Written by Nicola Hoy - https://nicsjourneyto100.wordpress.com
The road to Winchester (with a bit of a detour)
I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say dat again, rocking up at a Centurion Registration is a little bit like going home (or at least turning up at an extended family party or a school reunion). And that’s just how it felt early on Saturday 10 June when I arrived at Chilcomb Sports Club, near Winchester for the SDW100.
This was my 4th Centurion Running 100 mile ultra. In 2016 I ran the other 3 Centurion 100 mile races, you can read about those adventures here. My original plan in 2016 was to run Thames Path 100, that got me hooked and I ended up doing North Downs Way 100 and Autumn 100 too. Was a bit gutted that I didn’t run SDW100 as well, as that would have earned me the awesome, coveted Grand Slam buckle. But hey 3 x 100 milers in 5.5 months is not to be sniffed at, especially for someone who’d only been running for a couple of years or so at the time.
I train loads. My average weekly mileage is around 75 miles (going up when I am in peak training for a race). I also do a lot of strength training and other exercise, really been working hard at the strength and core, so I do exercise a lot. Some may say that I run too many miles in training, but it’s not all flat out, it’s a lot about time on feet with me. You will notice that I am digressing already I will get back to the race in question soon, but anyone who has read my previous blogs will know that you don’t just get a race report …. you get a bit of background and a chunk of me too …. boring or not!
I’ve only been running about 3.5 years, in fact I didn’t really exercise at all until I was in my 40s and got the bug for trail running after recovering from foot injuries. I raised the bar and the distance pretty quickly but now have the bug and really enjoy losing myself for hours on trails or scampering around in the woods. My first ultra was in 2015, absolutely loved it, made loads of new friends and have not looked back. I’ve not I have an ever increasing bucket list but my big goal at the moment is UTMB. Having earned sufficient qualifying points, I entered the ballot for UTMB this year but was unsuccessful. So I’m hoping to be more lucky next year and run it to celebrate my 50th birthday.
Promise I will get to SDW shortly, just one other little matter to divulge. In February this year I travelled south west and attempted the Arc of Attrition, a 100 run around the coast of Cornwall. Unfortunately, after chasing cut off times from early in the race, it wasn’t to be my day and I was timed out of the race. Getting you head around a DNF is pretty tough, but it happens. The race was fantastic, I was just too slow and not sure that my head was in the right place. Anyway, I’ve entered again for 2018 and I will bringing that particular buckle home next February.
So back to the now….. having completed the other 3 Centurion 100s, this was the day to tackle the only one I hadn’t done, 100 miles along the South Downs
Way. Having registered and dropped my bags, I prepared for the race. I’d met lots of people at previous races and though the Centurion Running Community FB page, and a couple of them said ‘hi’ as we gathered for James’s pr-race brefing. The usual sensible instructions; “follow the course marking”, “look after each other” etc.
And then we were off ….
The first 22
It always takes me a while to get settled into a race, getting through the first couple of aid stations is always good. During the first few miles I had my usual, “why am I doing this” thoughts, but found that I was actually running quite well. The course was pretty hilly from the off, but I was managing to keep a steady pace. It’s never about running 100 miles, we break it down, so it’s always about running to the next aid station.
The first aid station was Beacon Hill, at just under 10 miles. The course was already hilly, so I was getting a taste of what was to come. But I felt ok and was happy to stock up on food and drink, then quickly push on.
I was running well, chatting to other runners, in particular a guy called Daniel whom I new briefly from Autumn 100. We were chatting and sharing bucket lists as we ran. At around 12 miles I took dive! I always seem to manage to fall in the early stages of an ultra, this time it was through zoning out not looking our for tree roots. It shook me up a bit, but after a helping hand from Dan and another guy, I was back on my feet, brushed myself down and was again on my way.
The morning was warm, the sun was shining and the ground hard. The back of my heal was hurting a little …. more about that later!! I was running ok though, happy with my pace for this stage of the race and I reached the second aid station, QE Country Park – 22.6 in about 4 hours 20mins. It was good to the first two chunky sections out of the way.
Pushing on to 50
Stuart March, the brilliant Centurion photograph, and all round smashing guy, was doing what he does best and capturing our adventures. It’s not unusual for Stuart to suddenly appear appear from under a bush or be seen laid out on the trail .. always ready to capture an ace shot. Stu is a great, if you ever need a photographer check him out at Stuart March photography.
I passed through Harting Downs around 27 miles and Cocking at 35.1. I was sometimes running with Daniel, sometimes with others and sometimes alone. I saw Andy, a guy I knew from previous races and chatted briefly to him. The rolling hills were tough and my hip was hurting (I tend to suffer with hip and piriformis tightness) but I still felt strong. I was making sure that I ate a bit at every aid station, often stopping quickly and taking a little doggy bag with me to see me on my way. I seemed to be getting the hydration right too, and was managing nutrition and hydration well (possibly my best yet). But the rolling hills felt never ending and the chalky and lumpy terrain was exceptionally hard on my feet. It was also very hot, and I was beginning to look a bit like a beetroot! I ran for a bit with a really friendly guy named Roy, he’d run lots of marathons but this was his first 100, we yoyo’d each other for a while. I crossed a couple of other runners, who seemed to know me from previous races (thinks it’s the purple hair that they remember!).
Somewhere just before Cocking (I think was), I was struggling a little, and having been alternating running and walking, my spirits dropped, just a little! That’s when I saw Stuart walking towards me, smiling as ever. He took another couple of snaps and then gave me a big hug and some encouraging words, and I was on my way. That was a big lift!
Halfway and beyond
It seemed a long slog to the 50 mile point, Kelhurst Hill Aid Station. The terrain was lumpy and hilly and the weather hot. That said, I was still happy and made the halfway point in about 11 hours. Halfway is always a big boost mentally, as it usually means that you have less to go than you have already done (ish).
Washington aid station (at 54 miles) was in a Village Hall (many of the aid stations are gazebos or farm sheds), and this is where we had drop bags, hot food and proper toilets – so quite a big plus for the mindset. I managed to pick up speed running into Washington, which was a sight for sore legs. The volunteers, as always, were superb, filling my bottles, fetching my drop bag and bringing me food. I surprised myself with how quickly I wolfed down the hot tomato pasta, this was good as I still eating well and feeling ok. All too often, stomach issues can end a runner’s ultra race, there’s only so far that you can go on empty. Despite the relative comfort and happy faces at Washington, I was determined not to ‘take root’ and eager to keep the legs moving. Head torch ready for when the sun went down, off I set again onto the trail.
If it ain’t broke ……..
……………. DO NOT under any circumstances fix it!!!!
Ok so the feet!! Despite only having been running for a few years, I have covered a lot of mileage (my total mileage or 2016 was 4,019), and I’m on track for much of the same this year. Prior to SDW100 I had completed 5 ultras of 60 miles or more (3 of them 100s), plus all the training mileage. I am (or was!) proud to say that I had never had a blister from running. I seemed to have got exactly the right sock / shoe combination for me every time, and despite other issues with the feet (which I will cover another time – too much for this report), I had never had to deal with blisters. A lot of runners tape their feet in ‘blister prone spots’ or ‘stop to pop’ during the race. I have always said, that if like me you find the right shoe and sock combination for distance – NEVER CHANGE IT!
So what did I do the week before the race? Yep that’s right, I decided to wear different trail shoes. I had run trained in them but probably the longest run in them was about 20 miles (maybe less). Why did I make this decision … well concern about the hard ground, pre race nerves and basically just a temporary leave of absence of rational thinking on my part! The result ……… The backs of my heals completed ripped to shreds, with cuts and massive blood blisters …. not a pretty sight when the shoes came off I can tell you.
But back to the race, I could feel a rubbing on the back of my heal from early on. I did retrieve a small stone and thought that would do the trick, but I could still feel the cutting. I never take shoes off during a race, although maybe this time I should have done, then I might have discovered and treated the blisters, but I just rocked on thinking it wasn’t that bad really. The backs of my feet were sore, but this merged in with other foot pain and generally aching legs and hips. By now the quads were screaming a bit too – South Downs Way is really a collection of large rolling hills!
I kept on pushing, still going ok, but feeling it. I wasn’t worried about the night drawing in, I actually like night running (particularly in the open countryside of races), and we actually only had about 6 hours of darkness as it was mid June.
Boltophs aid station at 61 miles was a welcome tick as was Saldlescombe Farm at 66.6 miles, where the volunteers masqueraded as devils with their flashing horn headbands
Roy caught up with me briefly. I had seen him at Washington and he was struggling with an injury, that was a while back, so he must have put his foot on the accelerator to get to me. On and off through the dark hours I was running with a guy with a lot of races under his belt and who was very good company – ashamed to say I have forgotten his name (but then the brain does take a bit of a mashing on a 100 miler). There were some lovely ladies too, all ultra runners are awesome.
The night was clear, with an almost full moon. My head torch seemed to be dipping a bit, it probably needed new batteries, but to be honest, I could see well enough and just had to be extra careful at the odd road or woods section. Most of the terrain was fields or trail, it was very chalky, lumpy and extremely hard on the feet. The bottoms of my feet and my toes were getting a bit sore by now. I was alternating running and walking.
The moon was bright and it was a beautiful night.
Housedean Farm … pick me up
From Saddlescombe to Housedean was a long section, approx. 10 miles. My legs were aching and I seemed to be on endless gradual hills. I’d lost my appetite a bit by now but making sure I kept hydrated. One foot in front of the other …. getting there! At Housedean, Paul was volunteering. I ran most of the NDW100 with Paul last August (part of his Grand Slam), he is a great guy and I knew that seeing him would be a good tonic for me. I was flagging a bit when I marched into the farm, but wanted a quick turnaround as needed to get to the end. Paul gave me exactly the boost I knew he would. I never usually drink coke, but in man ultra it is the nectar that draws me to each aid station. Paul plied me coke and motivational words and off I set on the next section.
That sunrise ….. WOW
The sky was RED, I could see for miles, and it was beautiful. It is difficult to describe how stunning the sunrise was, and it seemed to last forever. Some runners took photos and I wish that I had too, but I didn’t take any pics of the stunning views in this race. A fellow runner, Andy Pumphrey took some absolutely draw dropping shots, which encapsulate the stunning sunrise and also depict the journey of an ultra runner. Andy kindly consented to me and others sharing his wonderful photos. Welcome to our world ….
From Housedean, there was what seemed like another long section to Southease (mile 84 /85 ish). I was managing to run stretches at an ok pace and I was yo-yoing a few other runners. I did pace myself on a couple running together, their split of walking and running seemed to suit me. When I couldn’t run, I tried to march. My feet were shredded, my quads were screaming. And still the hills came!
The last 15! …..
If you read any of my race blogs you will see a paragraph similar to this one… the last 15 miles of a 100 miler feel like 50. By now everything was hurting. The volunteers at Southease (as with all aid stations) were amazing. These people give up their time (often as many hours as the runners) to smile at us, fill our bottles, prepare and cut up food and give us the mental boost to keep on going. I really cannot thank the ‘Centurion Army’ enough, and am actually thinking of volunteering myself … to give something back!
Miles 84 to 91.6 were tough, I was slowing and everything hurt, but spirits were high! Alfriston aid station at 91.6 was inside. I arrived there alone and the wonderful volunteers topped up my water and offered me food. By now I couldn’t eat much and I did feel a little nauseous. I took the opportunity to use a proper toilet, sat on the loo, the next thing I knew I was jolting awake…. I had fallen asleep on the toilet Not sure if it was for a moment, a few seconds or a few minutes (it couldn’t have been long), but this was a prompt to kick myself out of there and get moving.
With just over 8 miles left, my legs were stiff and everything hurt. Back on the chalky, lumpy trail, I was sticking to grass where I could. The downhill sections in particular were killing the quads! But I kept moving forwards as you do. I was on my own for the last 8 and it seemed like 80, not quite sure how I powered on but power on I did. I have given up working out pace times – brain was mashed! I didn’t stop at Jevington, the last aid station, just logged my number and pushed on … needed to get to the finish, just one 4 miles to go! During this time the course deviated from the SDW and took me down a narrow trail with a rather rocky and slippery tipping point. I almost went flying!
The last 2 miles were road … what seemed like a never ending shuffle to Eastbourne Sport Ground. It was strange to be out on a main rain and I was walking now. Someone shouted from a vehicle window .. it was Roy, he unfortunately had not finished the race but seemed chirpy and told me that the stadium was close. It didn’t seem close .. that last stretch seemed to go on forever. My feet were hurting so much!
At last I saw the stadium, and with a lump in my throat entered the ground. One of the staff called out ‘a lap of the track and you are done’. I started to march around the track, the distance actually looked daunting. Everyone was cheering and shouting “Run, come on!” The Centurion staff at finish were ringing cow bells. Some runners entered the stadium behind me – I heard a shout of “You don’t want those boys to catch you!”. The finish line in sight, about 300 meters to go I started to run again and actually managed a sprint finish.
Stuart was in front of me snapping away, and he was the first to congratulate me over the line. Hugs from Nici and co, the wonderful Centurion staff and I was handed my 4th 100 mile buckle. I had finished in 26 hours 50 mins, which is about the usual time for me.
At the finish I met Tracey, she’s a lovely lady and an Ultra Queen. Last year she completed the double Centurion Grand Slam (so 4 x100 races and 5×50 races) and this year she is doing the same. It was great to catch up with her at the finish.
The volunteers on hand, I sat at Eastbourne Sport Ground for some time. I scoffed down 2 hot dogs and drank a lot of coffee. I felt weak and cold but taking time to recover helped. Roy appeared and was fetching me coffee and telling me to keep warm. Other runners were resting and swapping stories, all of us moving with a slow shuffle when we tried to go anywhere :). Eventually, I ordered a taxi to Eastbourne station and embarked on my journey home. I caught a train from Eastbourne to London Victoria , it was quite packed (as it goes via Gatwick Airport). Sitting stiffly on the train, I was aware that I absolutely stank, so goodness knows what the other passengers thought! :). I was in a lot of pain and very tired but I was happy. My daughter Natalie met me at Victoria to carry my bags and accompany me on the train from central London to home. I finally shuffled home and sat down. Now it was time to prise off the shoes, and that’s exactly what we had to do! At one point I thought my foot would snap off with the shoe!. Socks were a bit stuck to the bleeding blisters, but once all off and once I was bathed, I felt much better! Despite all this, and the difficulty in walking the next day, all I can think is that I want to do another!
Recovery week has been good, legs eased quickly. I was training again Tuesday evening, albeit only arms and core. My PT and friend Cam (Jensen Exercise) not only prepares me well but keeps an eye on my recovery. I have continued to improve during the week, and am enjoying exercise. The blister healing has been the biggest issue but they are getting there now. Lots of walking helped the legs and I’ve done a couple of shortish runs now, taking it easy, so all is well there.
What next .. and final thoughts
I am so proud of my 4 buckles! Ok so it’s not the official Grand Slam, but I now have the full set, and in a fairly short space of time really!
No matter how tough they are, I want to run another 100 miler soon! deciding whether to do the NDW100, it’s less than 7 weeks away and I ran it last year. It’s a tough race but it is my favourite Centurion race, so we’ll see. Cotswold 100 is another option, or maybe a slightly shorter distance (nah – I want to run 100 miles). Next year (when I will be 50), I am going back to Cornwall to tackle the Arc – unfinished business, and this time I will return with that buckle. So lots of training and prep to do for that one. I am also hoping to get into UTMB, so let’s see what the ballot brings this time. Lots of options! Watch this space!
As for me, well if there is one thing that I have learned in the last 2 years, it’s that trail running and endurance sport is great for the soul! I don’t know much at the moment about where I want to be in life, but I do know the I want to be on trails, I want to be outside and I strive to run up mountains. I’m not a great runner but I train a lot and challenge myself. I have met so many fantastic people through fitness and running, I’ve made some incredible friendships.
The day I stop enjoying it is the day I stop doing it! For as tough as this fitness and ultra lark is (and believe me it is tough), I do it to preserve my soul, and it seems to be working. The post – race downer will kick in at any minute ….. but for now this soul is happy!
Thank you to everyone who supports me