her to hear her in a major panic because she’d gone to find me ice, got lost and ended up doing shuttle drives along the motorway.  Not the biggest drama, because I had loads in my pack and the next aid station was only five miles away.  But Karen is a real worrier and I knew she’d be beating herself up about it.  We agreed to meet at the next crew point at Ranscombe Farm at 70 miles.

Following the road and trail for few miles, I then hiked up the hill towards Vigo struggling to consume a GU gel - it's like trying to swallow a tennis ball - but felt the benefit instantly.  See Karen had done me a favour, as I would have carried the gels – boking at the idea of actually taking them – the whole way.

Through Trosley Country Park I felt really good and had some spring back in my step.  I caught up and ran with Norbert Mihalik for a few miles.  We didn’t really chat, and that was fine.  We hiked up to Holly hill together and arrived at the aid station together, but I only picked up and gel and left quickly.  Hoping to take advantage of the new found lease of life.  

There’s a lot of wooded areas over the next five miles, I remember checking the map loads during my recce.  Although it was well marked with CR race tape from trees, I was really cautious. 

Even though it was after 5pm, it was still quite warm.  I tried to stay positive and remind myself it would cool down soon.  And I would see Karen soon.   The course over to Medway Bridge seemed to take longer than I remember, but I was soon greeted by Colin Barnes who told me crew point was just down the hill. 

Even though it was 6pm, I was so relieved that Karen found ice.  I later discovered she had gone begging in a local pub for it.  I stuffed it into the arm warmer I was using round my neck.  Elisabet Barnes, last year’s MdS winner and queen of the desert was there and must have thought I was a right softie.  Hardly a heat wave by her standards.  Scott’s crew were there too, who had been great and so supportive all day.

I carried on towards the Medway Bridge, recalling how awful it was during the real heatwave on my recce.  The footpath over the bridge runs alongside the M3 and reminded me so much of spartathlon – like being fried and gassed at the same time.  I was a huge relief to get it out of the way, as it was one of the points of the race I wasn’t looking forward to.

Then I started to have a mild panic.  Elisabet was all dressed ready to run.  Maybe she was pacing the second lady who was closing in on me.  And Elisabet is superfast! Shit. Panic.  But if there was something to worry about, Karen would have told me.  Panic controlled to just lingering in the back of my mind to stop me from slowing. 

Pic by Stuart March
Things were starting to come together by then.  Up through the fields and on to a long track, which I knew went on for quite some time.  By the time I got to Bluebell Hill aid station (77 miles), I was feeling really happy and loving it.  Slightly playing up for Stu’s camera, but I still felt a million times better than I did 20 miles before.

The run from Bluebell to Detling was a dream!  That’s the rollercoaster ride of ultra-running for you.   My legs were fine and my fuelling was ok the whole time, I just needed to cool down.  I was so happy, I was running along singing to myself. 
Pic by Stuart March

I arrived in the last major checkpoint Detling (82 miles) in 14:30, which was a little slower than I had planned – based on my recce run – but still 17 minutes up on record pace. 

Detling to Ashford

Karen confirmed I had nothing to worry about as she hadn’t seen another female runner all day and that I was gaining on the runner in front who was 15 minutes ahead.  I was safe in the knowledge that if second lady was closing in, Marco would have been on the phone telling Karen to scream at me.  Colin also told me that Elisabet was pacing Matibini.  Then I remembered he can really hang tough when he’s got someone doing the pacing for him.  Still, I wasn’t bothered.

The section from Detling to Hollingbourne is the worst on the course.  Maybe not the worst, but definitely the slowest.  There’s a fair bit of climbing, but the route is really unkempt so it’s hard to run throw overgrown bushes, trees roots, and thorny branches.   During my recce I got strange looks at the train station in Ashford, as my legs were covered in scratches and blood from that section.  Thankfully, by that point in the race, I’d already lost the feeling in my legs from nettle stings.  

During my recce run I was chased by cows (ok, they might have moved in my direction) and then came across a rare breed of white bull looking things with massive horns.   Both had calves, so did massive detours round fields and over fences to avoid them.  The situations had played on my mind in the build up to the race.  I’m terrified of cows and not ashamed to admit I lost of a bit of sleep pre-race because of it.   One of my race goals was to get there before I needed a head torch, just so I could see them in advance.  The head torch was on, but both herds were off the path.  Thank goodness!

Arriving in Hollingbourne (88 miles), I picked up two soft flasks of coke.  I was saving coke for my hang-on-in-there last sections fuelling strategy.  Once I start on coke it is hard to stomach anything else.

There’s a rolling track all the way to the end after that.  No significant climbs, but enough undulation to make your legs think otherwise.    I was trying not to think of the 15 miles ahead and just focus on one mile at a time.    I was hard to recall the route in the dark, but I remembered all the significant junctions/turns.

Karen was very excited when I got to Charing (96 miles) as I was now only three minutes behind the two guys in front, which obviously gave me a massive boost.    In my head I was sprinting, but my Garmin was telling me otherwise.

The track along to the final aid station is long and straight.  There are no significant landmarks or route changes to remind me where I was.  Arriving at Dunn Street Farm (99 miles), the aid station was a bit back from the road so I just gave me name and number, checked that I didn’t need to go in and just kept going.  There were a few head torches in the aid station, but I just assumed it was the marshals. 

Only five miles to go, I was through the fields staying alert for the right turn though St Mary’s Church.  As I turned I saw two head torches approximately at a rapid rate.  I knew then I’d passed them at the checkpoint and whoever it was, wasn’t going to be chicked.   On the road, with a few miles to go, Ry Webb and his pacer went storming passed me soon after.  I tried to stay with them – mainly for some company – but I lost the inclination (and ability) and dropped back to my own pace.  Even taking a few walking breaks, as I was all out of energy. 

Hitting Ashford, this time I took the right route to sports stadium.  Unlike my recce, when I beyond fecked with dehydration and decided to add some extra distance.  Again, I was kind of disappointed that the man and the dog from Drew’s video wasn’t there, but I was pretty happy it was going to be over.  And I’d managed to take another half hour off the record.

So, I finished first lady with a new course record of 18:34 (previous CR was 19:20) and was over the moon happy.  It was a big risk doing the race, but a risk that was worth taking. 

I couldn't have done it without Karen, who was amazing all day!  Thank you xx 

I have now completed all of the CR 100 mile races.  That was one of my reasons for doing NDW100.  Plus, I’ve also got points to reapply for UTMB.  Another reason.  But above everything, it’s just always great to be a part of Centurion races.  And such a great honour to wear the team shirt. Thanks, as always, to James, Drew, Nici and all the great marshals… now what 50 milers can I do next?

Neil Kirby                     16:46
James Poole                   17:20
John Stocker                  18:03

Debbie Martin-Consani  18:34
Annabelle Stearns           21:41
Wendy Shaw                   22:33

Tuesday 21 June 2016

SDW100 Race report

Top line … 17:12:41.  1st lady.  6th overall. 

Standing in a field in Winchester wearing the signature CR team yellow vest, the pressure was on.    I had the fear.  Big time.  I eagerly awaited the signal of the 6am horn, so I could get started on the journey on the South Downs Way to Eastbourne – a mere 100 miles and 12,000ft later. 

Saying farewell to my boy.  Photo: Stuart March
Training had gone well, but I could have done with another week’s taper.   I was starting with a bit of an on-going foot injury, but I wasn’t overly concerned about it.  It hurt in the latter stages of the Highland Fling, but the ground on the SDW is more forgiving than the WHW. 

For once, I trained – for a whole month - in temperatures that the south of England usually enjoy this time of year.  It’s not often we can say that, but it looked like the weather gods had turned the map of the British Isles upside down.  In Glasgow, we were basking in sunshine, while the southerners were enjoying something more typically Scottish.   

I have been known to obsess about climatic conditions.   The week of the race the temperatures rose quite sharply, but looked to fall again for race day.  I could handle 20 degrees.  Maybe. 

Winchester to Queen Elizabeth 22 miles (3:28hrs) 38th 

I said my final farewells to my crew – Marco, Paul and Cairn – at 6am on the dot were off.

Lap of the field with Wendy - on  her 14th CR 100 race

Photo: Stuart March
I had some lose figures in my head (and pocket) but it was hard to firm up a race plan.  Although I had recced the whole course over two weekends, I’d messed about chatting and taking pictures.  It was more about learning the route and much less about running sections at race pace.   I used the past three ladies’ winners as a steer.   I knew I’d be slower at the start, but that’s just how I roll.  Anyone that I asked about my goals, the answer was “I’d like it to start with a 17”.  Maybe it was more of an affirmation, but I still made me feel pretty cocky saying it. 

Photo: Stuart March

Photo: Jon Lavis
Photo: Jon Lavis
 Rather than pluck numbers of the sky, I kept my plan pretty simple.  Easy and by effort.  It’s pretty basic, but it always amazes me how many people I overhear saying they are going too fast at the start.  I had the lyrics to Guns ‘n’ Roses. Patience going over and over in my head “…take it slow.  It will work itself out fine.  All you need is just a little patience”.

It was lovely chatting to Wendy, Kit-Yi and Leanne on route to the 10 mile aid station at Beacon Hill Beeches.  I pressed on, as I’d carried enough to see me through to the first crew point at 22 miles.  Or so I’d thought.

Although the temperatures were kinder, the humidity wasn’t the best for running.  I was pretty much drenched by then and drinking way more than I usually do.  I’m so used to running around the trails and hills in Scotland and the Lake District, so being in an area I can’t top-up-al-fresco is alien to me. 

Photo: Jon Lavis
I was catching up with a briefly chatting with a few runners over the next few miles and then ran with Radio 2’s Vassos Alexander for a few miles.  Check me, randomly throwing in a celebrity running buddy!  He’s a really nice chap, who just loves life and shows genuine interest in people.  We chatted loads before parting company at Queen Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth Car Park to Cocking 35 miles (3:28 - 5:39) 23rd

By the time I’d met my crew I’d tipped over to the incoherent side of dehydration.  I guzzled loads, picked up two bottles and a few snacks and left, with a view to keeping support points to a minimum.

Photo: Jon Lavis
The results tell me I was 38th position.  I passed Sarah Sawyer before the checkpoint and I knew Jess Gray was ahead, so I was second female.  I’d asked my crew not to give me any updates about where I was in the race until at after half way.  And even then on a need-to-know basis.    

I marched up the hill through the wooded trail feeling a little woozy.  The humidity was really taking its toll here and I struggled to run on the hills.   The next section is a bit of a blur.  I drank nearly a litre of fluid over the six miles and I could have done with more.  At Harting Downs (27 miles) my crew told me everyone seemed to be struggling with humidity, so I took comfort in the fact it wasn’t just me.

Harting Downs. Photo: Jon Lavis
From then I had an invasion of negative thoughts going on, and I was quite literally shaking my head.  I was using Eddie’s trick of simply counting, which seemed to clear the crazy and helped loads.

My niggling foot was ok on soft ground, but anything rocky and it was a bit ouchy.  Although my shoe choice - Salomon S-lab Sense – were perfect for the course, terrain and conditions.  They probably weren’t the wisest choice with a foot issue and the small matter of 100 miles.   My crew had my back-up shoe, La Sportiva Bushido at the ready.  But I never changed into them.  In hindsight…yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

Grimacing on the rocky descent to Worthing, I arrived to see the smiling faces of Iain and Sharon Bareham.  It was lovely to see them.    I was told by the CP marhals that I was first lady, but knew that was a mistake.    I arrived at 5:38.  Two minutes ahead of my sketchy 5:40 target. 

Cocking to Washington 54 miles (5:39-8:49) 14th

I was looking forward to the hike out of Cocking.  Two chaps went running past me, which made me doubt my effort.  Maybe I shouldn’t be walking.  But it was hot and it was early, so I let it slide.  I passed them both again within about two miles. 

I was slowly starting to come around again.  By the time I hit Bignor Hill, I was back in the game.  I stopped to pick up some water, as I wasn’t meeting me crew for a miles.  On arrival I was told Jess was 10 minutes ahead.  I was surprised it wasn’t more, but wasn’t concerned.  The same chap went to double check and informed me it was 14minutes.  I was still surprised it wasn’t more.

The little jog up Bignor reminded me of the great day I had with Karen Hathaway on the course.  The views are just stunning.  I nearly planked a few times taking it all in.

I met my crew in the sprawling metropolis of Amberley.  Picked up some fluids and Shotbloks, downed some fizzy water…and then spent the next mile belching.  Classy.  But I was in my happy place.  Lesson learned.  Getting so dehydrated early on caused me at least 15 miles of discomfort.

I was starting to pick it up again and ran straight through Kitchust Hill and Chantry Post aid stations.  I had enough to keep me going, and just wanted to focus.

The descent to Washington seemed to take longer than expected.  I passed a wedding party, who must have been delighted with the influx of sweaty runners.  Although, I had just caught three of the wedding guests peeing al fresco, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

Marco and Cairn were sitting on the grass along from the church and told me I’d now closed to 9 minutes on Jess, but when I got to the checkpoint (54 miles) she was still standing there.  I didn’t hang about, as I had to find where my crew had parked. 

Washington to Clayton Windmills 70 miles (8:49-11:44) 9th

I picked up some supplies from the guys and moved on, seeing Jess approaching.  I was crossing the field when I heard someone approaching rapidly.  I thought Jess had really put a sprint on, but it was Marco.  Panicked because I forgot to pick up my headtorch, which was a race rule to carry from Washington.

I chatted with Jess briefly, before pushing on.  I know she’s feisty so didn’t expect her to give it up easy, but I refuse to look back in races.  Whenever I see someone looking back, I know I’ve got them. 

I was trotting along quite nicely and heard what I thought was something banging in my back.  I presumed it was my head torch, so tried to body shuffle readjust.  Then I realised it was Jess’ footsteps, as she was literally on my heels.  This continued for the next four to five miles to Botolphs (61 miles).  Us, inches apart.  Earphones in.  Stoney silence.  I found the situation a little bit disconcerting.    It wasn’t until I got to aid station and stopped to pick up some Coke, I looked back and she wasn’t there. 

I marched up the hill and was greeted to the sight of a smiling Dan Lawson – looking like he'd gone up a few pantone numbers on the tanning colour chart.  Maybe it was the stress/exertion of the previous few miles, but I was starting to dip a little again.  Dan was out for a jog and was planning on turning at to Devil’s Dyke, so jogged along chatting loads. I concentrated on getting some calories in without barfing. 

I crossed over the road at Devil’s Dyke a bit confused about where the crew point was.  I thought it might have been the next car park, so pushed on.  I heard some shouting behind and turned to see Paul, Marco and Cairn running down the road with carrier bags.  It was a comical sight.   They confirmed what I already suspected, Jess had dropped out.  I swapped bottles, picked up a few bits and ran on down Saddlescomb, joking with the two guys I passed that they were getting chicked. 

At the farm, I briefly chatted to Jason Lewis who was stopping his race there.  He’s since discovered he had pneumonia, so that’s a pretty legitimate DNF story.  I didn’t stop at the CP, but I got a real buzz from the cheers I got from the ladies there. 

I was feeling on top of the world and just loving it.  Unlike traditional road running distances, the best thing about ultra-running is that you can hit some horrible lows in races, but pull it back to high-kicking status.

I remember the road crossing at the golf course being super busy, so I stopped, took my earphones out and looked left and right about 10 times.  No road crossing dramas this time.

I saw the ever-smiling Mark Perkins with his wife Sarah and their kids approaching.  Mark is also on the Centurion team and although we’ve chatted over the last couple of years, we’ve never actually met in person.  Fever-pitch excitement.    Sorry for the squealing and sweaty hugs, guys. 

Next stop the Clayton Windmills.  Although I didn’t actually stop, just acknowledged my arrived and left.  I was starting to feel a little bad as all the aid stations volunteer were amazing and poised ready to help and I like “Eh, can I go now”… and pushed on to meet my crew two miles later. 

Clayton Windmills to Southease 84 miles (11:44-14:13) 8th

Then I met The Naveseys!  It didn’t actually see them at first.  Just their MASSIVE German Shepherd Zach.  Hugs all round.  Except for Zach.  He was eyeing me up as an afternoon snack.

Then I had some company from a super cute five-year-old, Charlie, who broke away from his parents on a family walk to run alongside me.  The kid had some great chat and some serious endurance, so I had to play the race-back-to-Dad as fast as you can game.   

I met Marco and Paul at Ditchling Beacon (72 miles) for some last supplies before the 12 mile stretch. After saying farewell, I was starting to feel the effects of sweating and chafing.  I’ll spare you the graphics but I reapplied some Vaseline, peed what can only be described creosote and popped a blood blister on my foot with the pin from my race number.  I didn’t really spare you anything there, did I?

After I popped the blister, I did that half-run, half-limb run down the descent to Housedean Farm aid station.   But hey, it took the focus off my quads.  It’s funny how something can hurt, but another issue comes along to replace the discomfort focus.

I stopped for two cups of a Coke and a brief chat to the aid station volunteers and John from Lyon and Simon before heading over the bridge. 

On the climb (sorry don’t know the official name) which seems to make an unnecessary u-bend, I saw a runner in the distance.  I was trying to make out who it was.  It looked like Duncan Oakes.  If it was, he was having a stinker of a race because he’s a machine and frequently schools the youngsters on racing.   Anyway, whoever it was knew it was me gaining as they seemed to pick it up. 

My quads were aching again, but nothing more than the I’ve just run an undulating 80 miles kind of ache.  Foot and blister were fine though.  See?

I passed through the village on my way to the railway crossing and the final (timed) aid station.  This is where I stayed during my recce, so was in familiar territory.  I also knew there was a nice climb coming up, so didn’t want to prolong the effort.

Southease to Eastbourne 100 miles (14:13-17:12) 6th

I caught up with Duncan on the climb.  He was, as ever, smiling and being very gracious.  On any other day Duncan would have been well on his way to finishing the race by that time.  But he was suffering from a chest infection, so put ego and plans aside just to finish.  That’s why everyone has such huge admiration for Duncan. He just gets the job done.     

There was another runner in front with a pacer.  Even from a long way off I could see he was distressed about seeing me.  I honestly couldn’t have cared less. 

At this point I was estimating a 17:25-17:30, based on previous ladies’ winners’ splits.  Again it was hard to gauge, but I didn’t want to mess about and miss the sub 17:30.

Then I saw Claire Shelley bounding towards me with her usual plugged-into-the-mains energy levels.  You can’t help but smile when you see Claire, so it was lovely to see her.  Then her sidekick and my CR teamie, Drew came through the carpark saying all the right things like “flying”, “crushing it” etc.  Didn’t even matter if it wasn’t true, but it gave me real boost.

I know the next crew point is called Bo Peep car park and the clue is in the name, but there were fecking sheep everywhere.  Which is fine, if they didn’t think you were chasing them and frantically running all over the place! My footwork was struggling to negotiate frantic sheep. 

Last support point, I picked up some Coke, a Garmin back up and my Petzl Nao.  I carried the Tikka for kit purposes, but the Nao is far superior.  Especially with a defunct brain.   See you in Eastbourne, guys. 

I was happy to do this section in (almost) daylight as I was concerned about the faint track in the grass.  It’s hard enough to follow during the day.  Thankfully I didn’t need to turn on the headtorch until about half a mile before Alfriston. 

I arrived at the aid station and pushed on to come face-to-face with a herd of cows.   I wasn’t so gallus then, as I circumnavigated the field, knee deep in cow shit.  There was just no way I was going through them.  I even turned off my head torch so they couldn’t see me.  True story.

After stopping at the Alfriston CP, Dean Oldfield and his pacer, Stephen passed me again.  Obviously super impressed with my cow whispering skills.

There’s a long climb out of Alfriston which, on fresh legs, is very runnable.   But a fast hike was suiting me just fine.  Then is plateaus across some grassy sections, before a steep descent in the final aid station in Jevington.    Last year’s lead runner got lost here – yes, with three miles to go – so I was being very cautious. 

Again “Do I need to come in?”  No, bye.  Another big climb up to the final trig point, where the race route breaks from the SDW and follows an alternative course down to Eastbourne.  I made the mistake during my recce run, missed the trig and ended up going to Eastbourne twice.  Even in the dark I was baffled how I ever made that mistake.

I can’t remember what time I hit the trig, but I was amazed at how much time I had to get to finish only 2.5 miles away! Of course in my excitement, I missed a turn and ended up scrambling back through some jaggy bushes.  Only thing I was concerned about was not ripping my skort.

Then I was out on the road.  Nearly out in front of a van, because my legs didn’t stop in time.  I honestly couldn’t believe how much energy I had.

Although I’d run this section before, I was starting to worry that I was on the wrong road.  It wasn’t until I recognised a few buildings that I settled and reminded myself to enjoy the final stretch.  Then I took the left turn down the path to the sports centre – which seemed to take longer than last time.

And there it was.  The mecca that is Eastbourne Sports Centre.  The race involves a lap of the track before finishing under the gantry.  Cairn was sitting poised ready to kick my ass on the sprint again.  But this time he burned out and had to wait for him.  Pah!  Take that, kid.  In his head he still thinks he “won” though.

So I finished in 17:12:41…. Happy, happy, happy! Maybe I could have gone for the 16:56 record, but it's not worth pondering over.  
Best crew ever!! xx Photo Stu March

Thank you so much to my amazing crew, Marco, Paul and Cairn who were, as always, simply phenomenal. I couldn't have done it without them. Paul continues to be my lucky charm. 

Big hugs to James, Nici, Drew and all the aid station volunteers.    The support around the course was truly amazing. 

Think I’ll be grinning about this for a long time.

Although arriving home, Cairn was telling me about all the things he was going to say for “news” at school…running a kids’ race, ice cream on the beach, sleeping in a van.  When I asked if Mum winning a race would feature in this list he replied “Mum, you didn’t win.  People finished before you”.  So harsh.

Men's race
Neil Kirby 15:30
Ian Hammett 15:46
Ally Watson 16:28

Ladies' race
Debbie Martin-Consani 17:12
Cat Simpson 19:08
Maryann Devally 19:33