Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com

Chiltern Wonderland 50

Centurion Running 16/09/2017

1st Male:       Jon Ellis        6:36:58

1st Female:   Rachel Fawcett       8:41:42

http://www.centurionrunning.com/races/chiltern-wonderland-50-2017

Wonder: to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at)

Land: something the government wants to put loads and loads of houses on; or put HS2 on

I only finished the Ridgeway three weeks ago and here I am at the start-line of the Chiltern Wonderland 50 mile race.  I’m not the only one either – Victoria Louise Thompson is doing the same.

I was told that in my last blog that it was too cheerful and positive, so I will try to have a bit of a moan in this one.  Only a small moan though.

The race is a 50 mile loop returning to its finish where it started with a course that takes in some outstanding countryside.  Weather was forecast to be pretty good in all and temperatures 14-15c, which certainly for me is ideal.  So, good course and good weather is a double bubble.  Sadly, what was bursting the bubble was my IT band.  It was flaring up at the end of the Ridgeway and so I didn’t run for two weeks.  Last weekend I went for a run and it flared up again, so this race looked like it was going to be a damage limitation exercise.  I certainly wasn’t expecting to finish.  Anyone wondering what the IT band is – it stands for Irritating Band simply because it is very, very irritating when it doesn’t work properly.  In a nutshell, if it’s not good, then you can’t go downhill very easily.  Uphill is fine.  On the flat is so-so.  So, there’s my whinge.  Woe is me, I have a hurty leg.  I’ve scoured the internet for a good anatomical analysis of it and this is the best explanation:

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Hurty Leg Explanation

Right, to Goring Village Hall.  With a new back room extension.  Kit check, number collection, say hello to James (RD) and wait for the briefing.  Have the briefing, then wander down to the start which is on the Thames Path (the fourth leg of the A100).  Hooter thing goes off promptly, but I’m wedged at the back (deliberately) and don’t move for a minute or two.  I realise that I haven’t switched my Garmin on and it croaks around looking for a signal.  I get to the actual start where James is stood and I say I can’t start until I have a signal.  He gives me a withering look, so I walk off rather sheepishly in the direction of the others.  A dog walker is stood watching us pass and he asks me if I should perhaps start running.  I explain I have quite a way to go and I’m in no hurry.  So about 4 miles along the Thames, winding up into Hartslock Wood then along to Whitchurch, only we turned left up the hill rather than right into Whitchurch – Louise Ayling was doing a grand, authoritative job of seeing us across the road and making sure we were going the right way.

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Random Cornfield for Nici Griffin – I know how much she likes them..

Eventually we came to a very pleasant vista looking out across the Thames towards Reading.  This was a steep descent and something which set the precedent of the day of me shouting and a-cussing as I couldn’t get downhill, whilst watching plenty of people whip past me.  I could have tripped over my lip I was sulking so much.  I eventually resorted to going downhill backwards which relieved the pain, but it was so slow and let’s face it – I looked proper stupid doing it.

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Stupid Downhills

I got to the first check point and there was chip timing here – not noticed Centurion doing that before, but I haven’t run with them since last November.  Delighted to see Nikki Mills there and had a quick chat about war wounds with her.  Despite only a couple of minutes chatting, I was surprised how cold I’d got.  I always carry a merino wool t-shirt in a dry bag on these runs and sometimes question if it’s worth it – but clearly it is, if I get into trouble I’m going to be cold very quickly.

The second leg was pretty much the same moving okay-ish, going uphill fine and spitting my dummy out going downhill.  I was seriously thinking of dropping at Bix, wondering what was the point of slogging 50 miles in pain?  However, on arrival at the checkpoint I saw the bus driver and thought no, keep going – let’s get to at least halfway.  The route and conditions were just too good to call it a day.

I noticed quite a few ravens calling and one in particular sounded very excited at one point.  I watched it for a bit and sure enough – there were sheep and lambs in a field and I think one was on its way out.  The raven was flying around and at one point even jumped on the lamb – presumably to test whether it still had any strength left.  I love corvids – intelligent, but they’re pretty evil.

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Looking back from Cobstone Hill

I became a bit fixated with Christmas Common at this stage.  I love Christmas.  It’s great.  Anyway, above Watlington, this was the highest point of the race and around the halfway mark.  We came to a steep climb and I thought, ooh, this is it.  It wasn’t.  It was Cobstone Hill.  A steep climb with a working windmill at the top.  I was hoping to get a good photo of said windmill when I got to the top, but it was shut off and there was a sign outside it which said: “No admittance, don’t go in, you’re not allowed”.  Or words to that effect.

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Windmill.  But you’re not allowed near it

I got chatting to a chap about children near here and we were comparing notes on how our kids are running rings round us already.  It helped pass the time and took my mind off the ITB.  We got to the checkpoint and Louise Ayling was here.  Again.  I couldn’t be bothered to drop and in fairness, I doubt she’d have let me.  I asked how far it was to the next check point and when the cut off was and she said I had three hours and 7 miles so why was I still stood there talking!?

So, halfway done and mooching around country lanes until I saw the sign of Christmas Common.  There was a guy here (Ian Robertson?) directing us with the traffic and he had a centurion helmet on a pole.  Nice touch!  I was told by someone that there was a nice downhill section coming up.  Joy.  More pain!  It was stunning though.  The rain predicted for 2pm hadn’t emerged and the sun was shining over another bit of Wonderland.

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Descent from Christmas Common

I’d been leapfrogging Victoria quite a bit (not literally – just passing each other) and there was one point where we were in a sort of narrow gulley – I think we were all concentrating so much on not tripping over anything that we’d have missed the turning which, thankfully, James noticed and called us back.  Much appreciated.

I was slogging it out and really wanting to get to Swyncombe and some familiar territory.  Just before Swyncombe we joined the Ridgeway and I knew where I was going for a bit now.  Except I didn’t.  I hadn’t checked the route at all and thought I was just doing the Ridgeway bit to Grim’s Ditch.  But after high-fiving one of the little fellas at Swyncombe Aid Station, I made my way out and found we weren’t going on the Ridgeway but going through St. Botolph’s graveyard.  I like St. Botolph’s church, it’s quite unusual in that it doesn’t have a steeple.  It also has a pizza oven at one end.  A long climb ensued and the predicted rain from earlier came down.  I found it quite refreshing to be honest.

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St.Botolph’s.  No steeple, but with pizza oven.

Up until this point of the race it had largely been damage limitation and I was constantly calculating when I could just start walking at 3mph, but after Swyncombe, two things happened.  1) My ITB seemed to loosen enough for me to put a hobble on and 2) The downhill gradients seemed to be a much gentler descent and, in fact, runnable.  So, finally I could actually start doing a bit of running in places.  I was wondering when Grim’s Ditch might turn up, but the course was going all round the houses.  I finally came to the Ridgeway and saw it was the down and up field – I first thought it was the Sarah Morwood “flying” field, but thankfully I didn’t have to do that bit.  So, down and up, into the wood and over towards the golf course.  There seemed to be loads of race supporters here waiting for their own runners, but they all gave me encouragement.  A quick bimble across the golf course, past Nuffield Church, onto the view of the White Horse Vale, then, to Grim’s Ditch.

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White Horse Vale with changeable skies.

Anyone who reads my blogs – and I have a strong fan base (not) – will know that I love running down Grim’s Ditch.  I was worried that I may not be able to run it today, but thankfully it was, indeed, runnable.  I didn’t even trip on root (did you see what I did there?).

The aid station was at the bottom of the Ditch and lo and behold – Louise Ayling!!  She said something which I didn’t catch so I turned back to hear and she said – why are you coming back, you need to go that way!  Marvellous, no frills, get out and finish.  I did need my bottles filling though and Ken Fancett was helping out.  I thought I might pick his brains for a few top tips and asked him how he managed to keep from being injured.

“I don’t know!”

Fair enough.  The guy’s a machine though.  Legend.

I think through force of habit I thought I was going to go along Grim’s Bank, but I had to turn left along a road instead.  According to the literature, this was going to be one of the fastest sections of the course.  Marvellous, a bit of flat running.  Needless to say, I turned off the road to go directly upwards.  This happened a few times, but there was indeed some extremely runnable sections.  The light was fading so the head torch came out – just in time as the track I was now on was full of rabbit holes.  It was getting to the point where there were four miles to go, then three miles left, and I was thinking that surely I must be able to see Goring by now, but nope, not a sign.  The light faded fast and it was full-on dark when I entered a wood.  Usually at this point of a race the Central Governor kicks in and says, no need to run, you’ve finished anyway.  Today, however, it was the opposite.  I’d spent a lot of the race bumbling about and the CG decided that we should run and get the thing finished.  So that’s what happened.  We have to get things in perspective when I say I flew to the finish, but it’s how I felt.  Just running through the woods and then by some fences which I was praying were the back gardens of Goring houses.

View 1

Couldn’t take any photos in the dark, so here’s a photo looking towards Stonor Park.

I think I came out by the train station and was about to head straight downhill when a chap on a seat shouted out that I needed to turn down a street and turn right.  Very nice of him.   There seemed to be lots of people about clapping and congratulating which was really nice and then I rounded a bend, past the pub and towards the Village Hall where a marshal directed me inside to the finish table.

Chris was there asking why I hadn’t fancied a sub-7 hour run!  I had a medal – I say medal, the thing is huge, put over my neck, followed by the race finish photo.  I was trying to look like Monty Burns doing an “Excellent” pose, but it just looks like me smiling.  Read into that what you will.

Corinne was there with a cup of tea and a bite to eat and there was Eileen Naughton bringing me my bag.  Again.  She was doing the same three weeks ago on the Ridgeway Race.  Same hall, same bag!

So, a nice sit down and a bit of reflection.  Nici came over and gave me a hug.  Also, James came over and gave me a hug as well.  I managed to have more of a chat with Nikki now that I wasn’t in the race and getting cold.  It’s nice to sit and reflect on the race and have a chat post-race, but at the same time, I’m also somewhat exhausted and wanting to go home.

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I saw Ilsuk when I left the hall, he had a complete change of clothing on so I assumed he’d finished a while back, and, checking his time, he had.  A great run from him.  The drive home was misty which I guess meant temperatures were getting low.  I did the usual post-race routine of getting cleaned up, crashing into bed and spending a sleepless night with adrenaline surges and leg pain keeping me awake.  My whimpering thankfully didn’t keep the wife awake.

I’ve mentioned the people I knew the names of, so thank you to them, but thank yous also go to absolutely everyone involved with the running of the race from start to finish.  James and Nici, aid stationers and Mr March.  For some reason, I never remember to mention Nick Sheffield, so must amend that herein.  Everyone who I’ve failed to mention – thank you.  Finally – the course marking.  Top drawer – I think it was James, MrMillsSir, Nick Greene, Russ Bestley, Drew Sheffield and Paul Murray.  I only got stuck a couple of times, but given where the markers were, this was understandable, but it was only a question of a bit of back tracking probably less than a hundred metres or so, so for 50 miles of course marking, it was spot on.  And the course was stunning.  If I hadn’t mentioned it before.

Race dedications go to my children.  My inspirations.  Especially what Euan said the night before – he’ll know what I mean.

And a special mention for Victoria – we shared the pain on this one.  We both decided that running the Ridgeway, then running a 50 miler three weeks later must never be repeated.  Well, not until next time.

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Written by Rachel Fawcett - https://fawcettfitnessrunning.blog

Chilton Wonderland 50

The school holidays dawned, I had recently completed SDW100 and was therefore completely indestructible, I put myself onto the waiting list for the CW50 to give me a summer holiday goal to train towards, I got all place; all was good with the world.

….then I went training with the local athletics club, a really good half mile interval session with some great runners. I was indestructible remember, so when my hamstring tendonopathy started to play up, it didn’t matter because I could take on the world: I didn’t stop, I had to finish the session. As a result of those intervals I couldn’t walk properly, run properly do anything properly.  I am clearly an idiot. I tried to give the place in CW50 back so that someone else could run this incredible route, but it was too late. At this point I had a proper girly strop at Supportive Husband who made appropriate noises to try to make me feel better before I looked properly at Nici’s response to my request to give the place back…it was too late, but she was sure it would all be ok and that she would see me at the start line. Right, strop back in its box and determined head back on, rehab, here I come.

Before I knew it I found myself in Goring Village hall happily absorbing the greetings, running banter and general positive vibe which Ultras seem to bring. I was facing 50 miles of Wonderland; muddy paths, woodland trails full tree roots, some stunning views and a few obligatory hills. The weather was looking good allowing me a bit of stretching in the Autumn sunshine knowing that rain was due in by the afternoon. Standing next to the Thames (the hilly bit apparently), I decided that I don’t much like rain so had best get as much of the course done before it came in, the starter horn went off and I committed to keeping up with what can only be described as a cheeky pace.

I felt surprisingly relaxed, I hadn’t done any of the planned training, I hadn’t done my usual build up to a race but I had done something I don’t usually do, I had rested. I was puffing like a steam train, probably because I hadn’t stretched my lungs for a while, but my legs felt strong. I soon became aware of Charley behind me, the pace was pretty tough and I was willing her to just get it over and done with and overtake. Half way to CP1 a bunch of us found ourselves simultaneously shouting to the pack in front that they were going the wrong way leading to us all confessing that it was quite a tasty pace but we were all chasing the rain.

IMG_1112.JPGCP1 arrived surprisingly fast, hamstring felt like it was about to explode but somehow I knew it would ease. Centurion events stand out with their well stocked stations and unbelievably encouraging crews, I imagined all Ultras would be like this but my small experience has shown me that they aren’t which is what makes the Centurion CP’s so special. Before I knew it, my water container had been stocked, I had shoved some food in and was off.

It’s at this stage where I would love to give a blow by blow account of where I went and what point I arrived at which CP. The truth is that it all has all blurred into one, I’ve seen photos with me in them and have no recollection of where they were taken. The pictures I have in my head are of tree roots, a windmill at the top of a stinker of a hill, some views which we all said ‘wow’ at the same time, the back of Jim and James’s trainers, some steps which none of used words to describe (just lots of ‘ouch’ ‘ooh’ and ‘aghh’) and an extra hill.

Yes, an extra hill, thrown in totally for free….and we weren’t the only ones. The brilliant things about Centurion events is that the routes are really well marked, so a lack of markers should be an indicator that all is not well. It took us to the top of a nettle infested hill to figure it out, but it was a mark of just how we were carrying each other along when we shrugged it off and cracked on trying to find the right route.

But this day wasn’t about where we went and how I felt at each point, it was about two things for me; the magic of trail running and people. The route was fantastic, how on earth did they find these glorious twisting paths linking the Thames Path, the Chilton Way and the Ridgeway. I love nothing more than running through woods and on muddy paths where I can lose myself in my thoughts and feel a bit more connected to nature. This route had that in bucket loads. The nettles were in autumn mode and couldn’t really be bothered to sting properly, the hills were so scenic that they were worth all the climbs, even the mud felt manageable.

And then it was about the people. Charley, Jim and James. I couldn’t tell what we chatted about but we chatted for about 45 miles. We laughed at downward steps and me confidently turning right having been told ‘it’s left here’. We all took a tumble at some point and we checked on the tumblee. We got over the extra hill and congratulated ourselves on our extra milage. We waved heartily at the lovely supporters who weren’t there to support us but cheered us anyway. This is the Centurion Army, not just the people who refuse to let you stand on your own at the start and insist on chatting to you, but also the people on the trail who look out for you. These are the strongest memories for me.

Coming into Goring we realised that it was actually a race and so Charley and I upped the pace only to hear a shout from behind ‘you need to turn left’, luckily I got it right this time and we embarked on the dog leg around the back to the village hall. We had clearly gone off too fast but Charley can shift rapidly and still find the energy to chat positive words. The sprint in was brilliant, not what I expected to be doing in a 50 miler but to come in with under a second between us was incredible.

I always learn something from races. This time I learnt just how far I can push myself when I am surrounded by hard runners who don’t take prisoners. There were lots of opportunities to lose the route on this race and I knew that, if I dropped back, I was liable to get very lost and disheartened so motivation was high to stick with this incredible group of people who just kept driving hard. I stupidly asked near the end if the upward slope we were on counted as a hill (and therefore could we walk) and was told in no uncertain terms that we were too close to the end for much to be counted as a hill and that we just needed to run hard from there on in. Yup, they were a tough crowd.

In summary, it’s the best race I’ve ever been lucky enough to be part of. It was such an enjoyable day due to the route, the organisation and obviously the people; running, supporting and volunteering. Anyone looking for an Ultra, this is definitely one for the list.

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Written by Jasmine Sandalli - https://medalmagpie.blog

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It’s been a while since we last caught up. Happily, this time, I’ve actually managed to finish a few races – unlike during my radio silence around this time last year. Unhappily, the reason for my radio silence this time is a little less trivial than a couple of DNFs.

Could I say that life “got in the way”? I mean, I could, but it would be a little disingenuous to life to suggest that my responsibilities are to running above all else; a little beyond my efforts to prioritise running over the everyday, at least. This time, Life earned itself a capital L: family pulled rank. So, apart from a feeble cursory mile a day to maintain my run streak (an exercise which has barely anything to do with actual running these days), my run diary has had very little to show for itself.

Meanwhile I’ve hit something of a plateau, both in running terms and in life terms. I don’t get excited about anything any more, I just feel a bit numb. Not anymore, at the moment; it can’t last, I have to remember that. So I plan things to look forward to – we’re getting married in 9 months for Christ’s sake – because I want to feel the thrill of anticipation again. Plans can be made, but I no longer believe that they will really come to pass; I convince myself something will pop up and take precedence. So I’m not afraid of anything, either. I’m not afraid of failing to meet expectations because I have none. I just don’t care about anything enough to worry about being disappointed.

If Life hadn’t pulled rank on my race calendar I would still have passed August without a race – it was a conscious decision to “rest” and also there just weren’t enough weekends, as there often aren’t. March through July saw two fifty milerstwo 50ks, and a trail marathon in 30 degrees of heat. I dragged myself through those, barely, and decided that I wanted to finish the third of the Centurion fifties feeling like I actually had enough in the tank for the fourth and final race. See, now I look back on it I realise that’s an ambitious race calendar for someone who is actually fit, never mind for a training regime that consists of “I might as well be running to the tube since the buses are so unreliable”. That’s two solid junk miles right there. More than once, I’ve done it in Toms espadrilles and holding my Kanken bag over my back to stop it from bouncing. It is transport, not training.

Should I keep finding challenges in the hope of regaining that spark, flinging muck at the wall until it sticks? Or should I hold back, take aim? Deciding to run the Farnham Pilgrim Half Marathon on a day’s notice was to aim what spinning round to take a blind shot in action movies is; and weirdly, just like in action movies, it only bloody worked. Knowing I’d done no long runs, knowing I’d barely even managed to run off road a week before the Chiltern Wonderland 50, I decided I either needed to stop running altogether (i.e. break my run streak) and hope that rest would give my legs half a chance of lasting the distance, or I needed to fire things up a bit, go for broke. So I posted a message with the Chasers to find out if anyone was doing a social trail run on the North Downs, and the answer came back that yes, twelve of them were, and also picking up a medal for it. The idea of running the full marathon was just a little too far-fetched, even for an emotional nihilist, so I plumped for the half and got back to the pub in time for lunch. I ran with my club, as part of my club; I was the slowest, as usual; I danced around the course like a loon, and I had a fucking good time.

It’s a beautiful course, a circular route around the Farnham end of the NDW taking in bridlepaths and connecting trails, scooting around ponds and through golf courses (as one often does in Surrey), and generally pissballing about in the woods. And very runnable too – between the need to shake my legs out and the need to get back to the pub I pushed myself fairly hard, finishing in a not-unrespectable 2:08, and I can’t say I really busted a lung either. There’s definitely no speed in my legs, which I know because trying to get them to turn over was like flipping tyres, but my heartrate never felt too taxed. It was just enough to fire me up for the CW50 in six days’ time. Definitely the right call not to go for the full, although every time I saw a 100 Marathon Club shirt FOMO gripped me like a fever.

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The following week I kept up my daily run streak with the minimum mile a day, as I had been pretty much doing for weeks. The difference, I noted, was that where that mile usually ran between 9:30 and 10 minutes, sluggish and rhythmless, the miles in the week after Farnham suddenly threw up a couple of 8:15s and felt more joyful, more like a workout than I had had for a while. It helped being back on office hours rather than event hours too, so those runs occasionally happened at lunchtime instead of at the end of a strenuous working day on legs worn to a stump. Had the gamble paid off?

Come race morning, although there was still a dull ache gnawing at my muscles, there was something even more dangerous – a flicker of anticipation. I was more nervous at the start of this race than I think I’ve been for any other race ever, for the most part because finishing it meant keeping my hopes for the grand slam alive and that comes above all else this year, but I think partly because – for the first time in a long while – I actually cared about the result. The thirteen hour final cutoff limit (proportionally split across the checkpoints) would be hovering over me all day, but I would be focusing instead on two other times: eleven and twelve hour timings which I had worked out and written on my checkpoint plan. One would be a measure that I’m doing well (and more importantly, perhaps too well) and the other would be the more realistic boundary. If I’m too far ahead of the first one I know I’m beasting myself; if I slip behind the second I’ll have no hope when my legs finally give in and I have to hike. Those numbers would guide me through the day like a virtual pacer.

I ended up on the same train as King of Centurion Ilsuk Han, who is usually either running or volunteering their races but rarely misses them, and a gaggle of other runners who all seemed to know the route from Goring Station to the race HQ in the village hall. Ilsuk also helpfully pointed out that the train I (and most other competitors) had planned to get home wouldn’t actually be running, thanks to some last minute engineering works at Reading; someone mentioned two rail replacement buses to Maidenhead and I zoned right out. I didn’t have the energy to worry about how I was going to hobble home after folding my cramped legs into a bus seat for three hours; I just had to think about getting back to Goring in the first place.

Nonetheless Ilsuk represented, as he always does, a good omen. We met on my first attempt at the North Downs 100 and later discovered that we had friends in common through Fulham RC, and it seems that every time I run an ultra these days he’s there. He’s such a warm, friendly and knowledgeable man I can never help but be comforted to see him. He buzzed around the village hall introducing first timers to regular faces, gathering lone runners wandering around aimlessly and making sure everyone had a friend at the start line; and he does this every time. A real unsung hero of the ultrarunning community, he is a true representative of the spirit of our sport, not to mention a shit hot runner in his own right. Even so, he privately admitted that he was just as anxious as the rest of us, and when we lined up at the start he didn’t go off with the frontrunners, choosing instead to stay with the midpackers and the newbies. Whether that was an act of kindness or just his way of dealing with nerves I don’t know, but I for one started the race with excitement just outweighing fear, and set the tone for the rest of the run.

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The route takes in one long loop around the Thames Path, the Chiltern Hills, the Ridgeway and explores the unmatchable countryside of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The Ridgeway is definitely up there for my favourite ever trail route and the added treat of the Thames made this race a big star on my calendar. The first ten miles to checkpoint one at Tokers Green flew by, partly because of the stunning views but also thanks to a runner named James I got chatting to, only to discover that we’d run much of this area together once already on the Druids Challenge two years ago (a race I’m gutted not to be running this year). Feeling much less leg-heavy than I have been recently we went hell for leather on every single downhill, of which there were plenty thanks to the undulating but runnable elevation. I could easily have passed on the snack table, but I knew that I needed to lay the foundations now for sustainable energy levels later, and crammed my pockets with chocolate chip cookies.

Downhills we were bossing together, but James was obviously fitter than me on the uphills and eventually he pulled away; it wasn’t worth overstretching myself to keep up with him at this stage with forty miles still to go, so I just pootled along at the steady pace I’d been maintaining so far. Predictably, I was way ahead of my eleven hour pace already – in fact we passed the checkpoint in 1:49, ranked 138 and 139 out of what would end up as 187 official finishers. In fact, if I’d sustained that pace I’d have been on for just over a nine hour finish – yeah, no. If I didn’t take the decision to dial back now my body would do it for me later, in much more dramatic fashion.

Before long I was caught up my a chap called Steve and we began running together. I don’t remember exactly what I said now, but I do remember hearing him chatting away to another runner behind me and as usual bigmouth struck again; I couldn’t resist butting into their conversation. It set the tone for the next forty miles – we spent the whole rest of the race together talking about everything under the sun. Steve was an ex-squaddie, ex-paratrooper, self-made businessman with a penchant for bloody silly races, and between Tokers Green and Bix he recounted the tale of his four attempts at the Lakeland 100: two successful, two not, considering a fifth go to settle the score once and for all. I’m telling you, that man knows the Lakeland 100 yard by yard, so if anyone’s planning to run it you need to look him up. As one would expect from a military man, his meticulous preparation included a week spent in the Lakes recceing every inch of the route in daylight and dusk. I really didn’t need the iPod.

We left Bix aid station together by which point I’d actually gained two places and he, having paced the first section somewhat more conservatively than me, was up nearly twenty. We were coming up against much more meaty hills than we had done so far, and even had to pause the conversation for power-hiking every now and again. But the course was just so stunning. For totally different reasons, I still can’t quite decide between this and the South Downs Way for a favourite so far – certainly the SDW50 was a better experience and the fastest finish so far, but if you want fairytale woodland and runnable rolling terrain I think Wessex might just edge out Sussex. Ask me again in a week.

Having got through a potted history of our running careers, the conversation turned to politics, economics, history, sociology, the EU referendum result (obviously) – and two people with more diametrically opposing views you would be hard pushed to find. The fascinating thing for me was that, although our positions were poles apart, our values tended to align. We spoke as two people who felt equally let down by the parties they supported, who sought the same reassurances from two different approaches, who feared the same threats and chose different weapons to combat them. It sounds like a mad thing to say but as much as I was enjoying the run I really enjoyed our discussion – we had, I like to think, a good honest respectful debate, a sharing of perspectives, a chance to find commonality, and ultimately the biggest thing we had in common was a love for endurance tests and the courage to be humbled. I rather think that if the referendum had been debated over the trails there would have been a lot less mudslinging. There you go, that’s my future campaign slogan: Less mudslinging, more mud.

Having put the thorny issue of politics to bed we reached the Ibstone School aid station just before twenty six miles and spent a few minutes to refresh and reload. I was already struggling to get calories in but I force fed myself cookies and cola, and I had been steadily working on a bottle of Tailwind all day as well. All the aid stations so far offered Tailwind as well so I knew when I finished my bottle I’d be able to refill, and would more than likely be relying on it for the end of the race. Slightly stiffer than before, and having lost a handful of places, we carried on our way. By this time I was still within my eleven hour pace but by a smaller margin than before, and a margin that was shrinking by the mile. Still though, plenty in hand for a finish. As long as it didn’t all go wrong.

Steve had planned to meet his wife around mile thirty with a mysterious and hitherto untested smoothie concoction which would save or slay him. Oats, oat milk, fresh fruit, protein mix and chia seeds – it sounded bloody amazing. But having never tested it in anger before he had no idea if it would give him the boost he’d need for the last twenty miles or if he’d be in the bushes for the rest of the race. Only one way to find out.

He made a brief stop to pick up the drink while I carried on, making use of the momentum I had now that the pain in my feet had passed and simply become numbness. Pain? Ah. It wasn’t until this point that I realised I’d been running through pain for about ten miles already, such was the quality of the company and the distraction. Well, this would get interesting – pain doesn’t often feature for me, and it certainly doesn’t stop me as often as fitness, low blood sugar and temper tantrums do. When he caught up again I asked him about his war stories – the military ones rather than the running ones – and he obliged with some hilarious, some frankly terrifying and a fair few eye opening accounts of the life of a non-commissioned officer. Having heard that it wasn’t hard to imagine someone capable of finishing multiple 100-milers in the Lakes; the mental strength required to withstand the rigours of ultra-running being bread and butter to someone who has survived para-training.

At least I lasted longer than my watch…

We had slipped a few more places by the time we reached Swyncombe, and I really started to feel the distance by this point – a quick stretch on the cool grass and a moment taken to put on my waterproof jacket both turned out to be excellent decisions as the rain we’d been promised all day finally made an appearance. I had slipped past my eleven hour pace by this point, but still well within the cutoffs and about to hit Grims Ditch, one of my favourite trails ever. Another lady caught up with us at this point and started swapping 100 miler stories with Steve, which was a fascinating exchange to say the least – there really is no point in spending time with this amazing group of people if you can’t take the time to learn from them. I shut my trap (at least until the conversation turned to cars, which I couldn’t resist bowling into) and listened to them like I was listening to a podcast.

The final aid station would be at the other end of Grims Ditch and just over nine miles from the end. A long old stretch to finish on, but it did mean the last intermediate cutoff to worry about was cleared and we passed it with over three hours to go. A slow walk would have made it, but I really didn’t want to cut it that fine. Sadly, I wasn’t entirely in charge of that decision – my legs were screaming and I was doing my level best to tune them out. I succumbed to the chair, just for a few moments, and stared mournfully at the empty Tailwind barrel wondering why I hadn’t filled my bottle up earlier. Luckily the volunteers there had made up a batch of the best white bread butter and cheese sandwiches you’ve ever seen, and with some effort I chewed my way through a couple of them and washed them down with Coke. It was a bit awkward to swallow, and I noticed then just how dehydrated I’d become despite the inclement temperature. Next race I’m sticking a signpost at thirty miles saying “EAT NOW DAMMIT, YOU’LL THANK ME LATER”. As it turned out Steve’s smoothie had been an unqualified success, so much so that I’m tempted to try it myself on my next long run. Liquid calories that don’t taste too sweet are surely the way ahead.

We left the aid station still optimistic, and at the very fringes of daylight, a little bit smug about the fact that we hadn’t had to use our headtorches yet. Within a couple of miles however dusk fell – plummeted really, as it does in the woods – and I was cursing myself for not fishing out the torch when we stopped at the aid station. Talking was becoming increasingly difficult to me as one by one my various functions closed down. There’s almost no chance I’d have finished the race if it wasn’t for Steve; not only had he very kindly offered me a lift to Gatwick Airport on his way home, where I’d have a fighting chance of getting a train since the Reading line was down, but his tireless storytelling and patience dragged me through the deepening gloom. To say we were hiking now would be flattering the pace we kept up, but he insisted on staying with me instead of pushing on and getting the job done. I decided that I couldn’t reward his kindness with whinging so I kept my negative thoughts to myself and kept moving forward, mutely. You can’t complain about pain in front of a soldier.

The last couple of miles back to Goring were profoundly dark, and our torches were doing bugger all to cut through the blackness. We had been joined by one of Steve’s friends and a couple of other runners by this point, all moving in single file along the single track, all just looking for the streetlights and the end. When it finally arrived my feet and legs were burning – just half a mile of pavement to go, and it felt like walking fifty miles of hot coals. Unable to restrain myself any more I started audibly whimpering, choking down tears just to get to the end. We decided to cross the line together as a group of three – when it finally came it turned out to be the side door to the hall and we had to file in one at a time, but we were reunited on the other side. Twelve and a half hours, and we were done. I was dizzy, slurring, in agony, but relieved.

Ilsuk was still in the village hall doing the rounds, despite having finish a couple of hours earlier, while I forced down some coffee and tried to sit. While we recovered we saw the last few finishers stumble including two guys who finished just inside the cutoff and at least two that, heartbreakingly, didn’t. To struggle that far knowing that you wouldn’t even get the medal is a special kind of tough. I came to enough to force down a sausage in a roll – it took a good half hour to do so – and settled into the warm of the car, suddenly overwhelmed by gratitude. And then, horror. I still had Wendover Woods to do to complete the grand slam, and that was so hard the cutoff was two hours longer. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

Thanks to Steve’s hospitality I was home within a couple of hours and out the next day for my one mile hobble around the block to shake out my legs and keep up my streak. But come Monday morning – a heavy day at work which started with me carrying my own staging around because my crew had been accidentally cancelled – the hobble became something much worse. Somehow, despite my legs taking the brunt of the battery, I had actually pulled muscles all across my chest and ribcage and breathing became a serious issue. Like, I could talk or breathe but not do both issue. All day on my feet with a trailer shoot I hoped I would just shake it out, but by the time I got home I knew for certain there was no chance of me running. Pain in general has never stopped me before, but chest pains, that’ll do it. The streak, and my heart, were broken.

So I relinquished it in the hope that I might still save another, much longer lasting streak – I’ve run every Ealing Half Marathon since it started in 2012 and I have no intention of giving that up so easily. My one day off turned into two days, and having booked off the Wednesday as lieu time I finally got a chance to catch up on some rest (and a load of Air Crash Investigation). When Sunday came around I felt, though not entirely in shape for a road half marathon, like I had a chance of not embarrassing myself, and like I had at least enough breath to finish. Proudly wearing my QPR shirt I settled in in front of the 1:50 pacers, hoping to stay in front of them but prepared to let them go. I resolved to enjoy the atmosphere, return every high five and every shout of “YOU RRRRSSS!”, smile all the way round, remember that I do this for fun. And bloody hell, it was.

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I actually managed to keep the pace up for a good ten miles before my body refused to respond to the command to push harder. It was painful, but I could run through it – i just couldn’t turn my legs over any faster. The real turning point however came just after mile eleven; just as I tried to give another burst of energy, my chest cramped up like an imploding star. I could barely breathe. I kept running, but I let my pace ease up until the cramp passed. That’s it – you don’t dick around with chest pains. The pacers finally overtook me and I let myself glide to the end, saving my last bit of energy for a leap over the line – there wasn’t even enough to sprint. As I landed, almost knocking over guest commentator Susie Chan in the process, I smiled. I had done it in 1:51 and change, and only five minutes out from my all time PB (a time set with at least half a stone less weight).

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Embarrassing as my CW50 time was, I have to concede that it’s a lot better than I deserve having invested so little time in running recently. This shouldn’t be about pity or excuses or self-flagellation, but equally I want to recognise that a little anticipation goes a long way. Either I’ve become complacent or I’ve stopped caring altogether; either way I must be able to do something about it. Perhaps right now running can’t take priority over everything else; it could still take priority over 90% of everything else. Perhaps I’m not fit enough to enjoy a fifty mile trail race at the moment; I have two months to change that. And if I don’t, I’ll have thrown away all the hard work that brought me this far. Perhaps I underestimate what I can do, setting myself unwieldy and contradictory targets, because I don’t want to admit there’s such a thing as an unattainable target.

Perhaps I’ve forgotten this is meant to be fun.

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Written by Samuel Bolton - https://samuelsultrarunning.wordpress.com

I suppose this is more of a breakdown of my thoughts on the race and a way of helping me remember some of the more eventful bits rather than a full race report. I hope you find it useful.

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I try to run races that have some significance to me in terms of where I’ve lived, the beauty of the course or their uniqueness. The ST24 definitely fitted the last category.

Race ethos

The idea of the ST24, from what I understand, is that you physically deplete yourself so much you stop thinking about the everyday occurrences in your life and start to think about what really matters to you. The use of a running track is no accident. In meditation you’re taught to focus on signal objects such as a pin head or your own breath, this race used a 400 metre track.

I also like the fact that there is no plastic goodie bag of crap and advertising at the end.

Planning

Run 3 laps and walk 1. That way it would hopefully stop me from going off too fast but also having something to concentrate on to break up the monotony. Concentrating on the 3/1 tactic became my pin.

5 hours for the 1st 25 miles, 5 ½ hours for the 2nd, 6 hours for the 3rd and 7 ½ for last. 100 miles in 24 hours.

I’d attempted to run 100 miles once before at the White Rose Ultra but dropped out at 83 miles as it passed my house. Afterwards, I had a terrible feeling of failure and beat myself up for a bit about not being strong enough mentally to have finished. “It’s all learning though”, I told myself and “sometimes you need to fail to succeed”. I’ve learnt a massive amount about racing 100 miles from the WRU 100 and crewing for Nick Thompson on some of the Centurion races……grit in your shoe, you have ups & downs, food makes you tired and you come through it, sort hot spots straight away, eat and drink constantly, you feel better when the sun comes up, start slow and get slower…..

Crew

What crew? Lucky me and my friend James applied and were accepted together. Every other runner seemed to have a gazebo, tent, sleeping bag, table, flag of their country etc. We stuffed a carrier bag of food and clothes under the cover of an industrial grass roller to keep it from getting wet. We crewed for ourselves and later, thankfully James crewed for me. Russ Beasley was also a big help and a lady who gave me some sudacrem which almost certainly saved my race at that point.

The race

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The ST24 ultra in some ways reminded me of going to an all-night dance club abroad.  You randomly end up talking to someone from Belarus for hours, sweat so much that when you go to the toilet you slide off the seat, you drink your body weight in water and dance (run) all night. People finally spill out into the day light, a distant memory of the person that entered the club smelling great and with their best gear on. You go back to someone’s house party to carry on but by this time everyone is more tired and less coherent. Some people pop pills, some have cups of tea, others pass out in the corner, only to get a second wind later. For anyone who has run this race or something similar, you’ll know what I mean.

The plan

I made sure I ate and drank something every 4th lap. My friend Nick told me that ultra running is really just an eating and drinking competition and in some ways he’s right. At points in the race you know you really need to eat or you’ll start to go downhill and you’re body and mind will start to rebel.

I ate and drank whilst I was walking. I’d learnt that you can lose a lot of time at aid stations. Over the whole 24 hours I only sat down once to change my socks and twice to go to the toilet.

Now this seems crazy, but this is truthfully what I ate and drank. Every mile (4×400 meters =1600 metres/1 mile) I was very methodical and had a cup of either water, coconut water, coke, electrolytes, energy drink, ginger ale, tea and/or crisps, a banana, apple, pretzels, twiglets, peanuts, soup and baked beans. I’d say that’s easily 100+ portions of food and/or drink.

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I didn’t eat the sandwiches. This was the races only fail. Who puts butter on a jam sandwich and even worse, who puts butter on a peanut butter sandwich! I think even Sri Chomney would have vetoed that.

The people

The lap counting system is kind of flawed but kind of brilliant. Instead of having a tag on your leg that records a lap every time you go past, they have a volunteer allocated to about 4 people who you shout to or they shout at you every time you pass the start/finish line. These volunteers are brilliant. Imagine trying to keep your concentration to count 4 different runners as they go past you every minute or so for hours on end.

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I have to say the counters were one of my highlights. They were so positive all the way through. My third counter did a 7+ hours stint from about 9pm until way past 4am, giving big whoops and yells every time I passed. When she rotated, I nearly cried. I don’t know what it was like for them, but for me it felt like you shared a real concentrated experience. I’m so sorry I can’t remember everyone’s name but I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have got past 100 miles if it wasn’t for their joy and selfless encouragement.

That’s one of the great things about a track ultra, you share the whole experience with every runner and every crew member. On a regular ultra, if you’re like me, you might see the leaders at the start and picking up the trophy at the end. On a track ultra you see the whole race unfold in front of you, from the runners that go off way too fast and blow up, to the ones that take it steady and slowly move up through the field.

Transcendence?

I think every runner must have a different experience. My most depleted run was crewing on the Thames Path 100. My runner had pushed on and finished and I was left to stumble back as elderly ladies passed me with a walking stick. The last 3 miles took me 2 hours that day, but they were the 2 miles I remember the most fondly. That feeling of total exhaustion but total satisfaction, of a long time goal completed.  Helping a friend finish a 100 miler.

This time it was different. This was more a sense of lessons learnt. At the WRU100 I gave up at 83 miles because I didn’t know any different. I was tired, very tired and I hadn’t yet felt the massive disappointment of not finishing a 100 mile race.  I had that knowledge of disappointment pushing me on and also knowing that you need to break 24 hours in 1hr sections. Just treat it an hour at a time and forget the total time, otherwise the thought of it will eat you up and you’ll quit.

Hallucinating? Lots of people say they do on ultras.  At times in the night I thought I saw my wife but quickly realised it was just a person with a similar shape and form. Was this hallucinating? I don’t know?

I do know for the last two hours I purposely didn’t listen to music, switched off strava and tried to just focus on my running. All I could think about was finishing over 100 miles, my wife, kids and how great everyone had been. Is this transcendence or is this still my selfishness?

I passed 100 miles with about ½ an hour to spare and spent the last ½ hour of the race watching everyone potter or even sprint round the track trying to reach their individual goals.

My 10k race splits 

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I did finish the race with real sense of calm and satisfaction. I’d banished the demons of not getting past 100 miles at the WRU before. I was absolutely knackered, I was so happy to have finished the bloody thing and I was chuffed to have shared and witnessed such an experience with so many committed and genuinely lovely people.

Thanks

A huge thank you goes to Shankara and all the volunteers, especially the 4 that counted me through, I’m so sorry I can’t remember your names but you were an absolute highlight. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll come back and volunteer myself.

James Young, Roz Glover, Artur Venis, Russ Beasley and all the other runners and crew for helping me through the run with your positive words and actions.

Nick Thompson and Andy Lang, you seduced me into ultra running and I owe you a lot.

Nige , Andy W, Jeff and the whole Meltham AC family….you rock.

Caz, George, William and family. I love you.

Kit

Shoes: I wore Nike Pegasus 28 trail which in hindsight were a little too hard for the track and my feet were quite swollen by the end of it. I should have worn my Hoka One One Clifton 2, but I was worried they would be too bouncy and coupled with a bouncy track, may end up blowing up my knees.

Socks: I wore Teko Super Cushion Marathon Socks which were great. I did get some blisters but I think that was down to swapping to an old pair of cushioned walking socks from Trespass after about 11 hours as I couldn’t find my 2nd pair of Teko’s.

Chaffing: I’d go Sudacrem over Vaseline every time and put plasters on your nipples, especially if it’s raining.

Clothes: Change into a warmer top before it gets dark and put on a warmer hat. I saw a lot of people go downhill over night. You need full waterproof jacket and trousers too. Plus a change of everying.  Trust me, you can’t bring too many items of clothing.

Food: Keep eating and drinking constantly. Have a food plan and stick to it.

Music: Keeping the Rave Alive – DJ Kutski

Running: Have a broken down race plan, ideally broken into manageable segments but don’t make it too complicated and don’t stress if it goes off course. You have lots of time, especially at the end of the race. If it really comes to it and you’re really struggling, have a sleep for a couple of hours, set 2 alarms and ask someone to wake you up. Believe me, loads of people did it this year. Some finished top 5.

People: Try to talk to people. They will become your allies and potential race saviours. If not, you might be theirs.

You: Enjoy it and try to take it all in.

Track biodiversity

“Parakeets, they’ve got Parakeets! I’m glad I saw them now rather than the end when I thought I was hallucinating.”

The track is surrounded by trees and so blocks the wind. I spent most of the early laps identifying them. I can confirm there is a mix of oak, ash, sycamore, hawthorn, holly and other native broad-leaved species.

Over a 24 hour period, I also witnessed a group of mushrooms growing from basic mycelium to full fruiting bodies!

Written by Pascal Fallas - https://www.pascalfallas.com

On Saturday 10th June 2017 I ran my first ultra marathon. Those who know at least a recentish version of me know that I am a keen runner. Keen here probably equates to a mixture of insanely passionate, obsessed, class-A-level-addicted and so on. I have run several marathons over the last 12 months, each one nudging the finishing time marginally downwards. My first, on the South Downs in Sussex/Hampshire left me close to destroyed, but also elated beyond pretty much anything else I’d ever done. Subsequent marathons have seen me finish in faster times but nowhere have I come close to replicating the, frankly, life-changing journey and sense of achievement following that first one.

So, early this year it was time to plan for something else that would push me beyond what I knew my body and mind could do. Staying local for logistical ease and to honour a promise to my other half (then in the final throes of a PhD and busy), I signed up for the Norfolk 100km race, run by Positive Steps. And then pretty much continued to run as I had been doing during the previous months, the only real adjustment being pushing the long run at the weekends a little further than I might normally.

But 100k? Approaching 2½ marathons?? What on Earth?! 

(In case you’re thinking that I do such things to impress, the reality is that any and all attempts I make to explain what I get up to are met by a response on a spectrum between incomprehensibility and pity, alongside a not insignificant dose of - usually - good natured mockery. One person actually got angry with me.)

Despite being a local event, it was still an early start to make the short journey to the start at Castle Acre, near Swaffham. Once the instructions and bag-drop logistics were dealt with we set off for the day, with feathery rain over the initial miles keeping things pleasantly cool. Most people seemed content to set a very gentle pace, which facilitated random conversations with a series of changing partners – in my case, a headteacher I’d once done some work with, a colleague, a lady worried about how her fragile back would hold out over the distance, and a chap who managed a good-for-age qualifying time for London but then forget to register during the entry window.

The Peddars Way turned out to be narrow, overgrown and uneven in places, but otherwise very runnable and the first checkpoint at Harpley arrived strangely quickly. After a brief pause I settled back into an easy and sustainable rhythm: everything felt good. The light rain cleared to dry but overcast skies, and the temperature began to slowly but perceptibly increase. 

The next 10 or so miles were spent chasing among the backs and packs in front of me, in gentle undulating rhythms, with skylarks heard everywhere (but almost never seen), braying pigs and startled lambs for company. Easy, lovely running. Eventually we broke off the country paths to float through Ringstead, before the first view of the sea on the descent into Holme.

Having broken the back of the ‘first marathon’ and covered a good third of the course I took a little longer at the second checkpoint and filled up with sausage rolls and jaffa cakes, and refilled my water. By now mentally done with the straight and steady footpath, I was grateful for the shift to expansive coastal vistas and flora/fauna variation over the coming section – which I already knew to be the most beautiful stretch of the course. 

Setting off once more from Holme, we quickly turned sharply eastwards and ran for some time on boards across the sand dunes. Beneath the hints of sun behind the cloudy skies we passed some frankly staggering coastal views - desolate, massive expanses of sand and marsh, with raptors hovering almost everywhere you looked. The sun really started to break through during the shortish detour inland to Thornham so, with the time probably moving on its way towards midday, it was a small relief to turn off back into woodland on the lead up to checkpoint 3. I’d run most of the race up to this point with a colleague but our pace had started to diverge by this juncture and we separated at the checkpoint.

Soon after this I found myself pacing out over the damp sandy expanse at Holkham, under a sun gradually growing more fierce. Actual running was difficult, but from time to time the sand compacted enough to make it possible in short bursts. I slowly chased down the person in front of me, who turned out to be working at the university I went to many years ago. More connections. He was in training for an even longer event in the summer so wasn’t pushing the pace, and it became a welcome opportunity to take stock and recover some energy before heading into the final third of the race. Moving among the many sunbathers, swimmers and general beach denizens, we chewed the fat for the mile or two to Wells, before parting at the start of the long sea wall which leads into the town proper.

In had by now developed into a blistering day and, on my own once more, I pushed on, picking up the pace again and didn’t see any other runner for a long time. This really wasn’t a position that I’d wanted to find myself in when endlessly thinking through the race in the weeks beforehand. I hadn’t been particularly worried about injury or energy, but I certainly experienced some fear about missing a turning, getting lost and adding unnecessary mileage, pushing a potential finish time way into the evening – or even putting a finish inside the cut off time at risk. I had planned on keeping another runner in sight preferably for as much of the time as possible. But with these sorts of distances and the smallish field of people willing to undertake them, it was inevitable that things would stretch out somewhat. So I found myself alone.

But not really alone. Dog walkers and hikers were passing all the time, some curious about what I was doing, incredulous at how far I’d come and usually sympathetic (with the odd visible wince) about the remaining distance. The path continued to wend and wind and, contrary to my worries, there was little opportunity to err throughout the whole of this section. Instead of being concerned about going off-route, I was otherwise engaged by the visit of calf cramps, old and familiar companions, who would stick around, intermittently, for the remainder of the course. I get these far too often – usually during the latter stages of a hard-paced marathon, where they have a tendency to take down any designs on a good-for-age qualifying time that might be floating around at the time. By the time I got down to the checkpoint at Stiffkey, the pain was stabbing my legs with some regularity and I had to introduce longer periods of walking than was ideal – which was a touch frustrating as my energy levels still felt good.

Aside from this (and the lack of a runner to chase down), everything was going well and I didn’t stick around long at the checkpoint, munching down some peanuts and crisps, but probably not as many as I could have done with, due to the almost complete lack of appetite by this point. (Most of the food I carried in my backpack ended up surviving the whole race.) So, onwards and upwards and outwards along tracks which bent across marshlands towards the sea and then (rather viciously) took you back inland towards Cley, just at the point when you can actually see the beach you’re destined for a handful of metres across the way. And running back inland meant – as it did several times earlier – running into a strong energy-sapping headwind.

At Cley I actually lost the path. I found myself, oddly, in a pub garden which was hosting a wedding reception and I must have been a severely incongruous, muddy and sweaty sight in amongst the beautifully attired people getting hammered in the afternoon sunshine. I was pointed (roughly and hopefully) in the right direction and found a little door in the corner of the garden which had a sign leading back to the coastal path. Thoughts of sitting down and drinking beer forever wafted into the 99% of my being that isn’t the hugely stubborn 1% which won out and decided to get the damn thing done. After all, by now there were probably only a dozen or so miles remaining, although it was hard to tell exactly as my watch went its happy way to oblivion around this point. Then, for the first time in hours I was met by another runner, coming back towards me on hiking poles.

He too had lost his way, but had been working on the basis that the final checkpoint was in Cley itself rather than on the beach so had been wandering around the village in search of it. A robotics engineer from Poland, now living in London but a previous resident in these parts, he too was suffering with cramps. I set him right and we headed off back out towards the sea along the exposed mud path. Although he forged ahead and we took slightly different routes across the shingle beach section, we ended up completing the final section of the race together.

After a brief stop at the checkpoint, the shingle began. All my reading about this race beforehand had mentioned this section. Notorious and widely reviled, the difficulties of running (or trying to) along a shingle beach for 4 miles had been flagged up to me well in advance. And right at the end of the race too. In reality though, it wasn’t too bad, at least by the time I hit it. The tide had withdrawn enough to expose some sandy patches and so I chose to run right down by the gently foaming sea for as much as I could, ducking under extending fishing lines and occasionally dodging waves. The late afternoon sun was the strongest it had been all day and was searing into my calves (my god, what a state they were in over the following week) and around my neckline and hat, but by now my mind was only locked, lazer-like, onto the finishing line.

In a nice touch, the organisers set up an impromptu checkpoint at the end of the beach, at which the polish engineer and I took stock and prepared for the final section, which no-one could quite decide was 5k or 5 miles (or perhaps even another distance). We set off quickly, up and down some of the hilliest landscape on the whole course, a quick waltz through Sheringham and then back out, up and over Beeston Bump, where (unbelievably!) we were passed by a runner I’d last seen somewhere before Holkham. He very politely apologised and carried on his way. This was the first person I’d seen from behind me since about lunchtime. Right at the end!

The Race Director met us at the top of the Bump, congratulated us and then merrily informed us that we hadn’t quite finished. So, a short descent from the peak, then a gentle (ha! With those calves?!) jog along past some caravans and across a road before entering (ecstatically!) into the grounds of Beeston Hall School: the finish.

It took me 12 hours and 45 minutes and I finished in 12th position, which I was delighted with. At the very end, we drove to Cromer and I plunged into the water, letting the bitter North Sea work its glacial wonders on my battered legs. 

A quite amazing experience that – naturally – I swore never to do again. But I will. Of course. Well, maybe not the exact same race (although maybe), but there’s something magical and transformative about days like this. After the soreness and blisters go away and the toenails repair and regrow, all that remains is the extraordinary memories of being free, being wild, testing yourself and pushing through whatever expectations you had of your ability. It makes you want to destroy routine and normality and convention and limiting self-belief, again and again and again. 

Finally, it’s worth noting just how well organised an event this was. The course was well marked where it needed to be and the checkpoints were fantastic - staffed by cheerful and hugely encouraging volunteers and packed full of the good stuff. For more information on the excellent range of Positive Steps events (including some of more sensible distances), visit their website: https://positivestepspt.co.uk

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Chiltern Wonderland - Richard Stillion

Chiltern Wonderland - Richard Stillion

Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com Chiltern Wonderland 50 Centurion Running 16/09/2017 1st Male:       Jon Ellis        6:36:58 1st Female:   Rachel Fawcett       8:41:42 http://www.centurionrunning.com/races/chiltern-wonderland-50-2017 Wonder: to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at) Land: something the government...

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Chiltern Wonderland 50

Chiltern Wonderland 50

Written by Rachel Fawcett - https://fawcettfitnessrunning.blog The school holidays dawned, I had recently completed SDW100 and was therefore completely indestructible, I put myself onto the waiting list for the CW50 to give...

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Self Transcendence 24 hour track race 20…

Self Transcendence 24 hour track race 2017 – My attempt at 100 miles in a day.

Written by Samuel Bolton - https://samuelsultrarunning.wordpress.com I suppose this is more of a breakdown of my thoughts on the race and a way of helping me remember some of the more eventful...

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CENTURION 50 GRAND SLAM PART 3 – CHILTER…

CENTURION 50 GRAND SLAM PART 3 – CHILTERN WONDERLAND 50 (AND THEN SOME)

Written by Jasmine Sandalli - https://medalmagpie.blog Standard It’s been a while since we last caught up. Happily, this time, I’ve actually managed to finish a few races – unlike during my radio silence...

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Tor des Géants race report

Tor des Géants race report

Written by Debs Martin-Consani - http://debsonrunning.blogspot.fr/ A slow scan of the marquee, assessing the carnage of 250kms in the Italian Alps.  There is a man openly sobbing as he takes off his...

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WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE TO RACE TOR DES GE…

WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE TO RACE TOR DES GEANTS

Written by Paul Tierney - https://www.inov-8.com     Tor des Geants (TDG) is a 338km footrace around the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps and is held in September each year. It has an...

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SALOMON BEN NEVIS ULTRA RACE REPORT

SALOMON BEN NEVIS ULTRA RACE REPORT

Written by Jason Millward - http://www.traillife.co.uk Coming into this race I felt great. Training had been going well and I was really looking for a good result. It would be the first...

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UTMB – 2017

UTMB – 2017

Written by Christian Maleedy - https://runningchristian.wordpress.com It is almost 4pm on Saturday and I have just arrived at Arnouvaz in  Valle d’Aosta in the Italian Alps. This is the 95.6km checkpoint in...

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One mile at a time #UGB200

One mile at a time #UGB200

Written by Matt Armstrong - http://integralrunning.blogspot.fr It is over a week now since I finished the Ultra Great Britain 200 mile race from Southport to Hornsea along the Trans-Pennine Trail and the...

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Butcombe Trail Ultramarathon - return of…

Butcombe Trail Ultramarathon - return of the mid pack runner

Written by Mick Farrar - https://runningoffthemadness.blogspot.fr   This one wasn't planned.  I had planned to run Albion Running's inaugural Race to the Farm 50-mile ultra, but it was pulled late in August due...

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Guernsey Ultra - 36 miles of fun!!

Guernsey Ultra - 36 miles of fun!!

Written by Mick Farrar - https://runningoffthemadness.blogspot.fr Some races seem like a really good idea when you sign up for them.  In September 2016 a few hardy runners signed up for the GU36 race, it...

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Race to the Stones - 100k in a day

Race to the Stones - 100k in a day

Written by Mick Farrar - https://runningoffthemadness.blogspot.fr Setting off on a 5-mile recovery run a few days after completing 100km gave me (plenty of) time to think over the RTTS, the achievement finally sinking...

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Self Transcendence 24 hour track race [R…

Self Transcendence 24 hour track race [Report]

Written by James Young - http://runjames.co.uk 24 hours running around a track doesn’t sound much fun but I honestly can’t recall many races I’ve enjoyed more even though I was literally miles...

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Thames ring 250 - John Hunt

Thames ring 250 - John Hunt

Written by John Hunt - https://johntrac.wordpress.com I suppose I better start with my reasoning for entering such a stupid event, 250 miles? Running (and crawling) along rivers and canals That is really...

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The UTMB CCC – 1 September 2017

The UTMB CCC – 1 September 2017

Written by Paul Baldwin - http://pbracereports.blogspot.fr Background   I have been a little in awe of the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB) races ever since we just happened to be in Chamonix during...

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MIUT - Madeira Island Ultra Trail 2017

MIUT - Madeira Island Ultra Trail 2017

Written by Tom Wright - http://life.tomwright.me.uk So this is it. A winter’s worth of dawnies would all come down to the next 24 hours. I had pumped my legs full of Beacon hill reps...

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RACE REPORT: TOR DES GEANTS 2017

RACE REPORT: TOR DES GEANTS 2017

Written by Tegyn Angel - https://vfuelaustralia.com The following is what happens when your Trail Run Mag editor says “You’ve got a week to write 3000 polished words for publication” and your response is “well...

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Tor des Geants 2017: the Race I Couldn’t…

Tor des Geants 2017: the Race I Couldn’t Quit

Written by Stephanie Case - https://ultrarunnergirl.com Giant piles of glistening cow shit. They were everywhere, mocking me. Obscene displays of effective bowel functions – something that I hadn’t been able to do...

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