Written by Avery Frantz - https://averyfunadventure.wordpress.com

Sunrise

Spirits are up early in the race.

This is a very long report that combines the months leading up to the race and the race itself, if you want to skip ahead to the race details, you can scroll down to the section labeled The Race.

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Training
At the end of June I needed to make plans for a qualifying race for Western States.  I intended to enter the Ultra Trail Mexico 100km race in Huasca—the same race I signed up for last year but didn’t end up running due to a surgical procedure I had prior to the race (not running related).  Yet when I went to enter the race it was already full.  Now I was a bit panicked since I needed to have enough time to train for a race.  The only time frame that seemed reasonable was October since the first week of November was the cutoff for all qualifying races for Western states.  As I scoured the list of approved races, I didn’t see many options that were feasible in terms of cost of travel, distance from home, and time frame.  I planned on running a 100km race since I only had 3 months to train but the only one that really seemed to fit was the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  Fear set in because 3 months or more accurately 14 to 15 weeks of training did not seem like it was sufficient to prepare for a 100 miler.  I took the plunge thinking that even under trained, I only needed to finish the race within 30 hours.  Considering I finished the Keys 100 in 20:28, I could walk a good portion of this race and still finish in time.

Prerace

3am and ready to go.

My running had been pretty focused from January through May but as May finished and June rolled around, travel and life events started eating into my regular training.  To prepare for this race, I looked at my training log for the Keys 100 and set up a detailed plan that steadily ramped up my weekly distance as well as my long runs.  The plan focused on three 4 week training blocks that would ramp up for 3 weeks and decline in the 4th week.  

About to Start

Waiting for the start.

Everything went to plan for the first three weeks until a fateful Sunday on July 16th.  I was running 20km on a mainly flat trail in the mountains near my home but at 9.5km, the trail drops dramatically by around 100m.  I descended just fine, turned around at the 10km mark, and ascended back up the incline.  Just as I was reaching the top of the hill I felt a sharp pain in a straight line up my left medial gastrocnemius muscle (inner upper calf).  As soon as it happened I knew something was seriously wrong.  I had never had such acute pain while running before.  The issue now was that I was 10km from my car in a remote part of this forest mountain trail.  I figured out a way to use a modified stride to run back but I had to be very careful not to put too much pressure on my left calf.  When I got back to the house, the pain did not subside and just touching the muscle hurt tremendously.  

Squirrel Nut Butter

Anyone see a squirrel?

The next morning I needed to travel for work.  Luckily I was traveling to Merida, Mexico a city where I used to live.  I contacted the physiotherapist I knew and the clinic was able to see me that day.  They examined me and immediately recommended I get an MRI.  Being the obsessed person I am, I had investigated throughout the day on Monday and had a hunch that I had a grade 1 or 2 tear of my medial gastrocnemius—most likely a grade 2.  My MRI revealed that I did have a grade 2 tear which meant I couldn’t run for 4-6 weeks.  I was very worried now.  How the heck was I supposed to prepare for a 100 miler on a condensed schedule already that will now cut another 4-6 weeks of running?

Motivation

One of the many posters Karina made.

After some contemplation, I decided I couldn’t fight reality and would concentrate on what I could control.  I did some research on power/speed walking, read some articles, and watched some YouTube videos.  My decision, after verifying with the physiotherapist, was to practice power walking during the weeks without running.  When I got back to Mexico City and met with an orthopedic doctor, she confirmed no running for 6 weeks and I had to go to 3 sessions per week for those 6 weeks of rehabilitation.  Quite a setback indeed but I was determined to follow the doctor’s instructions and not screw things up by rushing back.

On the trail

Staying focused.

Over the next 6 weeks, I never missed a rehabilitation session, did my stretching and prescribed exercises at home, and power walked 5-6 days per week.  I ended up walking 70-90 km per week during this time.  A funny thing happened as I continued to walk so much, my efficiency steadily improved to the point that I was able to walk at a speed equal to a slow run/jog.  This made me happy because I felt like in a serendipitous way, I gained a new skill set that could help me tremendously in a 100 mile ultra—the ability to walk much faster than most.  I remember at the Keys 100, my walking was a key to my success because I passed many other runners late who were also walking but much slower.  Beyond that, I knew it was good to focus on the positive and not dwell on the things that I couldn’t control.

Crew

Best crew ever.

Come September, I was given the green light to do 30 minutes of running to test out the calf.  The first test run was a bit scary and it felt weird running again because I had a lot of trepidation that the injury would return.  Luckily it did not.  I reported back to the clinic that all went well and I proceeded over the next two weeks to transition from the majority of the time power walking to the majority of the time running.  As a result of this injury, I did alter my my stride slightly on uphills.  Normally when I ran uphill my heels wouldn’t touch the ground but now I went slower allowing my heels to completely touch the ground to reduce pressure on my calves.  

Little Hot

A little hot out there.

As a side note, I tried to figure out how I injured myself.  The best I can gather is that in early June I went out for a 30km run and woke up the next day with pain in the back of my knee.  It seems the pain was a case of tendinitis on the tendon that attaches to the top of the calf muscle I injured.  I thought it healed because I monitored it closely and after 4 weeks it seemed to have gone away.  However, the day before I injured myself, I did a hard run in the mountains—3.5 hours with tons of elevation gain.  The next day when I went out for the the 20km run where I injured myself I noticed the tendinitis pain return a bit.  I suppose that I needed more rest after that hard mountain run and my calf was simply too tight.  When I went up the hill the calf just gave out and tore.

tarahumara.jpg

Karina with some Tarahumara.

During September I modified my training plan to reduce my weekly distance (100-120km per week vice 130-160km as previously planned).  I had a handful of 3-5 hour runs programmed with one huge training run of 74km to give me a feel of where my fitness was for the 100 miler.  All the running went well leading up to the race.  I made sure not to push too hard.  The first long run of 3 hours was humbling because I hit the wall only after 2 hours and slogged the last hour.  Yet as the weeks progressed I noticed my strength returning.  I did my 74km run 5 weeks out from the Javelina Jundred to give myself enough time to fully recover.  That run went quite well which gave me confidence that I’d at least be able to run a good portion of the 100 miler.  I didn’t start tapering quite as early like I did for the the Keys 100.  Instead I ran my full training load until two weeks before the race.  The week before the race, I reduced the distance by 20%.  The week of the race I did runs of 9, 8, and 5km.  I had two reasons for not doing a 3-4 week taper.  First, I couldn’t afford to back off since I already lost 6 weeks of running.  Second, I felt like the taper period lasted too long the first time and that it really wasn’t necessary to back off so much.

Supplies

Where’d that magic potion go?

Another side effect from the injury was to reset my race expectations.  Originally I wanted to beat my 20:28 time making a sub 20 my A goal.  My B goal was sub 24.  My C goal was to simply finish under 30 to make sure I qualified for the Western States lottery.

Off and Running

Keeping the eye on the prize.

Race Preparation 
I am a detailed oriented person.  In preparation for my first 100 miler I made spreadsheet that was a checklist of all supplies, gear, activities, and race day things I needed to do.  I modified it a bit based upon things I had learned in the subsequent two years but it was more or less the same.  That definitely made packing and prep much easier.  I also made timing sheets — one small one that I’d carry with me during the race to help me know what I needed to do at various sections of the race and one double sided chart to give to my wife as my crew with my plan A and plan B so she’d have an idea where and when I’d be throughout the race.  I’m not quite sure why, but as I made these timing sheets, I decided to alter my plan A to shoot for an 18 hour race and plan B for a 19 hour race.  As I’m writing this report now, I don’t really know what possessed me to not only forget about my post injury revised plan A/B but shoot for even better times than my pre injury plan A/B.  I simply told my wife that I may as well shoot for the stars and give myself a huge challenge rather than just sit back and semi-give up before the race even started.  It’s crazy, I know, since I never had come close to an 18 hour pace in such long distances.

Desert

Arizona desert.

Pre Race Days
We arrived to Phoenix on Thursday with the race start on Saturday.  As we went to pick up our luggage at the airport, I turned to my wife and said, “Now’s the moment of truth” referring to our suitcases.  As I grabbed our first suitcase I glanced at my phone that had a message stating 1 of 2 suitcases arrived.  OH NO!  The other suitcase was still in Los Angeles and that, of course, was my suitcase with all my gear, supplies, clothes, etc.  I was not a happy camper.  We proceeded to make our claim and then pray to the Aztec gods that it would show up that night at the hotel.  Otherwise Friday would be a crazy day of running around Phoenix trying to buy everything I needed.

Race Expo

The famous saguaro cactus.

When I awoke Friday morning, I immediately went to the front desk of the hotel and luckily the suitcase arrived!  Whew–now I could concentrate on getting checked into the race and relax the best I could.  Once I started seeing other runners at the hotel, however, I started to have a bit of panic and feelings of not belonging.  All the other runners seemed to be super fit, focused, and practically pros whereas I felt a bit like a fraud and out of place.  This has happened to me at all 3 of the races I’ve been in.  I think it’s partly due to the fact that I run 98% of the time by myself and partly due to the fact my self-image still has an ingrained concept of myself from 10 years ago when I was 70lbs/30kgs heavier and at my unhealthiest point in my life.  

Supplies

What else do I need?

My wife and I went to the race expo, picked up my bib and goodies.  We browsed around, bought a few items, and stopped at the massage both.  I figured this might be a good opportunity for me to calm my pre-race jitters.  I bought a 15 minute massage for my wife and me.  As soon as the lady started on my back/shoulders I could feel that I was extremely stressed out.  This 15 minute massage changed everything for me.  After it was over, I relaxed for the first time since arriving to Arizona and my mood calmed as well.

The rest of the day was filled with small preparation errands as well as simple light foods (veggies/fruits/tofu).  That night we had dinner at the hotel and I tried to get to sleep as soon as possible (9pm).  I set the alarm for 3am but with nerves I ended up waking up for a couple bathroom breaks and by 2:15am, I was up for good.

lap 4

Got to stay positive

Race Day
I got all my gear on and packed up the supplies.  I drank a simple vegetable protein shake with some turmeric as well as a chia gel for some calories to start the day.  I’ve found in the past that I do not want a lot of food in my stomach from the day before nor from breakfast.  I train week after week with a pretty empty stomach so my strategy is to do the same thing as in my training and consume the calories I need while running.  I had one cup of coffee and tried to do all the bathroom business I could to avoid any “issues” while in the race.  Right before leaving the hotel I took some Imodium to ensure I wouldn’t be looking for a nearby cactus due to intestinal issues.

Once we arrived to the starting area around 5am, we staged my two drop bags–one at the start and one that would be at the halfway point of the loop at the aid station named Jackass Junction.  We went over the race plan one more time, took some pictures, said some jokes, and awaited the start.  In comparison to the Keys 100, I was surprisingly calm with barely any nerves at all.  In fact, I was really ready to get the show on the road.  I ran a quick loop around the start area about 15 minutes before the start to loosen the legs up.  After that I stood near the start line to try to avoid being caught behind hundreds of runners in the beginning of the race.  I read that the first 1-2km of the trail are pretty narrow and if you are in the middle to back the pace will be practically walking.  I did not want that to happen because I had a different strategy to go out faster than my first 100 miler where I held back quite a bit.

The Race
At 6am 535 runners departed from the start chute.  The beginning area wraps around the camp sites, main aid station, and eventually spits you out on the actual trail.  I think I was in the group of the first 40 people.  In my first 100 miler, I used my heart rate as my limiter as to how fast I would run.  I tried to keep it in the 140s and due to that fact I ran at a pace that was quite a bit slower than I wanted.  In this race and because of the experience I have gained over the two years since, I decided to pay attention to my heart rate but also use my perceived exertion and my breathing rate to dictate how fast I would go.  I figured that I could sustain long stretches keeping my heart rate in the 150s.  After about 2-3km, the group of runners started opening up and the trail had a lot more space.  I took this opportunity to pick up the pace.

Moving

Keep on keepin’ on.

Another side note: My strategy was to break the race up into quarters or 40km each.  In each quarter of the race, I had an average pace goal.  Each 40km would progressively slow so I built that into my pacing goals.  The course itself is a loop which we repeat 5 times with the first loop having a slightly longer extra part built in.  Loop one is 35.9km/22.3mi and loops two through five are 31.3km/19.45mi.  It has a total elevation gain of 2409m/7900ft.  You essentially are on an aggregate incline to the far point of the loop and downhill coming back to the front.  The tricky part is that some of the inclines are imperceivable but you notice your pace reducing.  After each loop you reverse course and go back the way you came.  It’s an interesting feature of the race because your are constantly passing other runners making it more social than a point to point ultra and by reversing course you are seeing everything from the opposite point of view.  That helps you from getting bored and feeling like you are just doing the same thing over and over again.

hot

It was roasting

Back to the race:  Arriving at the first aid station “Coyote Camp” I was keeping the pace that I needed.  I filled my two water bottles and got out in under 2 minutes.  I used a hydration vest for storing my supplies but decided I was going to try to avoid using the water bladder unless I really needed to.  I thought that with my two water bottles which held a ½ liter each, that it would be enough for me to get to each aid station.  That strategy turned out to be correct.  The reason I didn’t want to fill the hydration vest with water is that it adds another 5-6lbs of weight.  Over 100 miles that would require a significant increase in energy expenditure.

The next section from Coyote Camp to Jackass Junction is the longest segment between aid stations 10.4km/6.5mi.  It’s also the roughest section with several very rocky portions where you definitely have to watch your step or else you’ll take spill.  In fact I heard of one older runner who had a serious fall in that section and had to be taken to a hospital.  As I navigated this section my pace picked up a little more.  I had good conversation with another runner who ended up finishing 8th in the race.  He ran an amazingly well paced race.

skel

I hoped I wouldn’t turn into that guy.

As I arrived to Jackass Junction, I filled water bottles again, grabbed some food from my drop bag and was off again.  Crossing the timing mat, I was 35th.  On the back half the loop and with the downhills ahead, I pushed the pace some more and was running at clips of 5:10min/km to 4:55min/km.  It felt good to run at that pace.  I had slight worries that maybe it was too much but I quickly eliminated those thoughts and reminded myself that this race was a perfect opportunity to experiment and find out what I could do.  I didn’t want to feel like I was too conservative after finishing this race.  As we made our way down to Rattlesnake Ranch, I had passed several other runners.  I got in and out quickly and set off for the the end of loop one.  At this point, the sun had got to a point in the sky where the temperatures were starting to rise significantly.

I really wasn’t too concerned about the heat since I had run extremely hot and humid race before, I had lived in a very hot tropical environment for two years, and I really don’t mind the heat.  Plus in this part of the country, there was absolutely no humidity.  That would help to cool the skin since the sweat would evaporate vice just stay on your skin.  I wore a singlet along with white arm sleeves.

As I arrived to the start/finish area, I surprised my wife since I was there 18 minutes prior to my predicted time for my A goal (3:18 total time).  I handed all my gear to her so she could refill my water and supplies while I ran to the timing mat.  I got back to the aid station area where my wife was and she was so happy for me.  She showed me one of the great motivational posters she designed, gave me a big hug, took some pictures with me and sent me on my way.

Going out on loop 2 back to Rattlesnake Ranch, I quickly realized that my wife didn’t see the other water bottle I had tucked in a front pocket of my vest.  My fault completely for not showing her where it was.  The good news was that the aid station was closer this time since loop 2 had a shorter total distance.  Ultimately I ran out of water with less than 10 minutes to the aid station so no big deal indeed.

The slight uphill to the back of the course was a lot more difficult this time now that I had run over 40km.  Leaving out of Jackass Junction I had the long section with lots of rocks and wouldn’t you know it, I was checking my watch for something and BOOM–down goes Avery.  I caught the bulk of my fall with the palms of my hand but I also fell to the left hitting my hip and back.  I got up dusted myself off, checked for any serious injury or dropped supplies.  Besides some cuts on my hand and elbow I was good to go.  From there on out I was much more careful with my steps knowing that the later in the race it got, the harder it is to lift your feet.

I finished loop 2 in 3:16 for a total time of 6:34.  I had also PRd my 50k time in a race by quite a lot with a 4:50 time.  Things were looking very positive so far.

avery jj100-02

Loop 3 was the repeat of Loop 1 minus the longer final quarter.  This time it was much hotter reaching the high temperature of the low 90s F or 32-34 C.  As I was ascending the hills towards the back of the loop my speed started dropping markedly.  I ran with for a while and was passed by the overall female winner of the race Larisa Dannis.  Closer to Jackass Junction the same thing happened to me with the 2nd overall female finisher Dana Anderson.  Both of these ladies were so positive and encouraging.  They were incredible in their consistent pacing.  As I was fading a bit, they kept on going.  It reminded me of the old Energizer Bunny commercials in the 80s where they were the Energizer batteries and I was the off-brand battery.  Passing through Jackass Junction and using the aggregate downhill helped instill a little more confidence after a little less than 2 hours of a fading pace.  

The total time for loop 3 was 3:44 which meant I ran 27 minutes slower than loop 2.  I had lost all the extra time I banked early in the race and was slightly behind my A goal now.  Starting loop 4 meant Karina, my super wife, crew, cheering section, and overall hero, was going to run with me to the first aid station at Rattlesnake Ranch.  As we headed out, I noticed I was in some definite trouble in terms of flexibility and pain in my legs.  I had a very hard time opening up my stride and there was some mounting pain near my kneecaps.  The best I could figure was that my quads were tightening up severely.  I also had a little bit of pain in my hip to groin area when I had to take any steeper inclined steps with my right leg.  Karina pulled out every trick in the book to cheer me up–from jokes, to videos from my daughters, to even tickling me, she was a real trooper.  We arrived to the aid station and I knew I was hosed for my A goal and I let her know.  My pace couldn’t even reach anything faster than 7min/km and according to my pacing charts, I needed to run around a 6:30min/km.  The problem was that I simply couldn’t muster any quicker turnover in my feet nor the strength to move faster.  I felt like I was stuck in first gear.  This happened to me in the second half of the Keys 100 when all I could do was alternate running and walking until I reached the end.  The upshot of this day was that I was strong enough to barely have to walk.

When I reached Jackass junction for the 4th time, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, dejected, and slightly disoriented.  The fatigue from the day really sunk in, the disappointment of fading so quickly from my A and possibly B goal was bothering me, and I just wanted to run faster.  I got out of there and headed back down the trail through the rocky section once more.  At this point it was dark and I was using my waist lamp.  I definitely was very careful not to eat it again on the rocks.  Because this was a washing-machine style race I was passing runners going the other way, going my way, and being passed as well.  I could tell for the most part who was who but the closer I got back to the start/finish line, the less accurate my assumptions were.  It felt as if I faded very far back in the race.  At 8:34pm I arrived at the start/finish line for the 4th time.  It took me 4:15 to complete that loop and 32 minutes more than loop 3.  I was not happy.

aid station

Now was the time of reckoning.  Karina was about to run another segment with me after she did all the crewing and aid station work I needed.  She could see I was in distress and offered me some ibuprofen for the second time.  I didn’t mention it earlier in this report but prior to lap 4 she offered me some but I generally avoid all pain medication, especially when running/racing.  She had been spending time with the crew and wife of another runner I met.  Apparently the wife of this runner had a medical background and explained that I was having quite a bit of inflammation and that a single dose of ibuprofen was not going to cause the damage I was so worried about.  I had heard many horror stories of runners with kidney failure in races because of ibuprofen and I did not want that to happen to me.  However, as a good runner should do, I listened to my crew since she was much more sane and capable of thinking than I was.  I consumed the ibuprofen with some water and we were off.

Wouldn’t you know that after about 20 minutes of running, I started feeling better.  I felt a little lighter on my feet, I was cracking jokes, smiling, and just felt like things were improving.  We rolled into Coyote Camp and Christmas music was playing.  It was awesome.  I grabbed some supplies, kissed my lovely wife goodbye and headed off into the wilderness feeling renewed.  For the first time I decided to listen to some music to distract me.  Using DJ mixes I had, I queued one up that really made me feel good in the past and the next thing I know I’m singing out loud as I went up the gradual hill to the back half of the loop.  As the kilometers clicked off, my speed kept increasing.  The only glitch I hit was when my waist lamp was losing juice.  I didn’t realize that it only had around a 4-5 hour battery life at full power.  The tricky part was that in order to change batteries I had to remove the other one.  It had a screw cap but with a tricky pin insert you had to align with the lamp tube.  Once I turned off the lamp it was quite dark.  I slid the battery into the tube and tried to screw the cap back on but it wouldn’t turn on.  UGH!  No panicking yet…What to do??  Using my logic, I figured that if I tilted the tube forward putting the small hole, where the pin was to align, closest to the ground, I could use gravity to help align the pin in the cap.  I took a deep breath, screwed it on, hit power and voila–LET THERE BE LIGHT!

refill

I hit Jackass Junction just as happy as could be.  I encouraged several runners sitting there to keep pushing.  I was giving pats on the backs and high fives.  What was going on with me I thought?  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Grabbing my final supplies out of my drop bag, I passed the timing belt and headed down the back half of the trail for the final time.

Now things were really getting fun.  I felt a certain momentum building from within.  Little by little I continued to push the pace.  I passed several runners who were in front of me but were reduced to walking.  I understood exactly what they were going through from being there myself in other races but for some reason it wasn’t me in this race.  They call this reeling people in and passing the carnage.  Rattlesnake Ranch was visible in the distance but the trail was quite winding so it took longer to get there than the crow flies.

I stayed barely a minute at the aid station only filling up on water.  Looking back, I still had a full bottle of water in my vest so I didn’t need to stop there at all.  It was only 6.5km to the finish line.  Now is where I wanted to drop the hammer as the elites say. I upped my pace as best I could and I felt like I was flying.  I continued to pass people coming and going and rarely saw anybody running.  After about 15-20 minutes I could see the glow of the lights of the finish line.  I could smell the end of the race. I also looked over a large hill and saw the moon was still up.  Prior to the race, I told my wife that I would race the moon meaning I wanted to finish before the moon set (around 1am I think).  I called it my quest to Chase the Moon.  In my happiness of the moment I had a conversation with that moon to explain who won the race between him and me.  Mind you I was actually talking out loud…but who cares…I do some strange things late in races to entertain myself.

avery jj100-04

Finally I approached the start/finish camp.  The first thing I did was look for me wife.  She was nowhere to be found so I tried my best to sprint around the chute leading up to the finish line.  I was passing people all over the place and probably looked like a lunatic running so hard.  Yet a funny thing happened, it seemed to charge up the crowd and everyone was cheering loud for me.  Then I did what I dreamed for months, I crossed the finish line—at 12:12am!  Final time 18 hours and 12 minutes.  The final lap took me 3:37 meaning I ran it 38 minutes faster than loop 4 and 6 minutes faster than loop 3.  Amazing!  I had no idea I had that capability inside of me.  It surprised me more than anyone.

I left the finish area and headed back to where my drop bag was–still no wife.  Looking towards the trailhead area, I spotted her waiting at the gates with the crowd looking for me to come in.  We apparently missed each other as I came around the chute.  She went from the finish line to the trailhead as I went through the chute to the finish line.  After hugs and kisses, we headed to the finish line again to take pictures together to capture the happy moment forever.

Looking back on this race makes me very happy.  I learned that I now have the capacity to run almost all of a 100 miler and have the ability after 90 miles to pick up my pace to levels I ran in miles 20-40.  Listening to your crew is an important lesson as well.  In my mind I hit my A goal and 18:12 for 100 miles for a guy who 10 years ago couldn’t run a mile and was extremely overweight is something I’m very proud of.  I think 5 or 6 of the top finishers are pro runners and 12th place among 535 starters is not too shabby.  

Done

Done and done!

The other interesting thing about this whole adventure was the fact that I had to take 6 weeks off from running in the middle of my training.  I returned to running with less than 8 weeks until the race.  I’m still trying to distill what that meant.  The best I can guess is that the power-walking helped my base fitness, the lower volume weeks kept me from overtraining, and when I came back from running I was very focused on trying to maximize my training days while making sure to build in true rest days around my long training runs.

Success

We did it!

So that’s my long winded report…for those that stuck with it until the end, you have a taste of the patience it takes to run an ultra.  I want to give a big thanks to Justin and Candice for giving my wife a slice of your popup tent during the race.  Another big thanks goes to my family for putting up with my craziness and for supporting me.  My friends were very encouraging leading up to and during the race.  The race director, staff, and volunteers were awesome.  Yet the biggest thanks has to go to my wife, crew, running mate, best friend, and superhero Karina.  None of this ever happens without her.  She has a special gift of bringing the best out of me despite my crazy ways and stubbornness.

Buckle

Sub 24 hour buckle.

Lap 1 – 35.9km/22.3mi – 3:18 – 5:33min/km – 24th place
Lap 2 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:18 – 6:17min/km – 23rd place
Lap 3 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:43 – 7:09min/km – 19th place
Lap 4 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 4:15 – 8:11min/km – 18th place
Lap 5 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:37 – 6:58min/km – 12th place
Total – 161.1km/100.1mi – 18:12 – 6:47min/km 10:55min/mi – 12th place

Race Accomplishments:
100 mile PR – 18:12
100 km PR – 10:48
50 mi PR – 8:23
50 km PR – 4:47

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 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.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1189585698

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

splits 5

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.

Stuart 2

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!!

splits 6

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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