Wednesday 25 September 2019

Centurion Track 100: Race report

Centurion Running Track 100
Photos by Jack Atkinson 
Official race report 

A race report about running 402 (and a bit extra) laps around a 400 metre track.  Where do I start?  If I’ve got your attention thus far, I’ll try and spice it up a bit.  I promise it won’t be a turn-by-turn account of the day, but hopefully a tale of not shit-quitting when things weren’t working out the way I wanted them to. 

So firstly let me delve a little into how I found myself running in circles again, after swearing on everything I loved and possessed that I would never – like, ever – repeat such a torturous and pointless endeavour.

I still hold the Scottish 100 mile record of 15:48:18, which I set at the World 24 hour Championships in Poland in 2012.  I went on to run 217km that day.  It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that I completely detonated at 100 miles and I when wrote a post on 24 hour running (link here) this race featured quite highly on what not to do.

I’m not really one for “records”. Yeah they’re nice as a target and focus, but they are there to be broken.  I just wanted another crack at setting an official 100 mile personal best for me.  Not on a trail and not a time that’s on a spreadsheet on someone’s broken laptop somewhere. Yes, I’m seven years older, but I’m not ready to give in yet. 

Although following in the footsteps of the some of the classics from the 70s and 80s, this is a relatively new format for the modern day British ultra-running scene.  It is billed as “An elite level event, designed for runners to compete under the fastest possible conditions and with a focus on record setting” Unlike other track ultras, which are time based 6, 12 and 24 hours, this was for 100 mile distance only.

With a 17 hour cut-off the entry criteria is relatively strict.  James, Adrian, and Andy retrieved all the stats from the aforementioned rusty laptops and the all-time top British 100 miles performances for men and women and women were compiled and can be found using this link.  There was also qualifying distances from 100km right down to marathon.  The latter being sub 2:30 for men and sub 2:55 for women.

Closer to race day the start list dwindled. Injury and other focuses took their toll and on race morning there was a reduced field of just eight.  Six men and two women. 

At 6am, we were off.  I was acutely aware that I would come last, but I doubt there’s any shame in coming last with a 16+ hour 100 mile race. When Tom Payne lapped me about four times in the first 17 minutes, I knew it was going to be quite the showing up.  He runs a 2:17 marathon, just to put his pace into perspective.

I settled into my own pace.  Control the controllable.  My aim was to run around 2:15 minute loops and I was lapping them on my watch in an attempt to “run the lap I was in” Something which I kept muttering to myself to stay present.  The prospect of running 402 laps is enough to blow anyone’s mind.

Of course it soon became so difficult to distract myself from the clock that didn’t seem to move.  There was a TV screen monitor, a large track side timer and a massive clock on the outside of the building.  Basically it was unavoidable. Like passing a car crash on the motorway when you try not to look, but you simply can’t resist

My planned 2:15 laps were most frequently 2:10, which I know is only seconds.  But that’s 20 second per mile faster so is a fair bit quicker, but it felt ok.  As expected, my stomach was letting me down and many toilet stops later I felt a bit drained.  This is pretty standard for me now.  My stomach and subsequent nausea is my biggest let down.  But to be honest, I’ve had it way worse and had learned to manage it the best I can.

After only a few hours my head was starting to waver big time.  I just couldn’t shake the negative thoughts tapping on my head. Like a psycho woodpecker trying to wear me down.

I know I always hit dark patches in races and I know I can always pull through them.  They are mostly physical though, like fatigue or my rubbish fuelling.  This was like the trauma of every 24 hour race I’ve ever done hitting me like a tonne of bricks.                                                                                                                                                                                   By 50 miles I was done! Completely over it.  I shouted Sharon and we had some crisis talks in the ladies’ toilets.  Head in my hands, I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I couldn’t go back out there and run in circles anymore.

She convinced me to go back out and try and work through a few more laps.  Gave me some music and AirPods and sent me on my way.  A few laps of musical distraction and I was starting to calm down.  Making myself promises and mini targets.  If I got to 100km in a certain time, I would continue.   If I get to 80 miles by 12:30, I’d have enough time to finish within the cut off.  Trying to break it down to little segments.

I was even ‘treating myself’ to toilet breaks once I covered a certain amount of time.  I know, living my best life. Then I got my period.  Sorry, lads.   I know even in 2019 it’s still a taboo, but it still happens and for some it’s the worst case scenario.   I’d be lying if I said it effected my race, because it didn’t.  The worse part was that it handed me a get-out-of-jail-free card.  That could be my perfect excuse for stopping!

The battle between the crushing urge to stop and my conscious screaming at me not to shit quit, was quite overwhelming.  Physically, there was nothing wrong with me, but I always believe that psychological stress is harder on the body that physiological.   I had to call on everything, to mentally keep myself going.  I coach a group of junior girls at my running club.  They all knew I was running this and I couldn’t go back on Tuesday night and tell them I just couldn’t be arsed.  This was a group set up at Garscube Harriers to specifically stop preteens and teenage girls leaving the sport.  As their coach, trying to teach them about commitment and resilience, what kind of message would that be?

By that point, Jess Gray had already been benched with sickness and stomach issues.  It looked highly unlikely that she would come back out.  Maybe it’s ok for the guys, but the 17 hour cut off doesn’t really allow for huge bad patches.  If I quit, then no women would finish the race.  That’s dismal state of affairs.  I had to do it for the sisterhood.  OK, in hindsight, I know that was jumping the shark at bit, but I was in the deep hours of funk at that point.

I’d always thought the race was about personal goals and achievements, but I think was kidding myself.  Without any direct competition and women to race against it’s incredibly difficult to bring out the best in yourself.  When shit hits the fan (literally) it’s easy to take the foot of the gas when you just need to finish to win.  That’s not a race, that’s a participation certificate.

“You don’t know until you try”, which is fast becoming my go-to motivation in races and life, was churned out over and over again.  There was some heavy chucking going on, breaking it down to five miles and then 30 minutes. 

I wasn’t even at 80 miles when the phenomenal Tom Payne was belting around his final lap.  Fantastic running from an amazing athlete.   What was more phenomenal was that I was struggling to take in fluids and he was eating croissants while consistently dropping 7s. I stopped to applaud him across the time.  Mainly to mark his amazing achievement, but it also meant I could have a wee break 😉

I knew by then my targets of sub 15:48 were off and had to focus on getting the job done as quickly as I should, but I wasn’t eating anything.  I really struggle to eat during races, yet I always seem to find a new level of awful. I had one avocado wrap, four Party Rings and two Maurten gels. The latter was uploaded trackside. The rest was just ActiveRoot, Maurten and Coke.  Hindsight being the wonderful thing that it is, tells me I should have taken on more liquid calories.  Don’t tell Sharon she was so right. 

Watching people finish spurred me on to get the job done. When I was into the last 10 miles, I started breaking the miles into section of four laps.  It forced me to run the lap I was in.  Even though it was only four, I was so wasted I kept losing count.  I was muttering the number over and over again and it seems to help make the laps tick by.  Why didn’t I use this strategy early?  It was much easier to mentally handle.  The last 10 miles were actually the happiest and most content I was all day. 

I had the track to myself for the last hour.  Which may have seemed awkward, but everyone there was so great.  I was aware they were trying to subtly clear up without drawing my attention to it, but I really wasn’t bothered at all.  I know they are volunteers who have lives and homes to go to.

There were large parts of the race that I didn’t think I’d ever get to the finish.  And many more parts I didn’t even want to.  In the latter stages even finishing within the cut off seemed out of reach, despite Sharon and James’ constant reassurance.  I finished in 16:21:03.  My GPS tells me I spent 50 minutes not moving, which really bothers me.

I always harp on about races not being about times and positions, it’s about giving it your everything on the day.  As with most things in life though, knowing what is so glaringly obvious and listening of your own advice is so hard.  Especially when I’m my own worst critic.

I know I had to work through some dark times out there.  I know it shows strength of character with how I reacted and responded to those dark times, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t crucify myself afterwards.  Initially I was really proud of myself for finishing, but once to endorphins wore off, the coulda/woulda/shoulda thoughts crept in.

Like before, I vowed many times that I would never ever run on a lapped course again.  Repeating races just to chase a faster time can often be soul destroying.  As I demonstrated on the track, when you lose sight of the goal it’s so hard to continue when ‘just a finish’ seems almost pointless.    I’m wavering a bit on the promise.  The call of a rematch with my head might be too hard to resist, but for now I’ve got lots of nice trails and hills to hit over the autumn and winter.   

That's me: With the world's best participation certificate 
An absolute pleasure to be out there with such a great bunch of guys.  Thanks to Centurion Running for putting on another fantastic event. Much love to the volunteers and lap counters.  Thanks for my ever-patience Coach, Paul.  Last but not least, to my amazing bestie Sharon for travelling all that way to not feed me   She said I looked miserable all day, but the photos suggest otherwise, Sharon! Pain is temporary, race photos are forever

Thomas Payn 12:25:30 (now 8th on UK all-time list)
Ry Webb 13:24:59
Matt Dickinson 13:51:09
Andy Jordan 14:57:38 (world V55 world record – to be ratified)
Mark Bissell 15:15:12
Debbie Martin-Consani 16:21:03

Friday 19 July 2019

Ultra Trail Scotland - race report

Talk Ultra podcast interview - Episode 173

Running is not just running.  It’s like dancing, there are so many disciplines.  When planning what races to enter I try to choose events that complement each other, somehow I inadvertently go from one extreme to another. 

I had once pigeon holed myself as a one-pace 24 hour jogger.  Then I moved to what I thought would be the fun stuff and became a mountain rambler, dragging my sorry ass around some the blockbuster events.  This year I wanted to go back to basics.  Real running.  Kinda bucking the ultra-trend and looking for shorter and faster.  Rather than pushing the boundaries with longer and more arduous.  No mean feat though, as it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.  

I started the year with a couple of 10k races - that hardest distance of them all.  The main focus was Manchester Marathon and then the Thames Path 100.  To mix it up and break up the monotony of canal running, I signed up for the Ultra TrailScotland - 45km with 11,000 feet of ascent on the Isle of Arran.

With winner Rob Sinclair at the start
After a few training runs on Arran last year, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the island.  I had done Goat Fell, which is the highest and most popular peak, and the Goat Fell hill race before using traditional route to the summit - off the Calmac ferry and a straight out and back on the tourist path.   It’s a nice trail and a fabulous hill, but beyond the trig is a treasure trove of magic that few people will venture along. 

They are ‘just’ Corbetts, so Munro baggers would turn up their noses at such insignificant hills.  But they can certainly pack a good punch.  Stunning majestic backdrops, technical trails, exposed ridges, scrambles and coastal views.  Arran is known as “Scotland in Miniature” because it offers the best of Scotland - highland scenery, granite peaks, glens and rolling farmlands all compacted within its 56 mile circular coastline.  The race takes in the best that Arran has to offer.  Unfortunately that means is also cursed with Scotland’s unpredictable weather system.

It’s such a brave venture for the guys at Find Your Adrenaline as the odds are against them.  The Scottish weather doesn’t lend itself to exposed routes, there’s limited accommodation on the island and the only mode of transport there is a ferry.  Sailings are again dictated by the conditions.  But anyone who’s been on route can see the dream.  You’d be hard pushed to find a more stunning race route in Scotland - if not the world.    

This was the third edition of the race.  The first year was cancelled completely due to weather and last year was rerouted, again the weather.  This year’s race day was unfortunately sandwiched between two days of glorious sunshine.  And the filling wasn’t looking very appetising.  On race morning, I’d opened the curtains to torrential rain and the trees bending in the wind.  If I’d been faced with those conditions on any other day, there’s no way I would have ventured into the hills. 

Then there was the communication that the race had been postponed by two hours, to start at 10am.  Wise decision as the forecast at least had the wind speed dropping late morning. 

When we arrived at race HQ, it was announced that the course had been changed to take out the exposed sections and the infamous Witch’s Step. So the new route took the direct route from North Goat Fell to the saddle - taking out Coiche na Oighe ridge, Sannox Glen - and was an out-and-back to North Sannox car park.  I mentally calculated that it would lose about four miles and about 1500ft of climbing, so not a massive difference.

I won’t lie, I was pretty gutted as I’d made the effort to go over the recce the route twice.  Mainly because I don’t like surprises on race day.  From an organisational and safety point of view it was 100% the right decision for the safety of the runners and the marshals.  No disrespect to anyone running the race, but I’m sure there would have been many on the start line who’d wildly underestimated the route.  During my recces, I was still amazed that these sky-running style routes were on a teeny island like Arran. 

The race started along the beach. I despise sand, but at least it was a short section before we turned off and started heading up the hill into the mist. 

There was a bit of toing and froing on the ascent.  People battling to stay ahead.  I’m no hill runner, so settled in for some power hiking.  I was trying not to bother about what position I was in, but still managed to count five or six women ahead of me.  You know, not bothering and all that.

I got chatting to the lovely Katie Henderson.  She looked like a proper hill runner.  I had total leg envy!  We overtook a few people on the ascent, but Katie pulled away towards the summit.  When we reached the top and started on the rocky descent, Katie was gone.  Completely out of sight.

I was mincing around on the initial downs, trying to get my legs to change gear.  I’d bought some new VJ XTRMS for the race and wasn’t so sure of the traction on the wet ground and slippy rocks.  I soon got into my groove and realised the shoes were indeed going to live up to the hype.  To be fair, the granite rock on Arran is pretty grippy anyway. 

Over to North Goatfell, Sarah was ahead of me.  She was really strong on the ups, running up with a back-pack that was almost the same size as her, but possibly lacked the confidence to take the downhills.

I was trusting my new grippy shoes and having a great chat with a few lads.  I was just happy.  Really content and just trying to move swiftly without destroying my quads.  There was no pressure, no goals but I was damn sure I was going to do my best.

Katie was now nowhere in sight.  I couldn’t even see her on the climb to Cir Mhor.  She must have smashed the descent.  Strava segment tells me I dropped from North Goal Fell to the saddle (0.82 miles -29%)  in 16:46 and she did it in 12:30.  That a substantial difference and I wasn’t hanging about either.

I was starting to pull away from the guys on the ascent to Cir Mhor.  The mist was starting to clear near the Saddle and the views were spectacular.  Not that anyone could enjoy the scenery as it’s pretty much face-in-rock on this ascent. It’s like climbing up a wall. I know it’s a bitch because I’ve done it twice before, so was mentally prepared for the torture.  And bagged myself a little Strava crown too. 

It was a shame to miss the views up to Caisteal.  When I saw the global snapping sensation that is Ian Corless hiding behind a rock, cowering from the elements, I felt disappointed that he wasn’t going to see the full beauty of the route.  On his post race podcast interview with RD Casey, he promised to return with good weather next year. 

I checked in with the poor souls charged with the Caistel marshal point and headed on the long descent to North Sannock.   It was long before I saw the ever-smiling Rob Sinclair on his way back up to Caisteal for the second time.

He’s definitely right up there as one of the best ultra-runners in the UK just now.  His triple records on the West Highland Way races were world-class and he’s quite simply one of the loveliest guys you’ll meet.  We exchanged a few shrieking mutual gratifications, high-fived and I continued on the muddy descent to the river crossing.

On the flats it’s a manky, slippy and tussocky bog fest.  But I needn’t have worried about the mud, as there was a thigh deep river crossing to wash it all off.  Mid river-crossing I met my club mate, Grant MacDonald coming the other way.  We were standing on parallel rocks hilariously trying to high five and we both nearly fell up.  I gave up with slimey rock jumping and just waded through on the basis that it was just safer.

I was high-fiving and cheering everyone that was passing on the return leg from the checkpoint.  It was more for my benefit though, because if I’m chipper externally then I’m happy and positive on the inside too. 

Katie went passed less than ½ mile from the checkpoint looking strong and smooth.  I was mentally trying to work out how far she was ahead of me.  Maybe six or seven minutes.  When I got to the checkpoint, Ruth Stanley was standing there sorting out her drop bag.  I hadn’t even seen her from the start, so she must have been way ahead.  Quick top up on the ActiveRoot and back out I went. 

I was enjoying the out-and-back section, because you can gauge where you are in the race.  This is after all when the real race starts.  But also there was a lot of energy from the other runners. 

I was just focusing on maintaining my position.  I knew I was moving fine and still overtaking other guys.  I felt like I still had loads of energy and was mentally all over it, but I was aware that I could have easily fuck it all up with a fall or neglecting to take in any fuel.

I tinkered over the boggy ground like an old women but once I hit the ascent to Sail an Im I was on a mission.  Strong power hiking, running the bits I should be running and not slacking off.  Don’t get comfortable.  Focus.  Don’t lose positions. 

As the route bends around Garbh Choire, I could see Katie in the distance. On the steep rocky climb to Caisteal I was gaining on her and she knew it, but there was no way she was going to back down.  She’s a feisty one.

Peaking Caisteal and hitting the 1000ft rocky descent to Garbh Chore Dubh, this is when Katie turned on her superpower.   Everything I’d worked to gain in the ascent was gone in about two minutes.  She was off.

I was passing lots of Tarsuinn Trail runners who were on the ascent to Caisteal and was taking lots of energy from interactions with them, but at the same time as keeping an eye on Katie.  And having those usual internal conversations with myself << You don’t know until you try.  Being second is a great achievement.  You don’t know until you try.  You’re not a hill runner, Katie is.  You don’t know until you try.  Don’t let third place catch you >>

As the route skirts round the mountain on the way to Beinn Tarsuinn, I was gaining on Katie every minute.   We were about 20ft apart for around two miles.  Then when I closed in before the climb up, she just stepped off the path and let me pass.  I signalled for her to come with me.  But before long I couldn’t hear any footsteps.  Surely she’s not going to give up this easy?

I then passed Mark Whooler who was going in hard with some Scottish tablet - the local runner’s crack cocaine.  After about five minutes the route zig zags slightly, so I was able to take a peek behind to see how far Kaite was.  You know, the sneaky side eye peek without moving my head tactic.  I couldn’t see her.

The ascent went on for way longer than I remember.  Clambering up boulders, squeezing through tight spaces.  I was feeling a bit wobbly on feet and my legs were tingling on the cusp of cramping, so was concentrating on moving quickly so I didn’t stumble back.

I was using two guys in the Tarsuinn Trail race to help keep pace.  I’ll just clip on behind them. As the trail plateaus at the peaks I passed them, but they soon overtook me on the descent.

After some self praise for having no accidents thus far, I tripped on a rock, decked it and my legs instantly jerked into cramped.  I’d hit me knee on the way down, as my instincts were to protect an already sore hand from a fall a few weeks prior. I didn’t even notice my knee was bleeding until further on the descent, so it definitely looked worse than it was.

I kept telling myself to focus on getting to Glen Rosa. If I got to the flat stuff still in the lead, it was in the bag. I still felt energised and knew I had enough for the road section.  During one of my recces I had to dig in during the last few miles to make it back to Brodick to make the ferry off the island.  So I could the exact same in the race.  Plus I’ve overhead Katie telling another runner she really disliked the road section in the Goat Fell hill race.  So sorry, Katie.  But you gave me that one for free.

Now my focus was on not cramping.  And trying to get my legs to move smoothly, but I’m so shite on bog and thick grass.  The Tarsuinn guys were hardly breaking pace and I could only manage a little more than awkward jog

At the river crossing, one of the guys stepped back and held out his hand to help me across.  I was so thankful, as my legs were all over the place.  I like to think of myself as a fiercely independent women, but I can also ham up the damsel in distress when it suits me. 

I was so glad to go out of the bog and tackle the awkward descent to the bridge.  It’s pretty fast running from there, but my brain was frazzled and I had a terrible fear of falling which kept me vigilant. 

Less than 5km to go.  I wasn’t going to use ‘just a parkrun to go’ because that’s the worst analogy ever.  I had to just keep running.  No heroics required, as I was fairly confident I was moving OK to hold off any positions.  Just plugging away on forward motion, it wasn’t long before I was along the beachfront and could see the finish gantry.

It was amazing to be part of such a great race.  I was buzzing the whole way.  One of those rare days when your head and legs are in the right place.  The vibes and spirit from the other competitors was really uplifting. 

With Katie Henderson
Thanks to the organisers and amazing volunteers.  I’d love to go back next year and run the full course.  I doubt I’ll be defending my title.  I am under no illusion that a hill runner with a hunger for endurance will destroy that course.  I hope this year’s events have raised awareness of the race and attracts a lot of speedsters to the island.  Rob’s performance was again world-class.  And if he rocked up again, he’d be hard pushed to be beat

Rob Sinclair (Salomon UK) 4:20:54
Stewart Whitlie (Carnethy) 5:11:44
Michael Reid (Carnethy) 5:25:07

Debbie Martin-Consani (Garscube) 6:24:59
Katie Henderson (Deeside Runners) 6:34:30
Ruth Stanley (Shettleston Harriers) 6:59:15

Thursday 20 June 2019

Thames Path 100: Race report

Official race report and results: Click here 

I did the Thames Path 100 back in 2013 when it was held in March.  It’s now known in Centurion circles as the ‘flood-adapted route’.  As the description might suggest, the river had burst its banks and most of the path was underwater.  Leaving runners “unable to distinguish the difference between path and river and potentially be swept away  ... in a raging torrent.  To their ultimate untimely demise.  I paraphrase, but you get the gist.

Despite being one of  the last (wo)men standing that year - when it came down the survival of the most stupid -  it has always been unfinished business.  It’s not really the TP100, even if it was 100 (+4 for extra joy) miles on the Thames Path.  It’s like running from Milngavie to Tyndrum and back and calling it the WHW race.  

I always said I’d go back and repeat it on the full. Well, when I say always, I mean it took me a few years to recover from the mud and sheer torment.  But that’s how I found myself standing in Richmond on the banks of the River Thames with the goal to running the full distance to Oxford.

Richmond to Windsor: Keep your head, while everyone else is losing theirs

It’s a flat and fast start along hard-packed path.  The lethal cocktail of nerves, enthusiasm, ambition and bravado means the pace for the first few miles can be quite frantic. And somewhat futile.  I had to keep checking my watch and curtailing my pace.  Reminding myself that I had to run my own race. Not anyone else’s.

As always at the start of races, you share a few miles with different runners.  It was lovely to catch up the Ireland’s finest, Leanne Rive.  Who has an enviable race CV.  We were so involved in our chatter, we missed the steps and bridge turn off and were somewhat confused seeing runners on the other side of the water.  Lost at 4.5 miles.  Joy.  The course is well-marked so I vowed to be more vigilant, but when there is so much going on around it’s so easy to miss race markers.

Leanne disappeared into the distance and I caught up the Kat Short, who was on the side of the trail sorting out her shoes.  We got chatting about Manchester Marathon, which I had run four weeks before Thames Path.  My original plan for 2019 was to run the SDW50, but I swapped to run Manchester and TP100 instead.  The latter doubling up as a Western States qualifier too.  It will be my 4th time in the draw gives me around an 8% chance of getting a place in 2020 race.  Not hopeful, but they have to let me in eventually, right.

Before the first aid station at Walton on Thames at around 12 miles, a supporter out on the trail told me I was 8th female.  I smiled and thanked them, but was secretly irked by the unsolicited information.  I try to actively avoid any race updates. Especially in the early stages, as it can be so disheartening.  I often tell my crew I only want information on a need-to-know basis. Or when requested.   Marco and Cairn were on crew duty for the day, because I vowed to be quicker than last time.

All a bit uneventful for the next 15 miles.  Just ticking along, moving up a few places.  Trying not to lose my head.  I was toing and froing a bit with Dave from Aberdeen (who’s actually from Northern Ireland) Little did I know that we would spend the whole 100 miles within striking distance of each other and finish a few minutes apart. 

Heading into Windsor I had a chuckle at the space where the MASSIVE puddle from 2013 was. I was  told me I was 2nd lady, but I was pretty sure I was third. 

Met Marco briefly there picked up some fluid, waved at some people on a boat staring at me and went to go up steps onto the bridge.  For the love of god what happened to my legs?  30 flat and consistent miles and my legs couldn’t deal with the change in movement.  It was horrendous.  I have been suffering from a hamstring ‘niggle’ for a year now.  I say niggle because it’s never been bad enough not to run. 

Flat is certainly not easy.  It’s the same muscles and movement getting hammered over and over again for hours.  I’d say it’s much harder on the body, mind and feet than any undulating or hilly trails. Plus, at least with hilly routes you have an excuse to power hike (*cough* walk) and use your quads on the downhills.  Flat for me is just calves and hamstrings. 

Windsor to Reading:  You don’t know until you try

I ran with Jay for a bit, who I met out at Spartathlon.  He’d just run a sub-3 marathon in London six days before, which is an unorthodox tune-up session.  He was still in better spirits than me though.  I’d hit that “why the f*ck am I doing this” stage and my good friend nausea was starting to raise its ugly head.  I was being a crabbit and unsociable bitch.   My head was starting to go and all the negative thoughts were creeping.  I was trying hard to push them away.  Breath. Focus.

I just had to focus on breaking down the race.  Aid station to aid station.   When I arrived at the Dorney aid station, Ingrid Lid was there.  The teeny Norwegian is a bit of a rising star and was definitely the one beat in this race.  I was surprised to see her there, but moved straight though.  Soon I heard footsteps and caught Ingrid at the corner of my eye.  She attached herself to my heels and stayed there - for the best part of 10km.  I won’t say this didn’t unsettle me, because it did.  But way less than normal.  I wasn’t pacing her, she just wasn’t going to let me out of her sight.  Understandable. It’s not as if she’s going to drop back just because I’d quite like to win.

At Maidenhead stopped to get something from Marco.  Anything.  I just felt sick and was being moany and pretty negative.  I let Ingrid go and I didn’t care.  I wasn’t chasing and had to focus on sorting my shit out.    I pushed on through to Cookham, remembering this was the turnaround point (twice) for the 2013 edition.  Although I didn’t remember anything of the preceding 35 miles.  Well apart from it was considerably less muddy and there were people out on the path this time.

At Marlow, Marco met me with some ActiveRoot, which I’d forgotten I’d packed.  He was on the ball. I sat on a bench feeling sorry for myself, but the ginger drink made me feel better pretty quickly.    Onwards and through Marlow I was being super cautious following the 2.5 mile road diversion, in the pissing rain, before dropping back onto the parth.  In Hurley I saw Ingrid in the aid station, smiled, pushed on and made out I was having the BEST. TIME. EVER. Tactics, right.

The sun after the rain was stunning.  Steam was rising from the roof of the riverboats and it was the first time I thought: it’s actually not a bad place to run.  Yeah there’s a Thames.  And a path.  But there’s not anything significant and the scenery rarely changes.  There are certainly moments of magic and I tried to embrace every second of those moments.

Crossing some fields, I kept telling myself not to look back.  Never look back.  It’s like the guy in the war movie who looks at the photo of his love back home.  You know he’s a gonner. Looking back is showing weakness.  But I did use any bend in the path to have teeny wee peak out of the corner of my eye.

On to Henley – that half-way point - which seemed to take way longer than expected.   Walking in the tent, Marco was hissing in my ear about staying quiet and not saying a word.  He must have been really sick of my whining.  Turns out Alex Whearity was there waiting to buddy run with his wife, Wendy.  Marco was of course trying to restrain me from vocalising my distress to the opposition.  But, to be fair, I felt OK at that point.  The usually rollercoaster of ultrarunning.

The section from Henley is quite lovely.  Quaint riverside trails, with meadow-esque flora and fauna.  I still managed to miss a sign and got shouted back.  Thanks, James.  And in turn had to shout back another chap who was 400 metres down the road.

Reading to the Oxford: Don’t get comfortable

I felt rough AF when I got to Reading.  I had a lethal combination of Tailwind, Gu and ActiveRoot swirling around in my stomach.  When I met Marco, I stopped and promptly vomited - twice - outside the sports centre.  Which instantly made me feel better,  so off I went.  Happy in fact that I knew most of the route from there.  Once running the Winter 100, another from crewing Sharon at The Autumn 100 last year and in March II’d run the last 30 miles as a recce run. Having some awareness of my surroundings and doubting I’d go off course again, I felt comfortable switching on some musical distraction for the next 12 miles or so.

Things were starting to unravel by the time I got to Goring, as I hit an energy void and had pretty much stopped eating and drinking.  I was still moving ok - ish from Reading to Goring and got a boost seeing Dan and James with their musical renditions on the piano (surreal) at the aid station.  For the next seven miles to Wallingford I was f*cked.  There was nothing.  It was a really just jogging and taking annoying and unjustified walking breaks.  I struggled to keep my feet moving over the dried mud.  I was stumbling, tripping as not picking my feet up and the tussocky grass was so frustrating to run on and ankles kept tipping.  It wasn’t sore, just inconvenient.   I knew I’d slowed dramatically and was haemorrhaging time, but in my complacent mind I just assumed everyone was slowing at this point. Wrong.

At Wallingford I laid down in the carpark and asked Marco for some stats.  He duly informed me Ingrid was 18 minutes behind at the last timing point and Wendy was 20. Fuck! I was on my feet tout de suite.  I knew after my disastrous last section the gap would be MUCH closer. 

It was like flicking a switch.  I was out of there - but not before missing another turn and nearly heading over the bridge. I was energised. And focussed. They were closing, but I had to at least try.  I was basically running scared now, but with a new found energy and the kick up the arse I needed.  I didn’t feel sick anymore and there was no pain or fatigue in my legs.  The mind is a pretty wonderful thing.

Then a few miles on I missed the bridge turning again.  I kept going even though intuition was telling me I was wrong and should turn back.  I got to disused rusty gate covered in overgrown bushes. Fuck.  I got my phone out to check the map and confirmed I was way off.   Back-tracking I spotted the Ingrid disappearing over the bridge I’d just missed.  The bridge with the massive Centurion sign and arrow. 

I caught up with her again at the riverside in Benson.   We didn’t exchange much conversation, not because we were being antisocial but we were both pretty exhausted.  She ran on my heels for the six miles to Clifton Hampdon checkpoint.  I’m not sure if I was pacing or just there to open gates. 

We arrived at the checkpoint together.  I’m sure this was way more exciting for those dot watching than it was for either of us.  Marco threw a bottle at me, stuffed more gels in my pocket and chased me down the street.

I was on a mission.  Even with 12 years of ultra experience, I’m still learning so much about myself.  If you had told me about the situation of being caught at 88 miles before the race, I would have envisioned that I would have backed down.  Resigned myself to have been beaten.  Used my sickness as an excuse and bored everyone to death on social media with my tales of woe.  But f*ck that.  I was churning out all the heavy Goggins classics in my mind.  I read a race preview online on the train down that predicted I would come in second, at best.  I used that as fuel too. 

To break, I had to give it everything.  Don’t look back just go.  No music.  Just focus.  But maybe listen for footsteps and gates closing too.  There was silence.  Before Abingdon, I crossed a field and counted, calculating that it took me a couple of minutes to get to the other side.  I covered my headtorch with my hand and looked back.  No sign.

Arriving at the Abingdon checkpoint I was a little more relaxed.  Just keep moving.  One of the marshals asked me to leave with Dave and Darren as there was a boat owner (allegedly) threatening to throw runners in the water.  I suspect that story might have grown arms and legs.  I can only assume the marshall wanted me to protect the boys.  Marco even said I’d be fine to go myself. 

Nine miles to go.  Just break it down mile-by-mile I kept telling myself. I did my usual not eating or drinking because I thought I didn’t need it. Stupid ultra thinking.  I ran with the boys for a few miles.  My chat was shite and I was worried they felt they needed to look after me.  They really didn’t.  I run through the ghettos of Glasgow without blinking an eye.  I’m sure I could outrun an angry boat owner.

They arrived into Lower Radley a minute or so before  me and looked like they were settling in for the evening.  I exited and crossed the chip mat and was on my way.  It wasn’t long before I see the bobbing lights of head-torches appearing from behind.
On the gravel path I knew I was about two miles to the finish.  I used up my fight to break earlier and just kept chipping away.  I saw the lights from the buildings on the right side, so knew I was getting closer.  Left turn into the field and I crossed the finish line in 17:40.

A win is a win, right.  True.  But it’s not always about winning.  It was an hour slower than I wanted to be.  And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think it’s a time or performance worthy of the race win. Hyper-critical, possibly, but it’s the reality. Got that monkey off my back. I wanted to win and finish top 10.  Plus, I got to run the full route.  Job done.  I’ve never really considered myself a very competitive person, so I was surprised by the way I responded.  If I’m still learning in races, I’m still progressing.  Thanks to Ingrid for this unearthing.  She's a feisty and tough one.  My favourite kind of gal. 

Thanks, as always, to James and team for putting on the best UK races.  I’m not just biased, it’s a fact.  To coach Pyllon for putting up with my erratic race schedule. And to Marco and Cairn for being the best crew ever.  The trip to the National Space Centre the next day was a freaking nightmare, but a fair compromise I think.   We can take comfort in the fact that I can't understand that geeky stuff even with a fresh brain anyway.

Race results 

1st: Ian Hammett 14:36:25
2nd: John Melbourne 14:58:46
3rd: Paul Beechey 15:48:19

1st Debbie Martin-Consani 17:40:08

2nd Ingrid Lid 17:48:25
3rd Wendy Whearity 18:26:12