Running 2017

Beacons Ultra - 2017

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A ~8 Hours and/or Top 10 No
B ~8.5 hours Yes
C Finish before dark! Yes

Training

After recovering from the Yorkshire Marathon, there were only 4 weeks of training before Brecon. I was still feeling pretty fit from the Marathon cycle, and as such I opted to maintain fitness and be cautious to avoid injury. As usual I ended up doing a round trip London -> San Francisco -> New York -> London in the middle of the 28 day training cycle, less than ideal due to timezones, jet-lag and wasted time on a plane! Thankfully, I was back in the UK a week before the race, so wasn't running with jet lag like in York. I had planned a couple 35km+ runs, but due to lack of time decided that the marathon would have to count as my long run(s).

Race strategy

Having run Brecon in 2016 as my first ever Ultra, I knew the course pretty well. In 2016, I finished just under 10 hours and had felt pretty good throughout the race. My general fitness and long distance running had improved a lot since then and hoped to improve my time. One of my goals for 2018 is to push myself towards the front of the pack, so I decided this would be a good first race to roll the dice a little and go out fast, what better way to learn the challenges of running fast and long?

After consulting the 2016, 2015, 2014 results I decided to aim for around 8 hours, which historically would put me in a top 10 place. As my ultra running friend Karl reminded me, placing depended on who turns up on the day. So I decided to go with a dual A-goal of either 8 hours or top 10. I suspected I wouldn't be able to go much below 8 with current fitness either way!

Brecon is 2 identical loops. I decided to go with a 3:45 and a 4:15 split for each loop

Race

As I managed to bag an AirBNB only 10 mins away from the race start, I woke up with only an hour before race start and did my usual race-day preparations. After deploying the various anti-chaffing strategies (Bodyglide + Chamois cream FTW!) I glanced down at my watch; 30 minutes till race start! After a mad dash to get there in time, I found myself towards the back of the pack, 3 minutes later and we were off!

Loop 1

Unlike most races, I hadn't come up with a check-point to check-point racing strategy. Partly because Brecon has a few killer hills which make pacing tricky and to be honest I forgot. Instead, I went out just quicker than the pace required for the 1st loop. As I passed runners, I would have a chat and see what they were aiming for, looking to find a few people aiming for a similar goal.

The start of the race is very runnable as it is on a hard and flat canal path, I felt great cruising along banking time before the first major hill which I would walk up. As I trudged up the hill, I noticed someone running up the whole way! I was impressed at the determination, but wondered if they would pay for the exuberance later.

From the steep hill there is a quick downhill section, my favorite, it was during this downhill section that I overtook our hill runner - guess I was right about going out too hard! Shortly after the downhill the trail ascends once more. I decided to err on the side of caution and walk the steeper bits of the slope. Low-and-behold, the hill-runner overtook me - they were running the hills again! After hitting the flats I caught up and had a chat with this relentless ascender. Turns-out the hill-runner was Michelle Maxwell, the female winner of the 2016 Brecon Beacon race and was also the winner of the 2017 NDW50. She had finished the race in roughly 8 hours last year and was on a similar trajectory this year. I decided that if I was to stick even mildly close to Michelle I would have a decent chance of finishing around 8 hours. I also made the decision to be consistent and not to run any hills :)

The rest of the first loop went pretty much according to plan, Michelle and a few other runners would pull ahead on the up-hill sections, and I would hunt them down on the downhills. I had a glorious descent after the final major uphill section, Pen Y Fan, and was bang on target.

1st Loop completed in 3:45.

It's worth mentioning that I had given up the aim for a top-10 finish at this point as the field this year was very strong and at the half-way point I was in 25th position - perhaps I could pick-off a few runners but the gap to the leaders was just a bit much.

Loop 2

After leaving the aid-station I pushed hard again on the canal path. I had been eating and nibbling throughout the race but I was starting to feel a bit out of sorts. I decided I was low on nutrition and ate a trusty Gu gel. I did this just as I was about to hit the main hill for the second time.

Perhaps I should have taken the gel earlier, perhaps I should have eaten more solid foods, but as soon as the gel hit my stomach I had waves of nausea engulf me and stomach cramps to boot. I kept pushing up the hill, but with far less vigor than on loop 1. This was the last time I saw Michelle until the finish. As I went higher, the pain increased. My 8 hour goal was slowly slipping away, had I gone out too fast on the first lap? As the intensity of the pain grew, I knew this was it - my first DNF. I would quit at the next aid station. I didn't have to finish this race, it wasn't a qualifier for anything. I didn't even have any friends running with me. The decision was made.

Reaching the top of the hill a couple of people overtook me, and asked if I was okay. Gah, I guess I don't look great either!!!

Pulling up to quitters checkpoint, a little girl at the aid station shouted out to me, "Are you running?" - in retrospect this was to see if I should be treated to some TLC from the aid crew or shrugged off as a local hiker - but at the time it resonated with me! Yes I am running and yes I will finish this race. Times be dammed. Onwards and upwards.

I stuffed myself with a few solid foods to stabilize the stomach and pushed on. I opted to no longer look at the watch and just run as I felt.

Rather than struggle, I started to enjoy the race again run-walking when needed and just getting the job done. The stomach issues thankfully went away and I continued to push.

Now that the stomach were resolved, I had another issue on my hands - well more to the point, on my feet. Throughout the day there had been a light drizzle, if you mix soil with rain and 300 runners you get a muddy slippery mess. With nice trail shoes, there would be no issue at all, sadly I had opted to go with my Hoka Clifton 3 Road Shoes for this race! Are you mad I hear you cry? Not exactly, the last 2 ultras I ran the first 50 miles in Cliftons and they had performed great, nice and quick on the road sections and handled the trails well, only opting to go for trail shoes during night sections for added safety. From my memory the terrain at Brecon was on-par with the NDW and the Oner - this perhaps was true in dry conditions but proved to be quite false now.

Reaching my favorite downhill running section, I realized my shoe choice was quite the folly as I slid along. Rather than lovely long joyous strides, I upped the cadence and reduced stride length. I'm not going to lie, that 5km downhill section was sketchy as hell. The rocks underfoot were quite jagged, and all it would take was a little slip and the race would end badly. If it hadn't been for my fair-chunk of slippery trail running, and this being the 4th time I ran this section, I would have had to walk it all.

I slid up to the final check-point, had a nice chat with the crew, who had hauled something like 1,000 liters of water up there! Amazing. Stuffed my face with delicious salty crisps and at least 4 chocolates brownies, and I pushed on for the final 10 kms.

A nice little sprint finish to a glorious cheer and I was done.

8:33:33 finish time and 29th overall.

~1.5 hour improvement from last year and 36 places higher up the leader-board. yay.

Post-race

Given the challenging conditions and the nutrition errors I was very very pleased with my time. I managed to stave off my first DNF and finish the 2017 racing calendar on a high! A quick chat with Michelle (who finished in 2nd place in 7:55:30) and some other runners before dashing home for a shower and snooze!

I will also say the Force 12 Events team really upped their game from last year, which is saying something as 2016 was very well organized! Though a bit more self-sufficient than the Centurion race, I would say this race has a similar feel and I much prefer the new half-way and finish end-point. I may be in the minority, but I would love if everyone had a race-drone (it's much more exciting for those at home watching!) and for the half-way aid-stations to have a few sandwiches or similar.

What's next?

For 2017 that's pretty much it. Next year is going to be an exciting year as I will be heading out to North Carolina to hang out with Karl and run Umstead 100, I've got another Marathon lined up for Sub-3 attempt #2 and finally the SDW100! Oh, any maybe WSER, but with my single ticket in the hat, I ain't holding my breath! Time to crack open some beers and relax before getting into proper training mode for 2018 after Christmas.

Photos

For some reason my phone kept getting locked during the race so sadly I have no photos from race day. Here are a few photos from the following day, don't be misled - we hardly saw any sunshine on race day!

Strava

This report was generated using race reportr, a tool built by /u/BBQLays for making great looking and informative race reports.


Yorkshire Marathon - 2017



TLDR

Date      :  October 8th
Distance  :  26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km
Cutoff    :  8 hours
Elevation :  +469 ft
             +143 m

Result    :  Finished in 3:07:05 hours (Chip time)
             154th place 
             4,144 finishers
             0 Toilet breaks

Goals

Training

Having spent most of the last 8 months running progressively longer runs cumulating with the NDW100 I felt it was time to work on speed. Having never followed a training program before, and based on the recommendations from ARTC I decided to pick-up a copy of Advanced Marathoning - I also read How to Run a 3 hour Marathon, a Just Enough Training Approach for a little balance.

In the end I roughly ended up with a weekly plan of:

I also threw in a few Park Runs and some double days to try top-up the volume. I needed 2 weeks to recover from NDW100 and with 1 week taper it meant that this training cycle was roughly 6 weeks. As I had a pretty strong aerobic base I decided to focus on speed work and form. To this end I also joined a running club (Go London City Runners!).

I managed to PR my 5 km time, reducing it from ~20:02 to 18:01. I was averaging about 50 kms (30 miles) a week. After reading and doing some calculations I thought that there was potential for a sub-3 hour marathon, though it would be tight. My previous Marathon PR was ~3:35 at San Francisco marathon, but I didn't really race it, just aiming to finish with an alright time.

I should also mention I put a lot of effort into hydration in the build up to this race. With long-distance running I tend to have a strategy of sip little but often. This cadence allows the body to keep hydrated without overloading. I didn't really want to run with water, so for this training cycle I worked on being okay with getting hydration every 5 km.


Pre-race

A last minute business trip to San Francisco threw a minor spanner in the works with timing. I arrived back in London on Friday - 2 days before the race. I did my best to mitigate jet-lag and tiredness but ¯\(ツ)/¯.

All the ultra distance running has got me into the habit of planning the races, haha! I came up with a bit of strategy, and read as many race-reports as possible. Fortunately there was a great race-report from Andy Wu - Run to Win - Yorkshire Marathon 2016 which matched my approximate race-strategy. I used this as a rough-guide to my plan of attack. I did the usual carbo-loading which I am always quite meh about!

My sister, Tanya, was running her first marathon on the day and our friend, Martin, was running his second. Martin's family is from York and very gracefully housed and fed us! Thanks Nelson family - they were really accommodating to all my pre-race day rituals!

We got the start line early to avoid stress, dropped off our bag and went to our starting pens.

York isn't a huge marathon and I found myself in #1 pen with the local elites and others aiming to go sub-3. One of the advantages of the first pen is there is a bit more space, so I began a few dynamic stretches and strides. I tried to figure out where to put myself in the pen and was about 4 or 5 rows back. As I looked around I spotted Andy Wu from York blogging fame! He was back in York for another sub-3 attempt. Myself and a few others felt obliged to say hello and thank him for a very useful race report - after a few good-lucks we settled down to run...


Miles [0] to [18]

I decided to either positive or even split the race, i.e do the second half a bit slower than the first. I settled into roughly a 4:12 mins/km a pace. I had originally intended to go out with the 3-hour pacer, but his pace seemed a touch on the high-side for me, perhaps he was banking time for later in the race. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar yellow running shirt. It looks like Andy and I were on a similar race strategy, we formed a secondary sub-3 hour group with about 5 other runners and began working together to bring this in.

The miles zoomed by and everything went pretty smoothly. We lapsed a few times dropping into 4:16 to 4:20 min/km race - but the watches are always off by 1% or 2% so I wasn't too concerned. The group was great and had a chat with a number of runners. I enjoy having a good chat during ultras, but didn't realize it was a thing on marathons! I kept chipping away at my stinger waffles and had half a Gu. Hydration seemed to be working okay and the pace seemed fine. Only minor incident was a shoe-lace coming undone - this was my first race with my Nike Vaporfly 4% and they were performing very well! We crossed the half-way point in 1:29:30 which was pretty much bang on where we wanted to be. Given that I hardly run half-marathons this also happened to be a half-marathon PB!

During this section the sub-3 group became a little transient with people dropping off and new members joining in. Myself and Andy made a blood oath to keep together and we kept the pace just right!

Miles [19] to [21]

It was around here that the wheels started to come off.

There was a long drawn out soft up-hill section where we kept the pace around 4:18 min/km, we rotated wind blocking. Andy and another chap did a fantastic job of pushing but I was feeling the exertion a little at this point.

Once we crested the top of the hill there was a nice soft downhill, we upped the pace to 4:10 min/km to bank time for the return leg of this out-and-back section. I really started to feel the burn at this point, I dug in deep to keep with Andy and the other chap. The extra exertion was off-set by them taking most of the wind! I decided that perhaps a Gel was in-order. I though we were only a few hundred meters from a water station so smashed the whole gel. A few minutes later we arrived at the water station, guess what, it was on the other bloody side of the road - damn those out-and-backs. For those of you who don't suffer energy gels, they kind of stick to your throat and are best followed up with a swift sip of water. I had limited choice to push on, but this certainly had some mental toll.

As we ended the down section and turned to go back up the hill I decided to drop the pace a bit to avoid a bigger crash. Andy was already a good 10m in-front of me. He looked back and pointed at his shoes but I waved him on. He was looking strong and if anyone could bring in that sub-3 today, it was him, Go Andy!

A few minutes later I hit the $%@$ water station - this time on the correct side of the road. After drinking some water I felt a bit better, I decided to increase the pace again and try catch-up to Andy. For about 5 minutes. Then I decided that was wishful thinking.


Miles [21] to [26]

The last 5 miles were a war-of-attrition. I always try to be a strong finisher - really race the last section. Unfortunately my mind was having none of it. I became a nice target for a few strong finishers to zoom passed - this proved a mixed blessing as I tucked in behind and used them as a bit of a mental target to push myself on. In the back of my mind I thought perhaps a final surge at the 5 km point could bring in the bacon, when I tried to increase cadence I just didn't have it in me.

Whilst on the final damn steep hill only the crowd shouting kept me from walking - eurgh shame this isn't a trail race! I ran hard to prevent any last minute runners snatching my 154th place. And done.

As I crossed the finish line Andy had decided to stick around to welcome me in! This was a lovely bit of camaraderie and I appreciated the gesture. Over a cold Erdinger AF I filled in the blanks from when he left me, and he did the same! If you are curious how Andy did he wrote up a great race-report here.

After picking up our bags Andy headed off to go meet his wife and I retired to the finish to cheer on runners and wait for Tanya and Martin to finish. Tanya brought it in at 4:59 and Martin shortly afterwards!


Post-race

I am disappointed I didn't manage to push through the wall and keep the pace at the appropriate level to bring in the sub-3. I've been through much more painful and mentally straining sections during the NDW100 & the ONER. After a weeks reflection, I've come to the conclusion that even though I had the mental toughness to get over the wall, I was not prepared to push through it quickly. When you are running for ~24 hours dropping pace by 1 minute a km and taking 45 minutes to get yourself back into race mode is not an issue. In a marathon you don't really have that time.

I didn't get fueling quite right. I was trying a slightly different strategy here, which was a hybrid of my other races. 2 Stinger waffles and then 3 Gu gels (I only consumed 1.5 gels). I also need to work on timing and getting the nutrition in.

Note: Try avoid long international flights 2 days before a race.

Given the short training cycle, limited pace work and low-mileage it was always going to be a little bit of a stretch to go sub-3. Perhaps another 4 weeks with a few more longer marathon pace runs would have done the trick?

Other positives?

Above all, I got to run with a bunch of amazing runners who made the day that much more enjoyable, hopefully I will get to race with them once again!


What's next?

Only two more proper races left in 2017, the Brecon Beacon Ultra (76 km) in mid-November and a 5 km track race just before Christmas with the club. It will be my second run of Brecon and looking to roll the dice a bit ^_^.



Strava Run

North Downs Way 100 - 2017



TLDR

Date      :  August 5th - 6th 2017
Distance  :  103 miles or 166 km
Cutoff    :  30 hours
Elevation :  +9930 ft
             +3025 m

Result    :  Finished in 23:40:59 hours 
             37th place 
             147 finishers
             229 starters
             1 drop bag forgotten

Background

Sam and I had been foolishly working our way up the minimum requirements to run a 100 mile race. Marathon, 46 miles, 82 miles and now finally - The North Day Way 100 (miles)!

To start, let's get excuses out the way. Two weeks after the ONER I ran a 35 km marathon training run with a friend, Martin. My body finished the run under duress and retaliated by gifting a tweaked right knee - the net-effect was no running for the next 6 weeks, bummer.

Future self: Even if you feel recovered, gradually increase the distance

Unfortunately, I had a 100 mile race coming up! Right then, Plan B: Get in a decent amount of cross-training whilst the legs recover. The ONER had been a brutal slog, and I hoped the NDW100 could be a little less painful - I decided to focus on the following training areas:

  1. Need to work on speed
  2. Quads - they get hammered by the hills
  3. Continue work on nutrition

For quads, I began cycling around Surrey every Sunday. Box Hill, a classic cycling route in Surrey, was one of the sections we would be running! Perhaps it would be easier on foot than on a bike?

After 6 weeks of no-running, an initial tentative 10 km with Sam ended up being a horrendous stop-start jog of pain and self-loathing - we had some work to do.

As part of my recovery plan, I started doing a bunch of fartleks, Yasso 800s and park runs. I was able to lower my 5 km PB by a minute or so, after a tentative start the speed training was on-track!

Post the 35 km debacle, I chose not to run greater than cough 25 km, so let's hope the solid base and all the cycling would be enough, quality over quantity?


Planning

Planning went pretty much the same way as the ONER:

  1. Create a big spreadsheet with time predictions
  2. Break race up into four marathons
  3. Break the marathons in check-point pacings

One tricky decision was what finish time to aim for. I was keen to punt for 24 hours and Sam was more tentative. As a compromise we settled for 2 pace charts. One for a sub-24 hour finish and one for a 28-hour finish. The 28-hour pace chart was effectively +1min/km slower than the one for 24 hours.

Our marathon pacing for 24-hour was:

Marathon 1: 4.5 hours
Marathon 2: 6 hours
Marathon 3: 6 hours
Marathon 4: 7.5 hours
sleep.

Pre-start

We ventured down to Franham on Friday afternoon and headed over to check-in. The Centurion team ran a slick yet welcoming operation. Kit-check was fair and we were off to the races - in about 12 hours!

We headed into town for supplies and dinner. We over carboloaded, spaghetti with a table pizza, in retrospect this was too much food and not enough time to digest - ahem.

After packing drop-bags and run kit we were in bed by around 8pm, with a 4am wake-up call. To add to sleep challenges, there was a wedding party in our hotel - I thankfully fell asleep with ease. Sam on the other hand tossed and turned not sleeping until much later.

Arriving for the pre-race briefing the room was full of expectant runners! We put our hands up when they called out for virgin 100 milers, a few nerves ran through my feet. Strolling down to the start we were ready to get (north) down to running!


Start → CP3 (0 to 39.5kms)

Aid stations: Farnham, Puttenham, Newlands Corner, Box Hill Stepping Stones

As per our 24-hour timings, the first 4 check-points had pretty aggressive pacing, roughly a 4:30 marathon. Perhaps this doesn't sound too bad until you remember there are three more marathons to follow. As the countdown hit zero everyone began a staccato run down a 2-person wide path. The group stayed bunched up and we spent a bit of time getting past various fences. The pace increased as the group spread out, I was grateful for the perfect weather for the start of a long day. I mentioned to Sam that we were on pace for 24-hours and we cracked on.

A gentleman called Darryl regaled us with his 2016 NDW100 run, he was aiming for a sub-24. His strategy the previous year was to go out hard for the first 50 miles and then grind out the final 50 miles over, this had netted him a ~25 hour finish, not bad! This year he was taking the first 50 a bit easier to see if could crack - "100 Miles in 1 day" for the NDW.

In general the first 40 km was pretty flat, as per advice at the race briefing and reinforced by Darryl, we tried to resist running too fast. Arriving bang on schedule at the Box Hill aid station was great, we quickly chowed down on some food and continued.


CP3 → CP8 (39.5 to 96.2kms)

Aid stations: Reigate Hill, Caterham, Botley Hill, Knockholt Pound, Wrotham

After stepping across the very scenic river stones we launched ourselves up Box Hill. Having heard so much about Box Hill, and memories of the soul destroying hills during the ONER, I was pleasantly surprised with the gradient and distance - in no time and limited heart-rate elevation we were at the top enjoying the lovely views. An unexpected shout at the top and a work colleague, Aubone, was there cheering us on! A handshake, quick photo and off we shot.

As the day wore on the thermometer drifted upwards, it wasn't a stonking hot day, but it certainly wasn't cool. As the sun got to me in the ONER I had decided to run with a peak-cap, this was deployed to some success. Post Box Hill the average pace was set to go down, but as there were many rolling hills, pacing became a balancing act between stomping the steep hills, running the soft hills and running slightly quicker on the flats/downhill - joy! Unlike the ONER where I ended up with quad spasms after 35 km, I didn't storm down the hills and instead ran moderately quicker to conserve the quads for later in the race, this strategy worked well - and I had no spasms at all.

As we pulled into CP 5 (Reigate Hill) Sam mentioned that he was feeling the pace/heat a bit and had slightly swollen fingers. In the ONER Sam had an upset stomach and to combat this he had opted to run with water+food only. I had stuck to my previous fueling strategy but had removed most processed sugar, which seemed to cause highs/lows and a sore stomach later in race. As we refueled at the aid station, Sam asked about his fingers. It was suggested he was low on salt/electrolytes - probably true, and given a salt tablet which he dutifully swallowed. We stocked up on water and snacks and began walking. 100m from the aid station Sam bent over and had an almighty chunder - it lasted a good minute.

First rule of running club: Don't try anything new on race day!

Sam picked himself up and we began running again, albeit slightly slower. Sam will push himself to the limit and beyond, but you could see in his eyes he was a partly broken man. We cut the pace significantly and introduced some run-walking. Advantageously we had entered a section of the course we have recced a few weeks earlier, so we knew what was to come. I would love to say that the spring in Sam's step came back, but sadly his day was over after 60 km.

At this point I had somewhat given up on the 24-hour attempt, the only silver lining to the slowness was that I felt pretty damn fresh. We had drifted 35 minutes off 24-hour pace, but perhaps there was still hope? Given that I knew the next 15 kms I felt confident to push the pace hard - I was also pretty certain I would be able to finish this thing in under 30 hours, so why not roll the dice a little?

We had been around 90th place at Box Hill and had been overtaken a lot, I began running hard for the next 2 aid stations, managing to restore some of the deficit. As was mentioned in a couple other race reports the skies opened up - Personally I was grateful for the fresh cool air even though the wet clay was hard to ascend in road shoes.

I would be remiss to not mention the fantastic volunteers at every aid station. I generally hate wasting time at aid stations - I race hard to gain every minute and don't want to spend more than a few seconds standing around. The Centurion crew have this down to a tee, as I pulled into Botley Hill aid station:

  1. Hand over 2 water bottles
  2. Centurion crew fill bottles
  3. I grab snacks, sandwiches and stuff my face
  4. Crew hand back water bottles
  5. Leave aid station

I think I averaged around 40 seconds per an aid station, Formula 1 drivers eat your heart out - amazing!

The half-way point came in 10 hours and 30 minutes, my body was feeling sore from the fast pace, on the positive side two marathons down and on-target, woohoooo! The amazing volunteers sat me down, brought over my drop bag, food and drink. I woofed down the fantastic warm pasta then changed shoes and socks. I opted to go for compression socks for the second half - partly as nettle protection, I also changed to trail shoes to avoid any more slipping during the more technical night section. The gent I sat next to mentioned that the first half had taken more out of him than expected, and had decide to slow down. Not great foreboding.

Whilst eating, I rang my sister, Tanya, who was going to pace me later and let her know my progress. Tanya also mentioned Sam had got a lift to the half-way point, but after a quick look around and not seeing him I decided to press on.

As I pulled out of the half-way point I joined up with a group of other runners and we ran together for the next 16 km section - thanks to Karl, Paul, Johnathan and the other runners who made the run that much more enjoyable - if you are ever in London feel free to drop by for a pint or two!

My mind was a bit foggy and I misread the length of this section, thinking 10 km rather than 10 miles, damn! As a result, I ran out of water with about 4 km to go - which equated to about 25 minutes at current pace, really shouldn't have sprayed water on my neck earlier... As a rule, I struggle without a constant sip of water every few minutes, I began asking a few other runners if they had any spare, turns out they were in a similar position! Karl had a few drops to donate and I felt much better.

Shortly after this we ran past an unwell runner, we offered our assistance, Karl gave her some supplies and mentioned that it was not far until the Holly Hill check-point. As there were a large amount of runners around and she motioned for us to continue we pushed on, I'm pretty certain I saw her photo in the list of finishers, hurrah! After cresting the un-Holly Hill I refilled my water and pushed on quickly!


CP8 → CP11 (96.2 to 131.5kms)

Aid stations: Holly Hill, Bluebell Hill, Detling

As I pulled into aid station 8 there was a nice surprise, my crew were sauntering in at the same time! For some reason I thought I was meeting them at the following aid-station, so was very glad to see them. After the low points of the previous section and the nearly 100 kms already done, it was going to be refreshing having new legs to motivate me!

Before the race I had warned the crew that I would be in-and-out of aid stations in a minute - they were ready and rearing to go. Much to their amusement, I needed a good 5 minutes to compose myself at CP8, the pace had been pretty high and running out of water had taken a toll. I proceeded to drink 1 cup of water and 2 cups of coke and then ate half an orange, a handful of grapes, and 1 sandwich! I was FINALLY ready to go. Tanya and I waved farewell to the NDW100-Crew, and we were back on the trail.

Having run for 11ish hours at this point I was perhaps a little less chatty than Tanya expected but she did a fantastic job running with me. When she joined it was still quite warm, as the sun slowly set and we had to turn our head-torches on. This section of the course was very runnable and we kept the pace high. Apart from a run-in with a tree and Tanya taking a couple of tumbles there were no major mishaps to report. Tanya got to experience her first transition from sunshine to night-time running.

After Tanya's stint I was joined by a very energetic Martin, fresh from his Copenhagen Marathon, he helped me ascend Bluebell Hill - unfortunately for Martin he joined me at a pretty low point of the race. Some confusion over check-points and the high-pace of the previous section had sapped some of my mental strength. I was fighting to keep the pace up and push myself, I had also been running for around 16 hours at this point, I was very quiet and inside my own world for most of the section. Everyone talks about Box Hill and Detling when discussing the NDW100, I am going to add Bluebell Hill onto that list. It's long, annoying and not much fun. Furthermore, you know this is just a prelude to Detling. I didn't like that hill one bit - good riddance!

As we arrived at the Bluebell Hill aid station at 11pm I was surprised to see that Sam had returned to cheer me on! After that horrendous hill it helped raise my spirits to see my usual partner in running crime. He also pointed out that I only had one marathon to go, and 7 hours to get under 24 hours. This was 30 minutes less than the pacing chart had budgeted for, and as such I was under no illusions that a 7-hour marathon, with the hardest hills still to come, was going to be touch-and-go.

Karl, my adopted NDW running buddy, was chilling out in one of the aid station chairs. We mumbled a few words of good luck and both set off at roughly the same time. Helen was joining me for the next 20 km before handing over to my final pacer. Immediately after setting off I felt very chilled and opted to put my running jacket on - this turned out to be a great idea as the clear skies caused the weather to be quite frigid.

Helen was unlucky for 2 reasons:

  1. Not 5 minutes out of the CP and we both walked into a very deep puddle and got rather wet shoes, argh!
  2. The Hills.

Box Hill may be more famous, but the hills in Detling are unrelenting. False horizons and steep steps chipped away at our confidence. As with the ONER the downhills and uphills are not easily runnable, just too steep and slippery for anyone to seriously tackle with speed at 1am. So we ground it out, running where we could, stomping where we had to.

Etched in my memory is a section where Helen and I emerged from a steep incline, the path opened up and we surged ahead, enjoying 20 minutes of pure fast pace running. Race experiences like this remind me of how surreal and beautiful ultra-distance trail running can be.

As we pulled into Detling Village Hall I felt great, we had managed to keep the pace about right - the whole team was there to see how Helen and I were doing. I ate a bowl of much needed soup and drank Dr. Pepper, thanks again to the Centurion team for brining food over to my table! A few of the runners I had been chatting to earlier were sitting down and munching on some soup too, I had a brief chat with them and decided that there was no time like the present - Helen and I were off!

What can I say about the next section? The hills got steeper and my shins began to hurt on the downhills.

As we got into Hollingbourne crew station, the highs of the previous aid station were gone. My legs ached, my mind felt broken and I felt spent. I sat in the back of the car, sipped on a drink and talked to the team about what needed to be done. We needed to complete 35 km in five and a half hours. After 131 kms it had come to this. For a brief moment I gave up on the dream - let's just grind out the finish - 24, 25, 26 hours - who cares?


I had intended to do a video with Martin, Helen and Dan but we were so focused it slipped my mind.
Next time, I promise!

CP11 → FIN (131.5 to 166kms)

Aid stations: Lenham, Dunn Street, Ashford

Dan, my last pacer, and I pulled out of the crew point and hit the first of a few demoralizing hills. I tried my best to run but I just couldn't get moving. We surged, only to be met by another steep incline. Dan glanced down at his phone, the crew had been tracking our progress and relayed that we were way off pace - 24 hours was blown.

As if by magic, my mind clicked into place - I told Dan, get in-front and run. You set the pace and I will follow. Boy did we run! I felt great, we dropped into a pace of around 6 to 5.30 minutes a km. Dan kept the motivation up, and my brain going by calling out pacing in miles, 10 minute miles, I never do miles! We could do this...

We managed to catch up with a number of runners, which provided an extra little bit of motivation to keep the pace going - can't overtake someone and then let them re-overtake you, right?! Not only did we run the flats and downs but we also pushed up the hills. Dan kept calling off the pace and the distance as we reeled in the finish. Apart from having to re-trace a minor 100m detour we didn't deviate from the path. Though I ran with Dan for 5 hours, I struggle to recall any particular part of the run apart from the constant push - so forgive the lightness of this section.

As I pulled into Ashford and did a lap of the stadium emotion swept over me. The day had not gone according to plan but we had made it. Sam, Tanya, Martin and Helen cheered as Dan and I crossed the finish line in 23 hours and 40 minutes!


Aftermath

After a week most of the aches and pains subsided, though a lingering shin splint took some time to go away, which is weird as I never have shin splints.

My feet were super super swollen this time - I think I must have over-tightened the trail shoe.

Remember to loosen shoes as the race goes on.

Two weeks on, I am able to run again and need to kick into gear for York Marathon which is on the 8th of October. Followed by re-running the Brecon Beacons Ultra in November.

Thanks to my amazing pacing team and the fantastic Centurion team for a memorable race.


Strava Run (some bits missing)

FIN.

The ONER Ultra Trail Run - 2017



TLDR

Date      :  April 8th - 9th 2017
Distance  :  82 miles or 132 km
Cutoff    :  24 hours
Elevation :  +7308 ft / -7771 ft
             +2227 m  / -2368 m

Result    :  Finished in 23:32:59 hours 
             35th place 
             39 finishers
             63 starters
             1 Toenails lost

Background

Having finished the 46 mile (75 km) Brecon Beacons Ultra 2016 in just under 10 hours, I was feeling more confident with the step-up from marathon distance. My first attempt at ultra distances - a self-supported 60km run - still left me with painful memories of bleeding inner thighs and exhaustion for the final 10km. Lessons were learned, mitigations were deployed, and 46 miles through the Brecon Beacons was both successful and pretty fun.

TLDR: Eat more, drink more, use electrolytes and smother yourself in bodyglide.

Pain is quickly forgotten, and it wasn't long before I dropped a somewhat (very) drunken text to my friend Sam inquiring if he would be interested in running two ultra races in 2017, the ONER being a qualifier for the other. Sam replied with maybe and I forwarded him my completed sign up email as encouragement. A few weeks later he came to his senses (got equally drunk) and signed-up for both runs too.

Fast forward a few months and it was time to put on our running shoes and trek out to my old rock climbing haunting ground, Swanage, and do battle with some slightly less vertical pitches.


Planning

After a hectic few weeks of work and an extremely spotty training schedule it dawned on Sam and I that we were perhaps out of our depth with the step-up in distance. It was nearly double the furthest distance we had done before and neither of us had ever run through the night.

After reading a large amount of race reports our concerns were confirmed; this was not going to be as easy as 26 back-to-back Park Runs. Our first attempt to come up with a game plan involved analyzing previous race results, theoretical run performance and elevation change. The result was the below monstrosity that only an accountant could love:

After thinking outside of the cell we came up with a solution. Split the run into approximately three marathons:

  1. Bank some time in Marathon one as it is a bit flat
  2. Waste some time in Marathon 2 due to HQ/Food but catch it up with some nice flats
  3. Siege the hills and end with our well fought for banked time.

BAM! A 21 hour finish time.

The net result was the below race-plan completed the night before the run:


Pre-start

The Brutal team put together a very well oiled machine, kit-check, pre-race-brief and all that jazz that was as efficient and as painless as could be. A few nervous laughs and the 63 ONER runners and 6 Half-ONER runners crowded into provided mini-vans for the journey from Race-HQ/Half-way to the start. The long-drive ride was intimidating; nearly an hour drive to the start! In our bus it became very apparent that Sam and I were less experienced at 100km+ runs than our fellow passengers - joy.


Start → CP4 (0 to 47.8kms)

Race start was pushed back by 15mins due to a delayed mini-van, but before we knew it we were off.

Our strategy revolved around banking a bit of time in the first couple of marathons so we set off at a fair clip. The start was also a downhill section, so why not? As we hit the first proper hill we enjoyed a walk with views, and spirits were high.

The rest of the first ~10k to CP1 was relatively uneventful and we made good time. After hitting the well-stocked aid station and grabbing some snacks we cracked on to tackle the next ~12kms. All of a sudden we ground to a halt. We had hit West Bay and the path was a tad unclear. Luckily a local runner picked us up and we were soon back on our way. This was an early reminder that navigation was important and keeping a bearing would save time in the future, not to mention this was supposed to be a simple section of the course.


Before and after CP2 there is a mixed pebble and sand section. The temptation is to run it, given the earliness in the race, but this is very challenging and tiring in this terrain. The harder you push the deeper you slide into the sand, so simpler to tread lightly and walk. We hadn't really practiced running on this surface so found the technique a bit cumbersome. It was at this point that we ran with a few other runners through some hard packed sand and dirt. The other runners slowly pulled away looking super strong. It turned out that we had just been schooled by the eventual female winner, Raquel Alfonso and friends.

We gladly left the beach and started on a long section of gradual rolling hills and flat sections, a welcome respite from the sand. Unfortunately at the same time the sun finally took its toll. After stomping up a grassy hill we hit 2nd gear to make up some time on flats. Almost immediately I felt a searing pain in my right quad muscle and I was stopped dead in my tracks. Walking - let alone running - was impossible. I thought that this was the end of my run, only 30km in. We both stopped and I massaged the muscle for a couple minutes whilst we were passed by a few other runners. I downed a GU gel and decided to slowly walk. The pain slowly diminished but I decided to give it another couple minutes. I stopped again and drank a sip of water. A few minutes later we started again, the pain was manageable and we decided to push on. After a little while the pain faded away and we just had to contend with the sun.

Note to self: get a running hat

At this point we slowed the pace a little as we were both suffering a little bit from the sun and the earlier pace. We decided to stick religiously to our planned pace, which was give-or-take on target. A few people overtook us at this point but we stuck to our game plan, we also had a sprightly conversation with Victoria Miller before she pulled away to finish as second female.

We uneventfully pushed through CP3 and looked forward to finishing the first marathon. There was a good amount of shade and a slight breeze which aided our running and we caught up with a few runners at the marathon pit stop. The course medic warned the group about the dangers of not consuming enough salt and too much water. A few moments later we pushed on to cross the land bridge between Weymouth and Portland, and hit CP4.

Side note: before the run Sam and I had discussed aid station strategy. I am very pro the briefest of stops and avoid the temptation to linger. Sam preferred a slightly more measured approach. With 11 aid stations, 3min stops equate to over half an hour. In the end we came to some middle ground which worked well. We were also careful not to forgo water in this heat.


CP4 → CP6 (47.8 to 57.2km)

After a light bite of pasta and some flapjacks we hit the trail to do the island loop. The race stewards indicated we could get around in daylight/dusk and as it was a lot cooler we decided to see what we could do. Not 10 minutes out of HQ Sam dropped a bombshell. He would most likely drop out at CP6, he'd been feeling sick for the past 10-15km and he didn't think he'd be able to finish. I just told him to see how he felt and make up his mind when we get back to CP6 (Note from Sam: what Ian actually said was "Hahahah no expletive way are you dropping out", end of discussion). After another 10 minutes Sam dropped off to visit Mother Nature, I pressed on and he caught up with me a few minutes later. He mentioned he had a little vomit and felt a bit better - too much sugar and other junk. From that point forward Sam switched to water, he wasn't used to running with electrolytes. We hit CP5, grabbed a cheese and pickle sandwich (delicious) and he started to feel better.

Now that we had got over that little challenge we decided to crank the pace up a bit. We really hit our stride and caught up with one of the runners we raced with before the end of the first marathon, Jeff. We decided to run together for a little bit and Jeff was telling us this was his second ONER attempt having been timed out at CP8 last year. Midnight would also mark his birthday! As we ran past a few crags I had climbed in the past I mentioned the routes I did, we were really hitting our stride and making fantastic progress. We had slipped 15 minutes behind our original check point target, but we were catching up rapidly.

As we admired the high cliffs on our left we began to look for the sharp left turn that cuts back past the old prison and back into town. At this point I will mention we were using a mobile phone with the ONER GPX path loaded up. A mixture of GPS and the path allowed us to pretty much stay on track, but we also had the oner maps and a compass for emergencies. We hit the location of the turn, according to the GPS, but no turn was in sight. We ran on for a bit, thinking the GPS might be inaccurate, but no obvious turn materialised. We must have missed the left turning, but where was it? All we had seen for the last km or so was high cliffs. We started making our way back to the left turn and we collected 3 other lost runners. Though using GPS and the GPX file to navigate we hadn't bothered downloading the actual terrain or satellite maps. In a moment of clarity (we were about 8 hours into this thing), I flipped the phone to satellite mode. Everything became clear. The path we had been running along had been wrong for over a km, the correct path was atop the cliffs! The line from the GPX file was not fine enough as to distinguish the 15m difference in paths which effectively ran side-by-side. Two of the other runners made an attempt to scale the bush and find a direct path up the cliff but this didn't feel right. Tracing back a km or so, right next to the crags I had climbed, was the proper route up to the top. A snap decision was made - we would run the km or so back. I was very annoyed with myself for this massive diversion and waste of energy. We were now having to wear head torches and some of our enthusiasm had been dashed. The rest of this leg back to HQ was uneventful, we made one other error - not stopping at a chippy to pick up a burger or pizza - but we got back to HQ well within cut-off.

Over 40 minutes and an extra 2.2km had been run. Things were going to get tight. The only good news was Sam was feeling good. A quick pit stop, some soup, a change of shoes, 20mins or so and we were back on the road!


CP6 → CP7 (57.2 to 77km)

The next section was a pretty long 18km. I feel like this section is designed for a few reasons:

  1. Allow runners to bank some time before the hills. It's pretty flat
  2. Weed out those who would not make the night (it was already dark when we left CP6)
  3. Get through the city as quickly as possible

It was interesting to see some native English wildlife, the clubs and bars were busy but other than not super interesting. So far we had been using our running watch to do a total aggregate time and distance for the run and then work out our progress on each check point relative to the start of that check point. This started to break down for two reasons. The first is that the distances were all amuck with minor detours here and there and as such the course distance and the run distance were not quite the same. Secondly we were getting tired and calculating distances and average speeds became too much effort. This came to a head as CP7 took forever to arrive. From this point on we reset the watch between check points, allowing us to easily monitor our pace against our plan and the distances too.


CP7 → CP9 (77 to 98.2km)

It's 30 minutes past midnight and little do we know it, but the race is just about to begin. The following two checkpoints melded into a long arduous siege against mother nature. The rolling hills were too steep to run up and were too dangerous and steep to attempt to run down. This meant picking our way carefully up and down each unrelenting hill. As soon as we hit a flat we would hit the gas and start jogging, but as soon as you got going you hit another steep section. Highlights of this section included:

  1. Stopping at Durdle Door, turning our lights off and enjoying the epic view provided by the moon
  2. Hitting a long windy downhill and racing two other runners for ages

It was whilst racing the other two runners that we made a minor error and ran about 100m in the wrong direction. Running back and seeing them far-off in the distance (400m now) was quite disheartening. Due to tiredness of both parties Sam lost a little faith in my route finding skills so I made an extra effort to not error on the next up-and-down section. We were only a couple of km from the next aid station and not feeling too terrible. Whilst concentrating on the map I managed to put my left leg into a hole and twisted my ankle, ouch! Sam asked if I was okay, I replied; "I'm fine, this hill is not going to walk itself". I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep the pace up to meet the various CP cut-offs. As we neared the checkpoint I decided to keep this to myself and just see what happens.

As we pulled up to the check-point, we saw two other runners.


CP9 → CP10 (98.2 to 107.9kms)

The first thing that happened when we pulled up to the checkpoint was that my left ankle clicked back in position. Pain instantly gone, absolute relief.

The second thing was that we had a quick chat with the other two runners we had been leapfrogging for the last 2 checkpoints. The first was sitting on a chair at the checkpoint and looked like he wasn't having a great time. The checkpoint stewards were giving him a little pep talk, though we didn't catch the exchange. After chatting with the second runner about our little misadventure and him mentioning that he had run the course before, we decided to join up and run together. We were assured that the final two checkpoints and finish were flatter. In retrospect, less hilly may have been the right term, it was by no means flat.

The four of us set off on a mission to finish this thing. We hadn't come this far to not finish. The second runner, who introduced himself as Rory, warned us that there was a painful steep staircase straight off the bat. The first runner, Dave, kept mum and had his poles at the ready. We started up the stairs, each runner battling his own demons to make the climb. Dave was battling and his legs did not want to ascend the hills. After we reached the top of the staircase we looked back and Dave was no longer in view. Rory shouted down the hill but we heard no reply. We decided to press on. Sadly our expectation was that Dave's race was over, the cut-off times were now quite tight and would require a massive mental commitment to finish. We all hoped that we would see him at the finish, but acknowledged this was highly unlikely.

We had never met Rory before but he regaled us with his previous ONER attempt where a mistimed snooze cost him the finish, a reminder of how keeping up a good consistent time was imperative. The three of us worked like a machine pushing through the check-point. Rory had a slightly different running style to Sam and I but we made it work for 90% of the CP, he pulled away towards the end as we couldn't quite keep up, but met him again at CP10 for a bite to eat.

The ONER always has something up it's sleeve and is quite relentless with giving and then taking away. For example, we had got used to each check-point being about 12kms, after Rory pulled away we checked our time sheet and discovered this checkpoint to only be 9.6km long! We were only 500m away, the lighthouse! A few minutes later, after turning a corner, we found that between us and the end was a massive descent and then a painful staircase. A minute's silence and we begrudgingly made our way down-and-up.


CP10 → Finish (107.9 to 131.9km)

As we pulled away from the second to last check-point we started making a few calculations about getting to the end. After our detour earlier in the race, and the hills being a touch tougher than expected, our 21 hour time was blown. We had some confidence in finishing, but wanted a good buffer for the last check-point. We felt like we had pulled some time back from CP9 → CP10 but still needed a bit more time.

What followed was some of the most intense mental control where we pushed harder than ever before to crush this 11.1km section. We managed to catch-up and overtake around 10 runners and really upped the ante to make sure we would finish. The net result was hitting CP11 with over a 2.5 hour buffer to do 12.6km. After running for 21 hours non-stop, this seemed like enough to bring this home.

The last part of the run was a mix of strolling, running, and avoiding naked men on the beach. Given we had given ourselves around a 50% chance of finishing we were pretty chuffed. Running the bridge with everyone clapping and being handed the ONER medal a large relief swept over me.

Fin.


Strava Run