A hundred miler. It’s just a number. Until about a week before you run one. Then suddenly in your mind you add another zero to the effort you think you’re going to have to make to finish one. Is it too far, can I do this, am I fit enough? These ‘fear of failure’ questions swirl, such is the psychotropic distortion effect of the big one. Not helped by the taper week of course, where you find yourself with very little running to do in comparison to an average training week. So you sit back and watch the adrenaline and testosterone levels fill like a Jet being fuelled on the runway before take-off.
But as the physiology rises and the emotions swell it’s time to get cognitive. What I found most comforting was looking back on my training and seeing that I’d done the work. I’ve been running for five years now and have slowly climbed the ladder of both distance and time. And I have an inspirational coach in Brennan who meticulously tuned me for the job from the start of the year, a period of almost six months focused on getting ready for this.
On the way I bagged a new 5k pb of 19.04, and a new half marathon pb of 1.29.32 as well as a 3.22.40 marathon time. We’d climbed that ladder alright, and importantly, stripped away all junk miles to take a focussed approach to race day.
Uncoached runners tend to busk it a bit, not knowing what kind of running they should be doing and when. I have a friend who raced a twelve hour 50 miler three weeks before his first 100, which didn’t leave much time for a full recovery; DNF mile 66. Coaching is a focussed approach to success that not only helps us do the right things, it stops us doing wrong things. I’d had the perfect approach and followed the coaches instructions to the letter. If there was a time to succeed it was definitely now.
And with that in mind we were off. It was 5am on a country estate just east of Winchester and the sun was shining in a deep blue sky. Soon the runners were strung out over a single tracked horseshoe. In the distance I could see the lead runner at a pace that looked like my 5K. In the cue for the loo I’d overheard a bloke say he was going for the record, presently 14 hours 3 minutes and 50 seconds, a 100 miles with 3800m of elevation. That’s the equivalent of running up Ben Nevis three times. What kind of software is that guy running? The machine.
Cut to middle aged man jogging at sedate pace through beautiful meadows of wildflowers and butterflies. Presently at about 22hr pace and through the first checkpoint in position 314 out of 405 I was happy. 23 miles done 2nd check point position 320, nice day out. Then throughout the day my position went from 308,273,235,201 before taking my first decent rest in 196th position at Saddlescome farm by Devil’s Dyke, somewhat amusingly at the 66.6 mile mark. Up until then I’d been in and out of checkpoints pretty quickly just filling up with water and mixing my Maurten 320 on the go. No stomach issues so far and no niggles.
Change of socks and shoes and off I went, 15 and a half hours done. Still on for sub 24hr pace but with the night approaching it was unlikely I’d be able to maintain that pace.
Sunset, headtorch and backpain. Going for over 16 hours now and I’d begun to seize up a bit. I threw my arms over a five bar gate and thrust my torso forward in an effort to release the lock. 70 miles is a lot of steps and a lot of compression on the spine and muscles, not helped by a race vest full of kit; 2 x 500ml bottles, phone and charger, two headtorches plus handheld, jells, snickers, jelly babies, salt tabs, paracetamol, kitchen sink...it all adds up. I was running without a crew or pacers and there were only two drop bag points at 54 and 76 miles. Soon I’d be meeting bag 2 and change into fresh overnight kit. Moving forward but slowing.
Housedean farm, 76 miles and in position 191 overall, up from 196. (155th man, and 34th in the m50-59). With just under a marathon to go I scoffed the best bowl of cheesy beans ever and topped up with water, I couldn’t take anymore Muarten, then off into the dark on a long climb to the crest of the next hill. It was pitch and I’d buddied with a fellow runner who was also without a pacer. Phil was a fun guy and quickly we began to laugh and joke to keep the night at bay. We were power walking mostly. I had by now developed a couple of large blisters on the balls of my feet. Perhaps I’d chosen the wrong foot wear, Altra escalante road shoes, super comfortable but no stone guard and over chalk and flint path my feet felt slightly lacerated underneath. Mind you so did Phil’s in his big fat Hoka trail shoes. “It’s the distance not the shoes” offered Phil, an experienced ultra-runner.
Somehow six hours passed and the sun came up. Fantastic to be up at that time, the still beauty of 4.30am, dancing to the music of bird song. Still a couple of hours of work to do.
Alfriston 91 miles, Jevington 95 miles then dropping down off the hill to the suburban back streets of Eastbourne in search of the local running track where we would do a lap of honour.
Then suddenly it was all over. I’d run my first 100 miler in a time of 26 hours, 5 minutes and 31 seconds. I was 190th overall, 153rd man, 34th in category. With over 100 DNF’s (25%) I’ll take that as a good day out and a bench mark in my life that won’t be repeated too many times. Now I’m kicking back in the mid-June sunshine with a beer in one hand and a 100 mile buckle in the other, job done.