Written by Marcin Krzysztofik - http://wolnybiegacz.pl/en

International Extreme Walking Marathon Kierat (http://maratonkierat.pl/indexeng.html) is an event that has been on my mind for years. However, there were always adverse circumstances preventing me to go. Whether it was too short after another ultra I ran, or a family event taking place the same weekend, or too frequent travels to Poland to add the Kierat trip, or too expensive airfare to Cracov etc. This time, taking advantage of a 2-weeks’ leave in Poland I made a deal with my old ultra running buddy Michal that we’re going, got my wife’s consent for a 3-day lads trip and in February signed up for Kierat. Since then the excitement had been gradually mounting ahead of the race day!

About Kierat

The literal translation of kierat from Polish to English is horse mill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_mill). The use of this word also implies that someone performs a tough, gruelling and seeming endless work, which gives you a good taste of what this race is about.

Kierat is a navigational race over a distance of 100k, so it has a very similar formula to my favourite race Harpagan. What the rules at such races are I described in detail in one of my earlier posts, section About Harpagan. The two main differences between Kierat and Harpagan are:

  1. Harpagan has two 50k loops with bag drop between them. At Kierat you have one 100k loop. Every 25k or so the organisers provide water and at around the 50k mark you can also get hot instant soups, tea and coffee. There is no food provided, so each participant needs to take enough to sustain himself/herself for the whole event. It is possible to buy something in passed shops, if there are any of course;
  2. Kierat takes place in Polish mountains called Beskid Wyspowy (loosely translated as Island Beskids) which results in way more vertical gains, comparing with a relatively flat Harpagan.

My expectations

The plan was to finish below 24 hours and get a place in the first hundred. Nothing particularly ambitious considering an overall time limit of 30 hours. Michal felt a bit more ambitious thinking we should aim for a sub-20-hour finish. This sounded reasonable, but very ambitious considering that we didn’t know the area and that there will be over 4000 metres of altitude gain…

On our way to Kierat

At 6 AM on Friday, May 26th I picked Michal up and we set off. The drive from Gdansk in the north of Poland to Slopnice in the south took us just 6.5 hours, which is an amazing improvement from what it would have taken a few years ago. The improvement is of course due to a much better road network, including hundreds of kilometres of new motorways.

Analysis of the map performed while enjoying a pre-race shoarma

We registered for the race, picked up our race packs and went for a meal to a nearby restaurant. With a few hours remaining until the start, we laid down in the school gym, which was the designated sleeping area in the base, to relax after the drive and then get ready for the race.

My base and race equipment- quite a lot of stuff!
Ready to rock and roll!

One hour before the race start we were ready; we walked to the nearby football pitch where the race would start. There at 17:30 the race planner wished everyone good fun and good luck. A few minutes before 18:00 660 people were ready to set off.

Before the start, waiting for the race planner’s soliloquy

Stage by stage report

Before I jump to my report I’d like to recommend the winner’s report: http://maratonkierat.pl/kierat14/kierat17kl.htm (only in Polish, but Google Translate can help). I like the format of his report which I’ve decided to use in my report too. Aside from that you could see what an amazing event he ran. Still out of my league, but working on it.

At each mini map I overlaid my GPS track which also reflects my speed:

  • intensive green is running, light green is jogging
  • yellow is brisk walk (3-4 mph)
  • red is no movement, or moving very slowly, such as laboriously climbing up a mountain (1 mph or so)

Moreover, the purple line denotes the optimal race route, as shown by the race planner after the event.

Above is the recording from the start. You can see me in the middle of the shot between seconds 22 and 25.

Start – CP1

At 18:00 we set off and quickly the 660 people split between runners and walkers. Michal and I initially jogged with roughly 100 people ahead of us. After the LOP (a compulsory stretch where no other routes were allowed) we turned to walking, as the uphill started.

En route to Checkpoint 1

It was a beautiful and sunny day, so I very soon heated up and started sweating profusely, particularly on uphills. Other than that, CP 1 reached without any problems.

CP1 – CP2

The beginning of the climb towards the Mogielica massif

After the arduous climb towards the top of Mogielica (which can be clearly seen as a lot of red colour on my GPS track) we missed a path and then had to traverse the mountain through a forest.

Looking for a decent descent route from the Mogielica massif towards CP2

To get to the road marked as white on the map turned out to be a little nightmare, because the path we were following suddenly disappeared in a dense forest on a steep slope. After a taxing and precarious descent, we reached a forest road that in turn led us to main road which led us easily and quickly to CP2.

CP2 – CP3

Navigation on this stretch was easy, because we pretty much had to follow marked tourist trails. We had the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful sights and a stunning sunset. When passing Jasien there was a brief shower and it suddenly got dark so that we had to turn our headtorches on. The refreshing shower passed soon and at 21:09 we uneventfully reached CP3.

Post-rain freshness enjoyed while on the way to CP3

CP3 – CP4

This was the second longest stretch at Kierat, also there were a couple of not obvious places where good navigation was crucial. From CP3 we quickly descended to the road. On the way, similarly to the winner, we had an encounter with a couple of cows that were roaming free on the path… fortunately these were just two calves that quickly ran away.

Between Road 968 and village Konina we got a bit lost and had to plod through tall grasses and a couple of ravines until we reached a nice road that took us to Koniny. From there the navigation was easy, though we didn’t go for the route proposed as optimal, because, according to the map, there wasn’t supposed to be any road there.

We checked in at CP4 at 23:06. This meant we covered 29k (18 miles) in just over 5 hours. My Garmin watch showed we actually covered 30.74k (19-ish miles); so far a very reasonable overhead. The checkpoint crew informed us that we were around 70th place. At the CP we refilled our water supplies and set off.

CP4 – CP5

This was supposed to be an obvious and quick descent to Koninki. Instead by taking a wrong turn we went too much south and had to slog through grasses and brambles until we made it to the road. This cost us a few precious minutes. After that we made it to the wearying ascent upon Gron. Just before another hill called Ostra I could have gone almost straight onto the CP. Instead I ran too much north-west and descended too low. As a consequence, had to laboriously go up to get to the CP. This small error cost me 10-15 minutes, so I was in a vile mood.

CP5 – CP6

We made it to Jasionow after an initial run followed by a slog along a ravine. From there followed a nice stretch of running followed by a long and toilsome ascent along the yellow tourist trail towards the Stare Wierchy tourist shelter. From there followed a downhill towards a valley, which we took slowly due to the path being muddy and stony in places, plus we were already quite tired. In the valley, we entertained a short run followed by a fast-paced walk on a slight uphill straight to CP6. There was a great surprise- the organisers provided grilled sausages! We took a longer than usual break to each devour a ketchup splattered sausage- yummy!

Delicious!

CP6 – CP7

A key stretch, because it led to the halfway point with hot soups! The first couple of miles we briskly walked along a stream, until the road/path disappeared and we had to wade through the stream itself. Jumping from one stone to another and getting our feet frequently into the cold and refreshing water was actually not too bad. It was a picturesque route, which I’d love to cover on a hot and sunny day, as opposed to doing it in the middle of the night having covered 25 miles already.

After a while we left the stream and enjoyed an arduous climb towards the ridge, up where we could pick up the pace again. Once we found the blue trail which was supposed to lead us straight to the checkpoint I got a motivational kick and set off running most of this bit. Meanwhile night turned into dawn and at 4:39 we clocked our SI cards at CP7.

At CP 7

CP7 was located at 55k (34-ish miles) so more than halfway through. It took us 10.5 hours to reach it, so my target of 24 hours looked easily doable; the 20-hour target seemed a bit of a stretch considering that the second part of Kierat involved more challenging navigation. My Garmin showed we covered 58k (36-ish miles) so still a very decent overhead. The CP crew informed us there were about 50 people or so ahead of us so far, so we made great progress since CP4, despite the navigational errors. At the checkpoint, I refilled my water bottles, drank one soup and one cup of tea and we were gone.

CP7 – CP8

A relatively short stretch: firstly, a laborious climb up Chorobowska (200 metres or so up) and then a bit of a puzzle how to proceed- either a long way around or risk a forest path that was not on the map.

Descending on the path that was not on the map

I chose the latter which turned out to be a very good decision because it led us to the checkpoint. There it turned out we moved up by almost 10 places! Also, there was another surprise: we could grab a bread roll with cheese which served as a great replenishment of calories and nicely broke the sweet taste of gels and bars.

And here’s CP8

CP8 – CP9

Navigationally quite an easy stretch: firstly, an ascent to Przelecz Knurowska (Knurowska Pass), then a fast descent to the village and then another laborious ascent. We easily found CP9 sitting at an edge of a glade.

A view from Knurowska Pass

CP9 – CP10

The worst stretch of all! After a relatively slow descent down a sodden and stony path I chose an evidently bad route. In hindsight, I see that the optimal route or the winner’s route were much better than mine was.

After a gruelling climb up Skalisty Gronik, influenced by some other competitor we cut it straight towards Jamne through brambly forests and sodden glades. This was exhausting, to put it mildly. Once in Jamne we took a forest path uphill which soon disappeared on a steep, wooded slope. Moving laboriously up at a snail’s pace I was hoping we’ll soon reach a walkable path, but we kept on and on. I was seriously pissed off at that point and fed up with the whole thing. Michal was a witness to my dirty expletives aimed at the hills, trees, branches, stones and other inanimate objects, which didn’t seem to care at all about my predicament.

Eventually we reached a forest road which easily led us to the green trail, from which we sought to descend a ravine where the CP was supposed to be. After an exhausting descent, we made it to CP10. It took us 2 hours and 42 minutes to cover a 5-mile stretch! We certainly dropped from our good place from the previous CPs.

CP10 – CP11

Still fuming, tired and annoyed with chafed heels, rather than have a bit of a rest and take stock of my situation, I set off on another arduous climb in order to find a path traversing Strzelowskie. To add to my misery, it turned out that while battling with branches and brambles I lost one of my two Salomon Softflasks. Aside from the fact that they’re quite an expensive piece of an equipment it meant that I was left with frighteningly little water for this long stretch. Michal and the surrounding trees were a witness to another set of obscenities from my mouth.

After the laborious slog, we finally found the path. However, after a few minutes I decided I need to stop, sit down, and repair my feet. I told Michal to proceed and that I’ll catch up with him. I sat on grass, took off my wet shoes and sodden socks and cleaned my dirty feet a bit. Then I put a couple of plasters on chafed areas and taped them up with a well-adhering kinesiology tape. Fortunately, I had no blisters. I put on a fresh set of socks, the shoes and … I felt reborn! The whole stop lasted maybe 5-7 minutes and it worked magic. I again felt strong and could run on legs which felt amazingly fresh.

As could be seen from my track I significantly picked up my pace along Strzelowskie. After a few minutes, I caught up with Michal and left him behind without stopping, assuming he won’t be able to maintain my pace and will easily finish on his own, just as we usually do. Before the final descent I of course had to make an error and had to make a beeline for the road on a very steep and forested downhill. This was followed by a fast run to Mlynne. From there another ascent and then a long but gradual descent to CP11 in Kamienica. On the last few miles I had to cautiously ration my water supplies, but fortunately made it.

I checked in at CP11 at 12:06, so 82k (51.2 miles) took me 18 hours and 6 minutes. The real distance covered showed us 86.3k (54 miles). At the checkpoint I refilled my bottles, took another bottle as a replacement of my Softflask and set off.

CP11 – CP12

The easiest stretch where it was impossible to get lost. Easy, but not too fast due to a long ascent.

CP12 – CP13

The last long stretch; I chose a good route, as can be seen from my track. I even covered it relatively quickly with a mix of running and brisk walking. Between the two checkpoints I think I overtook 8 or so people, which was quite motivating to push ahead. I arrived at the checkpoint at 14:25 (20 hours and 25 minutes underway) and got hopeful I’d finish below 21 hours.

Somewhere on the way to CP13
CP13 – Finish

It was supposed to be easy and quick: take the obvious path to the road and then follow the road till the finish line. Somehow I followed another path which abruptly ended and I had to follow a beeline course for the road through a glade which was a bit slow going. Just before the road I had to fight my way through a mix of dense nettles and brambles which unmercifully stung and scratched my lower legs. I ran almost continuously along the road, but a few minutes lost in the nettles resulted in not making it across the finish line under 21 hours; I finished at 15:02.

Job done!

Summary

I completed Kierat in 21 hours and 2 minutes. According to my Garmin watch I covered 104.83k (65.5 miles) and 4540 of altitude gain. It’s a result I’m happy about, considering getting lost a few times and choosing a couple of sub-optimal routes. With this result I took a high 37th place, which is much better than I had anticipated. After my crisis around CP10 I spend a few minutes taking care of my feet which resulted in consecutive gain of around 20 places.

Garmin Connect summary

Michal finished at 16:30, so just under 1.5 hour after me, taking the 51st place. In total, 660 competitors started, and 263 finished within the 30-hour time limit.

Another beautiful trophy to add to my collection

Afterwards I felt quite well. Besides chafed heels and scratched lower legs I didn’t have any blisters which is a significant improvement from my recent races. What’s even greater, a few days after Kierat I had no muscle soreness which is a testament to how well my body handled the event (or a proof that I didn’t push hard enough!). One week after Kierat I ran a sub 2-hour training half-marathon, so I’m ready for the next challenge.

Overall, my impressions from Kierat are great. It’s a well and professionally organised event, where one can clearly see how much effort the organisers put to make sure all works fine and everyone is happy. Combined with the beautiful scenery of the polish mountains of Beskid Wyspowy and Gorce, it’s now one of my top races where I’d love to run again in the future.

Here’s the full map if one’s interested

All the best,

Marcin

Written by John Kynaston - https://johnkynaston.com

I really enjoy the ultra races that start early which is just as well as the Highland Fling starts at 6am. I was up just before 4am to eat my porridge before leaving home at 4.45am. Katrina & I picked up our good friend Lesley in Houston on the way.

We arrived to a packed Tesco car park at 5.30am. Time for a quick photo before Katrina headed home. He plan was to drive to Tyndrum for 11am to be part of the finish team.

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Lesley and I wandered over to hand in our drop bags, chat to few friends and get ready for the start. I felt quite relaxed and ready to go. This would be my 8th Highland Fling but my first since 2013.

The race has grown from 70 in 2007 which was my first year (and the 2nd Fling) to around 800 now but commendably the race as it has grown has not lost that friendly feel. For a few years there was a staggered start with women and over 50’s men starting at 6am and the rest of the field at 7am.

John Duncan, the excellent race director, introduced a mass start but with waves going off a few minutes apart. As everyone is chip timed and your time doesn’t start until you pass the mat it works really well.  I set off in the 10-12hr wave.

Milngavie to Drymen (12.12miles)

I like to have a plan to aim for so I carried splits for a 10:15 finish which was my gold goal. I thought this was going to be challenging but I was looking forward to seeing how my training has been going. In 2013 I ran 10:05 so it would be interesting to see how much I have lost in 4 years!

start 1

My main focus though was not going to be my split times but my heart rate. Over the last few years I have found this to really help me. My main aim now is to try and finish well and to do that I need to start sensibly.

Running to a set heart rate helps me to achieve that but it does take a lot of discipline especially early on when I’m feeling fresh and could run faster. My target heart rate for this race was 135 which from past races of a similar length was about right.

Once we were through the town centre I was running with Stephen Magee. We were chatting away as the early miles ticked by. What I didn’t realise was that Stephen and I would see a lot of each other over the next hours and we ended up finishing within a few minutes of each other.

I did have splits for all my mini-sections but I was only going to look at them after I had gone through the marker and only as a guide to how I was doing. My heart rate was the key thing and the time would be what it was.

My first mini-split is after 2.17 miles at the end of Mugdock Woods where the route joins the road for 50 yards. My plan said 21mins and I was 22:02 so I was happy that I had started comfortably. My average HR for the section was 123 so I had been slightly cautious but that is no bad thing.

The field around me was spreading out now and there was plenty of room to run, overtake or be overtaken.

As I went past Carbeth Cottages I went past a guy in a blue checked kilt. He was wearing the jacket as well and I commented that he would be very warm in that! The next time I saw after Balmaha he had the top off!

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There were a few times that I had to slow down to keep my HR down to 135. The temptation is to just go with the pace and allow the HR to go higher but I’ve found from past experience that if I do that I will pay for it later so I stuck with my plan even if it meant letting people run ahead.

I went through my next two mini-splits right on target so things were looking good.

It was great to see Ian and Sandra Beattie marshalling at the road crossing at Beech Tree Inn. I love the fact that the Race Director of the West Highland Way race is willing to be a marshal on a road crossing for another race. It tells you a lot about the support and togetherness of ultra running.

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As I had been running for over an hour I decided to eat my fruit bread with peanut butter and jam sandwich. I was also regularly sipping my Tailwind drink.

I was slowly catching a number of runners ahead and over the next few miles there was a fair bit of passing and being passed as different runners ran or walked the hills. I chatted to a few folk over the final miles to Drymen.

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Fellow runners thanked me for my blog or the podcasts which is always an encouragement to know people find them helpful.

I came into Drymen feeling very positive that I had paced it just as I wanted. I smiled to myself when I saw my time of 1:53:53 as my plan had 1:53. If I could keep that right to the end I would be very happy!

splits 1

Drymen to Balmaha (6.87miles)

I went straight through the checkpoint as I had enough water to get me to Balmaha. I remember when I ran the race in 2013 that I had pushed this section a little too hard so I was keen to keep my HR around 135.

Again there were a number of times when I wanted to go a little faster but I held back and kept my HR down. I realised again that it does take a lot of discipline to run this way. I know it doesn’t suit everyone and some would argue that it is not the best tactic but I feel it really helps me to have an enjoyable race rather than having to hang on at the end because I’ve overcooked it early on.

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I reached my next mini-split 13 seconds over my plan so all was good. I’ve not been on this section for a few years and I was interested to see that the new path is now fully bedded in. When it was first laid it was quite muddy and tacky but now it is really good to run on.

The weather was prefect for running. Cool without being cold and hardly any wind. I wore a long sleeved top which was just right. The only thing I changed was to roll up my sleeves sometimes!

I ate another couple of slices of my fruit bread as I approached Conic Hill. The bridge at the bottom on Conic Hill was my next mini-split. I pushed up the stairs at the start of the ascent and when I glanced at my HR I saw it very quickly had gone over 140 so I had to ease off again.

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I tend to climb well and often catch others on the way up and I had to decide whether to push a bit harder or stick to the plan.

I know from experience that if my HR is too high at this stage I will pay for it later so I eased off, brought my HR down and settled into a steady pace which wasn’t going to take too much out of me.

Soon enough the top was in sight. There were a number of friends out supporting on the hill. Firstly Scott and Antonia handing out jelly sweets and encouragement.

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Then Graeme and Josh taking the official photos for the race.

Graeme 2

Then Graham and Katie cheering on all the runners as we started to head down to Balmaha.

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I took some photos and video clips of the views before putting my camera away for the descent. My quads were feeling good but I wanted to make sure I took it steady on the way down. My right ankle has been a little sore after long runs so I didn’t want to do anything that may cause further problems.

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As I reached the woods for the final descent I took out my Tailwind so when I reached the checkpoint they could quickly fill my bottle and I’d be away. Martin took a photo just as I was putting my rucksack back on.

martin 1

Balmaha checkpoint was buzzing with marshals and spectators. It was great to see Davie and Sharon amongst others. Gavin very efficiently filled my water bottle. I took my drop back and I was away again. I had sweet mashed potato but decided to eat it on the next hill rather than in the checkpoint.

splits 2

Balmaha to Rowardennan (7.86miles)

When I looked at the time I realised I had ‘lost’ about 7 mins to my plan but I wasn’t unhappy as I was feeling really good and felt I was running within myself and had plenty left for the rest of the journey.

As I climbed up the steps to the view point where I married Ryan and Becki I ate my sweet mashed potato. It tasted good and went down easily. Overall I did well with my food plan eating all the main items on my plan but I didn’t eat any the extra bits I had like Chia bars etc.

I caught up with one or two runners over the next mile or so. As I ran along the ‘beach’ section I could see a female runner ahead which I thought might be Helen. I caught her on the short road section after the beach and we ran for the next few minutes together.

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Helen felt she had maybe started a little too quick but seemed to be enjoying her run. After a mile or so she encouraged me to push on which I did.

There was a runner just behind me over the next few minutes and just after we went over one of the bridges I heard a thump as he fell to the ground. I turned and with another runner we helped him up. He was a little shaken but said he was okay and told us to keep running. I hope he was okay and finished.

I was still concentrating on my HR but I found it hard to slow down a couple of times. I ‘lost’ another 5 mins over the next 5 miles to my plan and I was tempted to push on and not look my HR but I had committed myself to my plan so reigned it in and kept to my plan.

I find one of the hard things is when I catch someone, get past then have to ease off because my HR is too high. This means that I get overtaken again!! This can happen a few times but I tried to keep the bigger picture in mind and that it to be able to run consistently right to the end.

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Stephen must have been one of runners who went past me again on this section as he arrived before me to Rowardennan.

Sallochy is my next mini-split and there were some children giving out water. I recognised one boy from one of the schools I work in. I think he was excited to see me and actually know one of the hundreds of runners going through.

On the first hill after Sallochy I saw Stan ahead. He was doing a kit check making sure everyone had the two compulsory items (Mobile Phone and emergency blanket). Unfortunately mine were at the very bottom of my ruck sack and took a minute or so to get out!

I think it’s a great idea to do a kit check though as safety at ultras is so important. We are not asked to carry much in this race but sadly Stan said he had had to disqualify two runners for not having the items.

I ran a little harder over the last mile or two to Rowardennan and my HR did average 138 for the final mini-section to the checkpoint.

My legs were starting to tire but overall I was really pleased with how I felt. Once again the checkpoint was organised very efficiently and within a minute the team had refilled my water bottle and handed me my drop back. Sandra even had time to take a photo! Thanks

sandra 1

splits 3

Rowardennan to Inversnaid (7.31miles)

I felt the race was really starting now! I was 15mins behind my sub 10:15 plan but feeling good and happy that I had kept to my plan. I knew from now on it would be what it would be and I would do my best to keep an even effort to the finish.

I had decided that after Rowardennan I wouldn’t look at my HR much, because from past runs, as my legs tire it is actually hard to get the HR up to 135! Looking at my splits after the race my average HR for the second half of the race was around 131 so not too bad!

I had a small tub of baked beans to eat but I held on to them until I reached the first longer climb past the Youth Hostel and I ate them then.

I was slowly catching runners ahead and one or two caught me. One of the runners who caught me was Stephen Morrison who is a good friend of Ryan & Becki. I was surprised to see Stephen as he is normally a fair bit faster. He explained that he had run with a friend until Rowardennan but was now pushing on.

The Fling this year used the higher path rather than the newer lower one. As we made our way up I did wonder whether this might be the last time I run on this path as I think it will be closed in the future for logging.

I was basically walking all the up hills and running every else. I find it interesting that others were running more of the up hill but I tended to catch them as they took longer to recover after the hill.

There were a few female runners around me at this point. I was chatting to one girl who is fell runner and this was her longest race. She was very strong on the hills as you would expect from a hill runner.

Stephen had said that Becki was running this leg for her relay team so I wondered whether she would catch me. From Balmaha onwards there had been a number of relay runners going past. Fortunately they had a white number with black border on their back so you knew they were a relay runner. In fact when a runner caught me I always hoped they were a relay runner rather than a fellow full distance runner!!

At some point along this section I caught Andrew McK. I taught Andrew’s two daughters swimming a few years ago so it was good to see him again. It was the best timing though as he had stopped on the side of the path with cramp. He said he was okay and I saw from the results he finished so that was good!

When I reached the start of the single track which was my next mini-split I had ‘lost’ another 7 mins so was now 22mins behind my plan. I didn’t panic as I knew I was moving as well I could and there was always the hope I would be faster over the final section from Beinglas Farm.

I try really hard to stay in the present and not to think about too much about the end. That is why I like my mini-splits. So I focused on reaching Inversnaid and not thinking any further ahead.

I slowly caught up with a line of runners and was surprised to see my friend Mike T ahead. Mike recently retired and I know has been running well.

As we approached Inversnaid I finished off my Tailwind and emptied the next sachet into my bottle ready to be filled.

I came into the checkpoint feeling tired but still positive about how things were going. I decided to stop a little longer and eat my Greek Style youghat here. John and Helen M were on the checkpoint doing a great job of helping all the runners get through as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Katrina and I have marshalled at Inversnaid. I think it is one of best places to marshal as no support teams come so you can have a big influence on helping the runners.

splits 4

Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm (6.82miles)

It felt quite cold at the checkpoint and there was a little rain shower so I didn’t stay too long. This next section is always going to be tough but I’ve learnt to love it knowing that once you reach the top of the loch the hardest part of the route is over.

I needed a wee so I hid behind a rock. While I was on my comfort break about 5-6 runners went past. Once back on the route I settled into a rhythm and tried to keep moving as best I could.

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A few times I was conscious of runners behind me so I let them through. I was concerned that I was going backwards in the field a bit and I definitely felt I was going through a tougher time. Thankfully I was able to get going again and soon enough the runners who had gone past me were not too far ahead and I caught up with them.

The girl I was running with made her way past the line of 6-7 runners but I was quite happy to stay at the back of the line as I knew the small river and open grassy area wasn’t too far away. Mike T was near the front of the group.

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Once we did reach the open area the faster ones who were held up were away. Mike seemed to be struggling a bit as I went past but it was good to see him at the finish. I was conscious of my ankle so was a little more cautious than normal on the descents. I didn’t want to do anything silly!

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I took some a photo of Dune Bothy and made my way to Dario’s post. There is another smaller post before Dario’s that I use as my mini-split. From Inversnaid to the post I had ‘lost’ another 7mins so was now 32mins behind my sub 10:15 plan. I was a little concerned but there wasn’t much I could do about it! I was running as well as I could!

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As we reached Dario’s post a runner kindly asked me whether I would like a photo which I gladly said yes. Dario was a good friend and I always take time to remember him as I go past this spot. He would be thrilled to see how many people are now running on the West Highland Way. As Race Director for the whw for 10 years he had it accessible for many people including me.

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There is a big physiological boost in getting to Beinglas Farm as you know you are on the final leg to the finish. I tried not to think too far ahead but it is hard not to!

It was great to arrive at the checkpoint. As it is a relay handover there were lots of relay runners and supporters all giving lot of encouragement.

My water bottle was refilled and I took my drop bag. I also drank a couple of cups of coke before heading off.

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Beinglas Farm to Tyndrum (11.89miles)

My good friend Ryan was waiting for Becki to come in to run the final leg for his relay team. Ryan walked out with me as I ate my fruit pot. He didn’t come too far as Becki was due in any minute. I knew I’d be seeing Ryan shortly as he ran past!

I left the checkpoint with Pete. Like Stephen I had seen a lot of Pete during the day. I didn’t know his name then but he had tattoos on each calf so he became tattoo man. We had passed and repassed each other a number of times.

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For this final section I like to break it down into four mini-sections. Roughly it is 3 miles to Derrydarroch, 3 miles to the big gate, 3.5 miles to Auchtertyre and 2.5 miles to Tyndrum.

I was 35 mins down on my plan so sub 10:45 became my ‘new’ plan! I was feeling pretty good considering I’d been running for over 8hrs and I hoped because of sensible start I should be able to keep going.

I focused again on the next 3 miles to Derrydarroch. I could see how I was getting on to there and that would give me an idea of how I was doing. I was running all the flats and downhills and walking as hard as I could on the up hills.

There were a few people supporting at Derrydarroch which I was a little surprised at as I thought supporters weren’t to go there. Anyway they cheered me past. I was 55 secs over my original plan so that was encouraging.

I caught up with Stephen again after Derrydarroch and we ran together for a while. Once we had gone through the two tunnels making sure we didn’t bang our heads we had slightly different tactics. Stephen was running more of the up hills whereas I was keeping to my walk the hills strategy.

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The path around cow poo alley was as dry as I’ve ever seen it so that was a bonus. A few more relay runners went past me including Ryan who looked very focused on getting the job done. I know he was targeting 1:11 which is the best time for a relay runner for that section!

As I approached the big gate I could see lots of flags and people so I made sure I was running the final bit to the gate! Graham and Katy were there so it was good to get a high five. Pete & Shelley were also there so thanks to Shelley for the photo.

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I was actually 1 min ahead of my original plan so that gave me a boost. I had now 6miles to go and 1 hr 18 mins to get under 10:45. Definitely doable!

I like the roller coaster hills in the forest but no matter how many times I’ve run it I always lose count of how many hills there are. I know when the final one comes but it often takes longer to come than I’d like.

Half way through the forest I caught up with Mark L. I was really surprised to see him as he is normally well ahead of me. I think he was having a tough time and having to battle through. We had a quick chat before I pushed on.

Eventually the final uphill arrived and the longer downhill to the road. My quads were feeling good and I felt I was running strongly.

Once over the road and through the field I caught Stephen again. We ran past St Fillan’s church and towards Auchtertyre together. I did joke that we were going to end up having a sprint finish down the red carpet!

I reached Auchtertyre which is my final mini-split. I was just a minute slower than my original plan! I had given myself 38mins to run the final 2.37 miles but I knew I was going to do it faster than that. I had 32 mins to beat 10:45.

I caught a runner who had his daughter with him. As I went past she was encouraging him to run but he was saying I can’t run the uphills anymore! I know the feeling.

I ran as hard as I could for those final couple of miles. I could see a runner not too far ahead but he wasn’t quite in reach.

I ticked off the final markers until I reached the path by the river. I could see a relay runner not far ahead and I went past her just before the piper.

It was a great feeling to enter the By the Way campsite and hit the red carpet. There were plenty of people cheering me home which was very special. I gave a few high fives to the children cheering.

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Thanks to Stuart MacFarlane for the photo

I finished 179th in a time of 10:38:50 (19th M50) which I was happy with. I ran 10:36:10 for my first Highland Fling in 2007 so I’ve only lost 2 mins in 10 years!! I won’t take into account my 9:44:41 in 2008!!

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It was great to see Katrina on the finish. Over the next few hours I enjoyed a lovely shower, some excellent food, an amazing massage and chatted to friends about their runs.

I was looking forward to seeing how Lesley and Annette got on in particular. Lesley finished in 12:32:51 for a pb of over an hour and was very pleased with herself and rightly so! I saw Annette finishing in 14:03:37. She looked very emotional as she crossed the line!

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With Annette and her friend Barb

Finally a massive thank you to John and Noanie and their team of around 245 volunteers. What an amazing group of people who gave up their weekend to support the race. Thank you one and all.

So my focus switches to the West Highland Way Race. This race has given me a more realistic goal to aim for but I’ll share more about that later.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Phil Bradburn - https://untrainingultrarunner.com


I was a mixture of nervous and excited ahead of Autumn 100. I did this race last year, and it is what inspired me to aim to complete the Grandslam of 4 x 100 mile races organised by Centurion Running in one year.

We headed down on the friday and stayed with our friends Vanessa and Mark. Vanessa was also going to pace my wife Susie for the last 50 miles of the 100 and had been training specifically to do that. Amazing. This was Susie’s first 100 miler (having only been running for two years) and was to be my final 100 mile race of the year to make the Centurion 100 mile Grandslam.

After checking out the state of the Thames Path for the purposes of making a decision on shoes (I went trail!) we enjoyed a meal of lasagne and garlic bread cooked by Vanessa. Samantha (my usual 4am partner in running crime!) joined us for some excited pre-race chatter. This was the first time during the races this year that Dan Park did not have to save my bacon by letting me have the spare bed in his hotel room 

After a really good night sleep, and some packing and unpacking of our bags, and breakfast of croissants, porridge and tea we headed down to Goring for the start of the race. We did our kit-check and collected our numbers with no issues (getting quite slick at these!) and spent time getting a hug from Nici Griffin, Lou Fraser, and having a quick catch up with Mari Mauland (an amazing Norwegian ultrarunner and fellow Grandslammer) and friends and other racers – Samantha Mills (her first 100), Zoe Norman (her second 100) and her boyfriend Liam, Lee Kelly (he’s done multiple 100s!) and the amazing Tracey Watson (double 100, 50 slammer) and Pete (who was volunteering), Jo and Steve Turner (Grandslammers) and Georgina Townsend and Ryan Holmes (also in the Slam).

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It’s almost like being at a wedding at the start of these races because everyone knows everyone else and it’s almost impossible to remember everyone who I bumped into (sorry if I forgot – I was in a complete state of nervous excitement before the race).

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Spur 1 – Goring to Little Wittenham and back

After the usual race briefing we headed down to a slightly modified start line to avoid some roadworks and we soon set off. It was a slow walk for about a quarter mile before the congestion cleared and I was able to get into my stride. No bad thing, 100 miles is a long way after all.

I felt good. My plan was to go out easy paced, but with some urgency. I wanted to complete the Grandslam, but also aim for sub 22 hours. I felt really good, the only issue was a bit of acid in my throat, but on the whole it wasn’t too much of an issue. I barely paused at the first aid station (spotted Liam there) and headed off again for the turn around point.

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The path wasn’t too much of a mud bath, but it was definitely a good choice to wear my Pearl Izumi N2 trail shoes. On sections I would have really suffered in road shoes (I am like bambi on ice) – and I fell over on the first spur out to Little Wittenham. Luckily no damage and I was surprised not to be coated head to toe in mud. As the front runners headed back towards me I counted out my position. I could sense I was close to the front (and I found I was around 70th position). I soon spotted Mari Mauland who was looking like she was loving the race and was absolutely flying along – shouted hi – and we hi-fived (though I slightly mistimed it).

Soon at the turnaround point (aid station in the back of a van) I grabbed a ham wrap and headed back to Goring. I shouted words of encouragement to the runners streaming past the other way, and spotted Samantha, Georgina, Zoe, my wife Susie and others including Spencer and Alzbeta among many many other friends. Me and Stephen Turner ran along a bit together – taking turns at being #Gate******.

As I got closer to Goring my stomach started playing up and I was suffering from stomach cramps (I have had issues every time I run along water over this last couple of years, and specifically over the last few weeks too). So imodium to the rescue and a quick pitstop at Wallingford aid station where I spotted Liam Gibson.

Feeling a bit better (but feeling pretty nauseous) I headed back to Goring getting there in a reasonable 4h13min (85th position).

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Spur 2 – Ridgeway – Goring to Swyncombe and back

A quick loo stop and more imodium I headed back out on to the second spur – the Ridgeway up to Swyncombe and back. I pressed on. I didn’t waste effort running up the slope, I have recced and run the route before so I knew which bits were most runnable. I was in a bit of a state with my stomach and ended up having to stop at the aid station and deal with things again. This was all costing me time, but I was still in a good place and still only a little behind my A-race goal of sub 22hrs. My plan was to get through Grimm’s Ditch and back through it before it went dark. So I remembered that and pushed on. I spotted Mari Mauland again – and this time we timed the hi-five right!

Spotted the amazing photographer Stuart March in a field and tried to look less like death for the camera.

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I had a brief moan about the state of my stomach and then soon I was at the Swyncombe aid station (back of a van, having my bottles filled by kids with halloween costumes on – brilliant guys!) I headed back towards Goring. I spotted Tracey Watson, Susie, Zoe and Samantha on the way back.

Stomach was still in knots and it was cramping badly, but I pushed on anyway. As I came to Grimm’s ditch for the second time, it was getting a little dusky so I took the precaution of getting a headtorch out and holding it in one hand to help with depth perception. I reached Goring in the dark just 9h50 minutes into the race. So 50 miles in less than 10 hours was only 37 minutes behind my race plan. Quick turn around at the aid station and off I went again.

Spur 3 – Ridgeway – Goring to Chain Hill and back

I headed out with my pacer for this section – Jonathan Boucard. My stomach was feeling awful, and while I wasn’t having an “issues” it was clear than my stomach was building pressure. That made it difficult to do much running, and as I planned to walk all the up hill sections I wasn’t too bothered as it was against headwind anyway. Again just as we entered the trail section of the Ridgeway, I spotted Mari again – we exchanged greetings and I carried out. Soon I had to retreat to a well hidden spot off the trail to have an “evacuation”. Feeling better I was able to jog a bit after that. We were soon at the aid station at Bury Downs where I saw Lou Fraser who was doing a great job with the others of looking after the runners. Sweaty hug (me not her!) we headed off with a coffee in my collapsible cup. We were soon greeted by the disco lights of Chain Hill aid station. Quick turn around and then back again toward Goring. I spotted Samantha Mills and her pacer Paul Pickford on the way back and Susie and her pacer Vanessa. I couldn’t be bothered to grab anything at the bury hill aid station on the way back, I just wanted to crack on while it was down hill and I could get out of the horrific wind (Storm Brian!). I was thinking… “All I have to do is finish this race and I get my grandslam buckle for the 4 x 100 mile races”… but that must have distracted me and seconds later as I was running past the race course and I tripped over a rock and pulled my groin / hamstring. So much pain. That was my running over.

There was no way I could even jog on it and I really didn’t know if I could physically walk fast enough on it either. I mentally calculated the time available and figured that if I could keep a good walking pace for the remaining 30+ miles then I should be able to finish in time and get my buckle. I was furious with myself…… I screamed at myself “I want to stab my leg with my cheat sticks!”. I didn’t know whether it was possible, but I figured the only way to find out would be to try. Another stomach evacuation up on the Ridgeway, it was starting to turn into a race that I was just going to have to tough out. Soon we reached Goring (feeling really annoyed that I had not been able to take advantage of the runnable downhill section) and as we got into the village Samantha and Paul passed us. I had been amazed that more runners didn’t go past us as I had been moving pretty slowly. I was really grateful to Jonathan for distracting me from my pain by telling me all manner of stories, things that had happened, what he did during the summer. I couldn’t reply but I told him I couldnt and that I appreciated him talking to me.

I got into the aid station. Saw the medic who gave me an ice pack and recommended no strapping etc…. And off I went again for the fourth leg. 75 miles in 16hr 58minutes (101 position). Slower than planned due to stomach issues but holding up reasonably well – in part due to my good start for the first 50 miles.  

Spur 4 – Goring to Reading and back

I know this section  well, and I know how soul destroying the section is through Reading. It’s fair to say I really wasn’t looking forward to walking the whole section. But that’s all I could do, so we got on with it. Mark Boyce had clearly drawn the short straw in the event…… while this was supposed to be the glory leg, it was actually going to be the longest slowest effort known ever!

On the Thames Path we saw Mari Mauland returning to Goring for the finish. I knew she was still first lady and she had a well deserved win! Well done hardcore lady!

I pressed on. I felt really sorry for Mark having to endure this whole section with me being in a huge pain cave and it not being a particularly pretty section either. He was a trooper though! I’m not going to say a huge amount about this section because I was in so much pain, and feeling so tired that I was finding it tough to concentrate. I kept thinking that if only I could run then it would be over and done quicker. But I couldnt. I could only walk. I kept adjusting my walking style so that it was reasonably high cadence, but short steps to avoid pulling my muscles even more. Whitchurch aid station came and went, and soon we were in those fields of doom through Mapledurham. We didn’t see many other runners and I was still surprised I wasn’t being passed by everyone in the race. Soon we did the death march section through to Reading. I knew this was a long leg and I didn’t get too dispirited by it. At one point I felt really sleepy so I had to get mark to talk at me for fear of me ended up in a bush asleep, or worse…. In the Thames. We saw Samantha and Paul – who gave out hugs and then Samantha gave me a little pep talk. Soon we were at the Reading Aid station, up the steps (those bloody steps!) and met Phil Brannigan who was helping at the aid station. A milky sugary coffee and a few minutes of an ice pack on my leg, I headed back towards Whitchurch. It was now light and I changed my top to my lovely merino because my pace was getting slower and I was getting cold.

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I would like to say it didn’t take much time to get to Whitchurch…. But it felt like an eternity. It really did. I did get a lovely cuddle from Susie as she was heading towards Reading. And my legs were getting really painful through all the walking. And my left leg and foot was getting sore carrying too much of my weight to prevent more injury to my groin/hamstring on the right. Loved the flapjacks at the aid station and then it was the final 4.5 miles to the end at Goring. A few runners went past, but I couldn’t do anything about it and then finally I saw the bridge at Goring…… up the slope and finish!

Thank heavens for that. Thanks so much to Mark for bearing with my slow progress (we had this joke that every so often he would shout at me “Hurry up slow coach!”

Tough…… not the race I had planned….. But I managed to complete it in 26h 14 minutes and 129th position out of 236 starters, and 178 finishers. More importantly, it meant that I had earned my Centurion Grandslam Belt buckle and shirt!

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A big cheer from the volunteers, a hug from Nici and photos by Stuart March at the end, followed by a hot dog and a coffee (thanks Roz!). I found it difficult to walk afterwards at all, and definitely couldnt drive so we ended up staying over at Vanessa’s and driving back on the Monday.

Thanks to everyone involved and especially all of the amazing volunteers!

Now, I’ll just bask in the lovely glow of earning this Grandslam Buckle. 19 / 30 by rank of the 2017 100 Grandslam finishers with a total of 102 hours 5 minutes and 37 seconds. Which in 2017 puts me at 65th position of all time Grandslammers  So happy I could cry :-p http://www.centurionrunning.com/stats/grandslam/100

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Written by Luke Latimer - https://jurarunner.wordpress.com

It turns out that just as there are different kinds of pain, there are different kinds of listening too.

There’s a silly joke that somehow managed to become my overriding training motivator:

If I listened to my body, I’d never get out of bed

No wonder I kept getting injured.

I’m standing at the starting line on the 400 meter track in Tooting Bec, waiting along with 46 others for the signal to start our journey to self transcendence (hopefully) by running, walking or crawling as many laps as we can over the following 24 hours.

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Not for the first time I reflect that I really have no business being here, I haven’t been able to train properly for 5 months (3 of those didn’t involve any running whatsoever) and should have given up my place to someone more deserving.

I didn’t though, the need to be part of an event is like the irresistible lure of a narcotic, an itch that hasn’t been scratched for over a year. This isn’t just any old event either, encapsulating nearly everything I love about long distance running, especially the small field and quirky mix of runners and supporters. Most ultra runners think 24h track racing is weird, let alone the general population, and that suits me just fine, presumably because I feel comfortable in the mix.

People are drawn to this race (and type of event) for various reasons; curiosity to how far they can run without the distractions of navigating (or distractions of any kind!), attempting to qualify for national teams, or maybe just to see what the fuss is all about.

I’m glad I did turn up. I ended up having the best race I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t even racing.

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No PB, no great epiphanies, no new friendships forged from grinding out painful mile after mile together. I ran and walked 101.7 miles, and nothing really hurt very much. I was happy and calm (most of the time), tested different food than I normally eat (partial win), experimented with a very controlled caffeine intake (fail – fell asleep for an hour!) but above all I listened to my body.

A few months ago I saw a therapist to help me give up smoking (hardly a useful habit, even if you don’t have aspirations of being called an athlete), mostly using hypnosis to allow me to think clearly and calmly, without distractions.

The session worked and over the course of it a couple of, ahem, “matters requiring attention” broke free from their shackles, and now out in the open couldn’t really be ignored for much longer.  I booked myself back in for some follow up discussions.

We’ve all got issues, and they affect us in different ways. I learnt a lot about myself over the subsequent months, but importantly we didn’t dwell on what caused those destructive tangled pathways and instead were very focused on the future. Considering how to apply the lessons I’d learned, looking ahead with a slightly raised chin, that little bit better equipped mentally, and a feeling of being a smidge more in control of my destiny.

You can hear noises without listening to their meaning or content, the sound waves pass through your passive body, or the signals from nerves dissipate without triggering any response.

Automatons and reflexes manage to cover the bulk of events that manage to break though the first barrier, and even if some thought is required, you’re often in autopilot mode. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: we don’t have the time or capacity to employ deep thinking for everything that comes along.

There are some things, and some times, when a good listen is the only appropriate action, when ignoring it could lead to your relationship breaking up, or irreversible health deterioration, or something else you really don’t want to happen. The big stuff, or the big life changing outcomes at any rate.

It’s easy to gloss over lots of things in your life that seem to be the norm, an innate and unchangeable part of your personality, but sitting in a quiet room, wrapped in a warm blanket with nothing else to do for an hour, with a non judgemental, objective listener, who was asking good questions, has a way of allowing you to question some of those.

For example I hadn’t considered the relationship between my mind and my body. (I’ll spare you the other revelations).

“Relationship” sounds daft, but of course they’re related, and both can affect the other. Generally it seems that the mind decides and the body obeys. Certainly in my case anyway, and most of the time my body does what it’s told, until it just stops and refuses to play any more.

When I dug deeper, it became clear that over the last year or so I’d become angry and upset with my misbehaving physical parts.  I’d begun doling out punishment in the form of withheld rest, booze and gruelling workouts in return for the disappointment of injury which was thwarting my grandiose plans of running successes.

When prompted to remember times when I was in a better place, two races came to mind immediately. One was the Crawley 12h track race, when I felt that I was gliding effortlessly along above the ground, in a very happy place. The other was surprisingly the Spine Race: I remember being in complete awe of my legs, I kept eating and they just kept moving, for days and days, with no complaints.

I need more of those kinds of memories.

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As I gently trundled around the Tooting track a large chunk of my attention was constantly assessing pain levels. Nothing unusual about that, but I was very clear that I’d stop if anything hurt too much, something I’ve never allowed myself to think before.

I had some secret and not so secret mileage goals, but for the first time wasn’t all that bothered whether I hit them or not, they were further down the priority list than finishing in one piece.

My race plan had been to start slowly and slow down, but I hadn’t anticipated being behind the 83 year old for over 7 hours! Thankfully he slowed down a bit and let me save some face.

I knew better than to chase the “sprinters”, some inevitability burnt themselves out, but a few kept up an amazing pace for the entire race. Norbert Mihalik ran 161 miles, that’s 6 back to back 4 hour marathons… mind blowing.

A few friendly faces turned up at different times and provided a bit of distraction, not that I was particularly bored, but it was nice to see Debbie and Martin, who have been very involved in my running ups and downs, as well as giving me food experimentation ideas (and incredibly useful nutrition and training plans).

Marissa popped in for a while for some nice chats and to drop off some more food and water, all very much appreciated, as was my now very neatly organised table.

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James and Ben swung by on their way to the pub, then decided to stick around and cheer me on for a couple of hours instead. They provided some good entertainment but I was very tempted to stop for a can of beer and some pizza!

Ben even came back the next morning on his long run, ostensibly to make sure I was ok but I suspect to take photos of the mess he anticipated finding. He took the disappointment well and did some kit maintenance chores for me.

Anna B was lap counting during the night, and her whooping and cheering really helped me to keep smiling, even though by that point I was staggering all over the place like a drunk. I think it was due to lack of caffeine but it could be lack of practice too – training your child to make their own breakfast at the weekend is so worth it.

My family and in laws turned up for the last hour, which was just the best thing ever. The shouts of “come on daddy, run!” even got me out of my ultra shuffle for a few laps.

Even though I covered a lot of miles without any training – which I think demonstrates that a strong base fitness and endurance level does last a long time – I definitely suffered in other aspects. My feet hurt a lot, and I didn’t make it through the night without sleeping, neither of which are typically a problem in a relatively short race like this. Also I was incredibly tired and hungry for the next week, so my recovery was a bit slower than normal.

I’m still unrealistically ambitious, but I’ve got a new angle now. Lots of attention to what I actually need, from better core strength to more sleep and less time exercising (really!).

I want to be able to run as I get older, at any speed, much more than I want to win any races.  

Listen to those niggles, they need just as much attention as a hungry belly, and get that foam roller out of the cupboard, it’s your new best mate.

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Written by Phil Bradburn - https://untrainingultrarunner.com

The training went well in the run up to North Downs 100 (aside from a terrible week or so which I put down to training while in Spain during 30+ celcius heat and ridiculously high humidity. I turn into a big baby in those conditions.

With two of the four 100 mile grandslam races already in the bag, this race was all about surviving but getting it done as well as I could. You don’t get much time to recover in between these races which feel like they come at you like snowballs between the end of April and October.

The week before I sorted my kit and made what I thought was a reasonable fist of a perfect kit placement photo (but which Sarah Sawyer gave me only 8.5/10 for!)

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The day before

Susie saw me off at the Station. I find it best usually to get a one – way train ticket to the start, and have Susie follow the next day to crew and or pace me.

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I headed down to Farnham – the start of the race the night before. Staying in the Premier Inn which is just 15-20 minutes walk away along a small stream to the start. Perfect location as it is also near the Railway Station.

I was meeting up with Tim Lambert – who I was sharing a room with. We had both been saved by “The Dan Park” for our accommodation (for the third time I will add in my case – because I have not somehow got in the habit of booking my own hotel room. Silly boy!)

I registered and did my kit check – bumping into some friends along the way – including plenty of folks I know from twitter and facebook. I am so awful with names but I do know faces – and I find it hard to match them up all the time.

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In fact, since I am useless with friends names who I already have met many times, then I am going to apologise now for all errors and omissions!

I had a lovely capuccino (and don’t spare the choccie sprinkles!) made by the ladies in the van which I supped while I was chilling out in the sunshine. Best cappucino ever – FACT! Tim did a quick turnaround and we were soon heading back to the hotel and the Beefeater next door for a burger and chips.

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Back at the hotel we did some kit packing and repacking, and some general faffing around including setting a billion alarms.

Race Day

(thanks Zoe and Vanessa for early morning phone calls – Zoe – I didn’t want to mention at the time but I was on the loo! – and Vanessa – I was so dozy I didn’t recognise your voice at all!). So first mission of the day accomplished. Up and out of bed by 4am.

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We had all our stuff ready. I did some last minute recharging of watches and after a coffee, a selection of breakfast pastries (from Sainsburys about a half mile away the night before) and a 1 litre bottle of lovely frizzante lucozade we headed off to the race start for the briefing. I bet the hotel staff were puzzled by the heap of card keys left on their desk at 5am on a saturday morning once or twice a year!

Soon at the HQ, there was enough time to grab some extra safety pins for numbers and tags and then James was doing his usual briefing. Warning anyone not to mention that the race was 103 miles when it was advertised as “a hundred” etc. He has these briefings off to a fine art. Various hands went up when asked if anyone was doing the Grandslam (I raised my hand and looked around but I swear I couldn’t see 34 other people!), people raising their hands for their first 100. (MENTALIST!!!! Who chooses NDW100 for their first?!) and then soon we were all heading off (via the loo for me for a quick poo!).

Anyway… off we went down the road to get to the trail head at the start. On the way I bumped into Rachel Hessom – and found amazingly this is the ONLY 100 that she had not done yet so she was a NDW100 virgin! Rachel is great fun – and we’ve shared a few miles on these in the past.  At the trail head I chatted briefly with Paul Thompson and others before settling in around half way back so I wasn’t either going to get trampled or that I wouldn’t be encouraged to go out too hard.

Soon we were off.

Part 1 – Start to Box Hill Stepping Stones

The start of it is wooded trail. I felt I made totally the right shoe choice – Pearl Izumi N3 Road. Perfect. Some grip and lovely and cushioned too. I was loving it. Cracking on down the trail and feeling pretty comfortable. (my strava stats at the end showed that I was going out a little bit fast really….!)

At around 3 miles in Stephen Turner a.k.a. “#GateWanker” ran past. He always runs past at this point and usually opens a gate and them slams it behind him for a laugh :-p haha I also leapfrogged with Paul Thompson a little bit over the first few miles. He was running superbly well.

I didn’t bother to stop at Puttenham aid station around 7 miles in, I just ran straight through – briefly bumping into Steve Turner again (my turn to shout #GateWanker). Everything was going swimmingly. My watch vibrated each mile – always a surprise because the miles just seemed to be flying by! I swapped places a few times with Lee Scott and Paul Thompson and of course Stephen Turner flew past me once again!

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Newlands Corner signalled what felt like the first uphill section. Swiftly dispatched and on I went. Really not much to note other than I enjoyed running through Denbies Wine Estate with vines growing on the south facing hills, and down the hill towards Box Hill via the underpass.

Box Hill Stepping Stones (24.6) to Caterham Hill (38)

I reached the aid station. Needing water (I felt a little thirsty and my wee wasn’t the light colour I expected it to be). I did the same thing on the NDW50 two years ago…. So that’s a lesson I haven’t learned! I resolved to get more liquid down me. Which I did. Literally down me 

It was an absolutely lovely surprise to bump into Mark Thornberry – gentleman of the trails and an utter legend – who popped along just to support the runners. Brilliant to see you mate – and thanks for the photo too and brief chit chat.

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I got my bottles filled. Spotted Ian Brazier who just came into the aid station) and off I went again. As I took my time over the stepping stones (I’m clumsy ok!) I dunked my hat in the water and soaked myself. Oh – that was lovely!

Soon it was up. Poles out and tik takked away up the hill. They were not as bad as I remember them being and I was soon slaloming past various families cajoling their children up steps almost as high as their little knees!

At the top it was clear that it was turning into a bloody hot day. I bumped into friends Neil and Nick Dawson at the top of Box Hill and had a bit of a sit down while I was rewarded with an amazing Calippo – and what would be my first of the day!!!

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Thanks so much!!! Stuart March was up there with his HUGE camera and grabbed a shot of me as I jogged past – calippo in hand (orange since you ask).

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The wooded section at the top was lovely – nice to be in the shade again, and I was being careful for trip hazards. The next stop was at Reigate Hill. I was soon there. Desperate again for drink – but knowing that Zoe had stashed at the aid station with her a cold bottle of Moutain Dew (that stuff is Rocket Fuel!). As I was running to the aid station, I spotted a cafe and queued to get another calippo… while I was doing that, I spotted Paul Reader – who kindly queued up for me and brought me over two calippos. God – you’re a legend mate! Thanks so much – also for the chocolate milkshake. That was lush!

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Selfies with Zoe and a bottle of mountain dew later and I was off again.

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More climbing and more trails. It was only a few miles and then I felt absolutely knackered. The heat was awful. It was just the other side of Reigate Golf Club and I sought the shade of a tree and had a lie down for a few minutes. I couldn’t believe I was feeling so shit this early in a 100miler.

No sooner did I get back up and the rain started. At first, I was like “Oooooh this solves every problem I have….” and then the realisation that when it turned into a deluge, the trail was turning to a muddy swampy mess. Just after running through an underpass it started to rain even heavier. I chanced it by not stopping, but then got caught in a really heavy storm on the side of a hill by the M25…. pack off, jacket on, and on my way once again. All of the rain had made the trails pretty slick – wet muddy chalk. Not great to run on! It was really sapping my energy. I phoned my wife and asked her to have my trail shoes ready for the half way point.

The rain soon subsided and this rest of the section went pretty well – I got some energy wave going so I was flying along at points until I reached the aid station at Caterham. I had my serpie cap on and I think that got me a paper bowl of slighly melted by absolutely delicious ice cream which I accessorised with some chewy toffee crisp type bites. Wow – amazing they were! On leaving I needed to have my customary call with nature….. (TMI!) I found a log and made use of it!

38 – 51 miles (Knockholt pound)

I had volunteered at Caterham on the NDW50 in 2014 and I knew that the next little bit involved a bloody steep climb up a bit of a hill. Nothing much happened at Botley – I went in grabbed a few handfuls and left just as Gary Wayman arrived.

I entered the woods across the road and after a few seconds the heavens opened. I stopped to put my jacket on and it then deluged even more. Luckily I was in the woods because otherwise I think I would have been washed away! Some other folks were trying to brave it out but the rain got heavier and heavier.

I also ran into Dave Stuart with kids who were handing out hi-fives to passing runners, and percy pigs and friends along with coke. With my bright pink calf compression sleeves on they could see me a mile off! I took the opportunity to stop for a few minutes before carrying on down some treacherous steps.

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Soon I bumped into Stuart March taking more photos and he warned about the slippiness of the trail ahead (I managed to slide and stab myself in the hand with the barbed wire fence).

Soon I was closing in on the Knockholt aid station, I called ahead to Susie and she was waiting with Rob and Dom and his wife Helen at the checkpoint. I wolfed down some pasta, some lucozade and put my legs up to try and easy some of the solidness.

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51 – 62 (Knockholt to Wrotham – with Dom)

Soon I was ready to go. I decided not to change my shoes because this next section would be fine (I had recced it) and I wanted to minimise any change of shoe issues! Dom was pacing me for this next section. We knocked out a few miles and then I spectacularly stubbed my toe on something in the track down the side of the farmers field. Bloody tell that hurt… and I was worried that my foot would swell up. I just carried on and got on with it. It was a combo of run walk for the first little bit because of the climb, but soon we were on a section I had recced a few weeks earlier and I knew there were some miles of fast running conditions – so that’s what I did.

We surprised my crew – and they ran out of the pub in Otford High Street (GUYS! – one job to do yeah!???!  ) and then they had to run up the hill after me with some luzocade and crisps. Dom was doing a marvellous job of pacing me and I was so pleased that I had recced this section too because it allowed me to think ahead on my pace and when I could take advantage.

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We powered past another runner with a handful of vaseline he was shoving down his bum crack – we exchanged knowing glances with his crew, and we headed to some frankly hideous steps. I don’t know why, but they were a pain! I got up them and eventually we peaked out at the top and we enjoyed some running through fields.

This next section is one that I had not recced but I had a rough idea from driving around the other week (albeit on the road). We eventually headed down and to a road to cross it and we turned right down a hill. I had been talking about going under a bridge I think, and we both on autopilot ran down hill… quite fast…. For about half a mile.

Mistake.

No red tape. No signs and we questioned our choice, turned around and ran back up. We should have turned left! There was the piece of red and white tape flapping in the breeze. Dammit!

Anyway, no harm done, it was only a few minutes, and we got back on track. Eventually we came down a few hundred feet in the right place and I put on a bit of a burst, absolutely flying along (well….. 10-11 minute miles anyway!) and on to the aid station at Wrotham at 60 miles where my wife and Rob were waiting for me.

I had a cuddle. Changed my shoes. Changed into a long sleeved merino base layer. Put my headtorch on and made sure Susie had hers too for her pacing duties. After all that, I was ready to go, and realised that I hadn’t been into the checkpoint yet! OOps…. Susie said she wouldn’t have let me do that – and of course she wouldn’t – but it was a reminder that I was getting mentally tired already. I thanked Dom and Helen and arranged to see Rob at Ranscombe (around 70 miles – with McDonalds!). Apparently my GPS tracker had stopped – my iphone battery had run out. I wasn’t having a good time with batteries today!

60 – 82 Wrotham to Detling

Off we ran. Me and Susie recced this section so knew most of the way to Holly Hill – the next checkpoint. Everything was as expected. Trosley park – easy running… a treacherous downhill chalky mess of a “path” and then good quality trail again. It was dark through the heavy tree cover. A handful of runners past me on this section. More trail and some steps at Holly Hill (which I swear on my recce were not as steep!)…. Half way up I felt a pull in my leg as I overextended my stride up a step. Agony. Susie had to give me a quick massage of my leg before I could move again.

Soon we were at the aid station. A quick coffee which we managed to spill over each other and we were off again. I knew this whole section now until Ashford. Brilliant. I knew exactly what to come. The wooded section went on forever! I was worried about missing the right turn over the stile and kept going on about it. It was significantly muddier than when I had last been through the previous weekend.

Eventually we turned and I put down some good running for a few miles. I knew that I could do that all the way to Ranscombe (bar the couple of hills up and a steep downhill). So I banged out the miles and we passed quite a few runners – and this was really my last good section of running that I did looking back. We hit Ranscombe car park and then soon Rob arrived with my McDonalds (susie had messaged ahead). 6 chicken McNuggets (YUM!), fries (lovely – but couldn’t finish) and a coffee that I poured down myself (oops!) and managed to get a few mouthfuls before I poured the rest away. I managed to forget to pack my charging cable for my Fenix 5X – I had left it in my bag that was at the end!

I had lay in the car for 15 minutes or so and when I got up and walked out of the car park I was shivering quick badly. Susie was really surprised – I don’t think she had seen me like that. Obviously with the darkness, and the time of the day and that I had stopped for a short spell had brought my temperature down and I had to get my jacket on and get moving swiftly to generate some body heat.

Soon we were across Medway bridge – I ran and didn’t stop! – and then under the motorway bridge and along Nashenden Farm Road. We saw Rob again – we didn’t need anything – and then headed up a bloody hill! Another one. I walked quite a lot of this section to Bluebell Hill aid station – I didn’t have much in the way of go left…. And we got to the aid station, I had a quick coffee and immediately got moving again.

After seemingly ages we ended up just past the petrol station and climbing the most hideous bit. In training (and I run around here all the time) this hill is really not that bad and I have run up it! That wasn’t happening tonight and I stumbled up slowly using my poles. Miles and miles this seemingly went on for before we topped out and got a few bits of running done. I struggled this whole section. I also had to change my Petzl NAO+ battery. It ran out. That surprised me because I had run on the same settings from 8:30 – 5:00 am with in on Thames Path and also had similar experience on SDW100. Maybe I didn’t charge it up fully….

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I got passed by alot of runners. I was falling asleep shuffling along and I was getting messages into my head about stopping. ARGH! No…. I had to have a few sit down breaks and Susie did her best to get me moving along. I was slow. I was not enjoying this bit. Eventually, and despite everything we soon hit the downhill that signalled that Detling was close. Over the bridge and I could see my mate and next pacer Andy Cairns waiting for me with Rob. I had to have a sleep – and must have had 15-20 minutes in the aid station. I saw Tim Lambert there and was a bit surprised. I couldn’t compute why we were both there at the same time for some reason. Stupid brain!

82 – 91 – Detling to Lenham

Anyway, off I went with Andy and he got it absolutely right. He knew I wasn’t running much and he knew this whole section too – having trained on it with me and run NDW100 too. Frankly hideous sections – including Detling (but you know….. It was nowhere near as bad as other bits in hindsight). Andy encouraged me to trot along a bit when I could and he reminded me that when the sun comes up I would get energy. He reminded me to eat (lesson – I need to take more snacks) and gave me warnings about my footing.

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Eventually we started to head downhill and I got some running in for the first time in hours. This whole section took forever. We headed down into Hollingbourne, saw Susie and Rob and headed off again. I had a couple of mini pork pies which I couldn’t seem to swallow. I forced it down with water and wondered why they just tasted of pastry (Susie later told me that is what they were like for her too – and that they were gross!).

Next aid station was Lenham around 91 miles. I knew that Rob Cowlin – the legend – would be there. Interspersed walking and jogging – and eventually the aid station appeared on the crest of a small hill. Slick aid station pit stop. A quick coffee – Thanks Spencer and Rob – and off I went – I shouted “Andy – come on catch me up….” more for my own amusement  It was around 7 miles or so to the next aid station so I wanted to get moving.

From this point I knew I would finish. The sun was up. I was running where I could. Walking at a reasonable pace. I felt brighter. We eventually got to Dunn Street aid station, called my number and decided to crack on to the finish at Ashford. Only 4.5 miles left.

98.5 – 103 miles – Dunn Street to Ashford Julie Rose Stadium

I actually ran and ran and ran. I hadn’t eaten since some chocolate at Lenham but the need to finish was greater. I ran and ran and ran some more. I power hiked the hills. I felt the heat rising already – the sun was out – and ran everything I could.

I knew the end was close.

I was going to finish this absolute super bitch of a race.

We hit the tarmac. Some roads. Then pavement. I couldn’t remember exactly the route but I knew if I kept running the finish would soon arrive. I passed quite a few people – at quite some pace – (my stats say 9:28 mins / mile for mile 102!)

And eventually I could see the rise in the road before the stadium. I hiked the rise…. And then ran. I turned into the stadium, spotted the turn onto the track and bounded onto it.

I could see there was a chap in front and a runner and possibly a pacer coming up to the first corner. I wanted to finish. I overtook the first guy.

Andy said I couldn’t overtake the other two on the final straight.

I said “I know…… I’m not a total CNUT, but I will overtake on the final corner before the final 100metres! Watch!”

With that I powered on….. Drawing on all my reserves I rounded the final corner, passed the runners, head down, sprinting for the line. I swear I was getting faster and faster on the track. Eventually over the line! (my stats say the track section was 7:13 minute / mile average!)

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OMG I finished. I couldn’t believe it!

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28 hours 23 minutes 33 second. 107th / 239 runners who started the race. Only 147 runners finished. Superbitch of a race indeed! Next up Autumn 100 in October.

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In conclusion….

The race really didn’t go my way. But then when does anything that lasts about a day. It is impossible for 100% of everything to go right.

Why?

Fatigue – I felt heavily fatigued between Bluebell Hill and Hollingbourne. So much so that I was throwing time away and I really didn’t give a shit about it at the time. I had convinced I would be timed out in the last 20 miles.

Food and drink – I still didn’t get this right. I don’t eat enough. I MUST take more snacks. What definitely worked though was the pasta at half way, and mango I took with me and the lucozade drinks. Yum yum!

How I dealt with the heat and then the rain  – I don’t like heat so don’t train in it. I don’t know if that makes any difference, but I was totally bushwhacked by Reigate Golf Course (around 35 miles) and then the rain turned the trail into a slippy chalky mess which was a nightmare in my road shoes (I should have changed earlier).

So there you go. By far the toughest race I have ever done in my life (I don’t want to over play it – it is more due to me never having tackled anything more brutal – to be clear – NDW is nothing in comparison to the really tough stuff like the Spine / GUCR etc)

What helped me push through?

  • Grandslam. If that was a stand alone race I wonder I would have gutted it out. It is almost like a double or nothing…… I had two of the four races in the bag already and I didn’t want to throw that away.
  • Susie saying to me in one of my low moments – “Do you want to continue?” – which just made me MTFU and get on with it.
  • My amazing crew and pacers who had taken time out of their lives to come and help me and be there with me for a day.
  • A message from Sarah Sawyer before the race that reminded me that if that race didn’t go my way, then I was well capable of gutting it out to the end.
  • Bloodymindedness. I had done the training. I trained like a demon. The day just didn’t go to plan. I just had to get on with it. I chose to enter it. I must finish.

On this occasion, the NDW took everything I had. It felt pretty bleak at times and I am so grateful to all of the volunteers along the route, the other runners that I shared conversation with, and most of all to my wonderful wife Susie, and my other pacers Andy and Dom – and crew driver meister – Rob Small. Wow. You guys Rock!

I have renamed North Downs Way – “SuperBitch”. To be clear…. If I ever ever say that I am doing this race again burn my credit cards and then burn me and bury me in a ditch!

Thanks to ….

Rob Small for driving all over the North Downs dealing with my diva demands for McDonalds and other food.

Dominic Bowen for pacing from 50-60something miles. It was a blast!

Susan Bradburn my amazing wife who did about 22 miles with me and gave me repeated instructions to MTFU.

Andy Cairns who did such an amazing job to kick my ass from 82 to the end and get me moving again when I thought my running was over for the weekend.

Paul Reader for being a legend and queuing for two calippo for me at Reigate Hill. It was amazing to see you pal and was good to catch up briefly – thanks also for milkshake. 

Paul Commons and Karen Grieves for turning up unexpectedly at the end. Brilliant.

Zoe Norman for giving me hope at Reigate Hill on a hot day with a cold bottle of mountain dew and Percy pigs and sweaty hugs (my sweat!)

Stuart March for numerous hi-fives and I imagine amazing photos as usual!

Dave Stuart and kids for Percy pigs and coke at mile 40ish.

Rob Cowlin for a man hug at Lenham 91 aid station and Spencer Milbery for the coffee.

Tim Lambert for pre race chit chat the night before and Dan Park for once again sorting my accommodation 

Sarah Sawyer for a pre race message which I kept recalling in the darkest parts of the race.

Mark Thornberry for being a cheer leader at Box Hill stepping stones.

Mimi Anderson for great training advice as usual 

And everyone else who I have been stupid enough to forget. Including those friendly faces Neil and Nick Dawson at the top of Box Hill who bought me a calippo and had a chat!!!!

And everyone at Born to Run facebook group and friends who followed my progress and gave me encouraging messages.

Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/1121569153

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