Written by Steve Speirs - http://www.runbulldogrun.com

Well, it’s almost to the stage where I’m forgetting how challenging the Western States 100 Endurance Run was, so I guess that means it’s about time for a race recap. Ever so briefly, the pre-race couple of days were very enjoyable, and thanks to my crew of wife Ally, daughter Shannon and friend Greg, not stressful at all.

We stayed at the luxurious Squaw Creek Resort and Spa, which was just a few minutes drive from the race headquarters and start at Squaw Valley. One day I’ll return to the Resort/Spa to take full advantage of the many facilities on offer.

Packet pickup on Friday morning was just as organized as all the online race reports described – you’re treated like royalty from the moment you get weighed, to the moment you leave the village with a bag full of quality schwag. For the record, I weighed in at 140lbs, which would be used on race day to gauge loss of body weight at various checkpoints along the course.

After my traditional dinner of hamburger, fries and a Guinness, we retired early to bed with gear already laid out and alarm set for 3am. Sleep came easy and before I could stress too much, it was time to head to the start to pick up the timing chip/bib and get weighed in once again.

Starting Gear
After much deliberation leading up to the race, I settled on the following starting gear, with plenty of reserve clothing/accessories packed just in case I needed them along the way:

Elevation Profile - Runners Run Right to Left [Squaw Valley to Auburn]

Elevation Profile – Runners Run Right to Left [Squaw Valley to Auburn]

Start to Robinson Flat [74th Overall]
After hanging out indoors for a while, it was soon time to stroll the few hundred feet to the start line. Naturally we took a few selfies for posterity’s sake, before Ally and crew made their way to snag a prime photo-taking spot. Hanging out at the start I bumped into Kaci Lickteig who had finished 2nd at the Rocky Raccoon 100 earlier this year and was one of the pre-race favorites for the Women’s race. It was nice to see a familiar face and chat briefly as the clock slowly ticked down.

Then, all of a sudden, just as race founder Gordy Ainsleigh was saying a few words, the final 10 seconds were counted down and we were off and running. The race start is a bit cruel with just over 2,500ft of elevation gain in the first 4 miles, yet the lead guys and girls took off as if the terrain was flat. Meanwhile I settled into a steady hike/jog to *save* my legs/lungs for the final 96 miles of the race. No point going anaerobic at this stage of the game, right?

The air was cool, but the atmosphere was electric. I enjoyed the hike, and unusually for me, chatted quite a lot with runners from North Carolina, California, Texas and Alaska. I also took the opportunity to glance back several times and was amazed at the long line of runners snaking all the way back to Squaw. The higher we climbed, the more magnificent the views became. The last section of the climb was pretty steep, but after power-hiking for a few more minutes we finally reached the summit. Again, the view of Lake Tahoe from the top was breathtaking.

Photo courtesy Luis Escobar

The Escarpment – Photo courtesy Luis Escobar

After cresting Squaw, I think there was about 7 miles of rocky, rolling singletrack to negotiate – most of it downhill. I decided to take things easy this early in the race, as one of my biggest fears was destroying the quads leaving nothing left for the runnable miles much further down the line. The Lyon Ridge aid station was buzzing with excitement and offered plenty of support and encouragement, but on this occasion all I needed was a quick water top up.

The next 5 miles to Red Star Ridge were once again rocky, but rolled along nicely. It was also cool to see Kim Wrinkle doing his iRunFar-thing in this section, but unfortunately there was no time to stop and chat. At Red Star Ridge I took the time to drop off a couple of empty Island Boost packages, top off with water and refill my Tailwind soft flask. Aside from feeling a little light-headed (probably due to the average 7,000ft elevation), I was happy with how things were panning out.

The next section down to the Duncan Canyon aid station, and then Duncan Canyon itself, was spectacular, yet a little taxing on the legs. The downhill was pretty long, and surprisingly for this early in the race, I found myself all alone with no-one close by. No worries though – a few more miles and I’d get to see my crew for the first time at Robinson Flat. The “few miles” turned out to be a grinding, almost 4 mile climb, which for some reason, I wasn’t really expecting. I’d read the course description numerous times before the race, but oddly this climb had escaped my memory. Ugh.

The aid station noise finally came into earshot just as the trail flattened out a bit. Great news! I jogged in to the aid station where a volunteer removed my hydration vest so I could get weighed. It was a bit overwhelming to be honest, with several people asking questions at the same – “What was your starting weight?”, “What can I get you?”, “What’s in your bottles?”, “Do you have crew here”? Thankfully, as I hopped on the scale I spotted my crew enthusiastically waving in the distance and was able to hop off the scale and bypass any more questions and the majority of the aid station tables. For the record, I weighed in at 136lbs, but with the scale positioned on a sand/dirt mix, I didn’t think it was that accurate – besides, I’d been religious about my fluid intake and was happy with my level of thirst.

Robinson Flat to Michigan Bluff [68th Overall]
Again, it was great to see my crew at the aid station, but there was no time to hang around and chat. I dropped off my arm sleeves, gloves & empty fuel packets, as Shannon quickly switched out my Salomon soft flasks and Ally sprayed me down with MISSION sunscreen.

Out of Robinson there was a shortish 1 mile climb, followed by another 4-ish mile descent down to Miller’s Defeat (Mile 34). The legs still felt good and it was really nice to drop down to 6,000ft where the air felt more breathable. I remember really enjoying this dusty section of the course and for the first time in the race, managed to string together 4 miles in the 9:xx range.

Photo courtesy Glenn Tachiyama

Focused & Feeling Good! – Photo courtesy Glenn Tachiyama

Miller’s Defeat to Dusty Corners was another fun 4 mile section. I was able to stretch out the legs and even passed a couple of runners with a couple of sub-9:xx miles. Dusty Corners aid station was really enthusiastic too. I topped off my fluids and took advantage of a major sponge down before setting off to Last Chance.

This section rolled quite a bit, and I think there were a few sections where I decided to power hike instead of jog. A few runners around me commented on the temperature, but to be honest, I wasn’t finding it hot and the Mission Multi-Cool Buff was doing its job nicely. So far so good.

From Last Chance we dropped down another 1,800ft in the next 2.5 miles. The quads took a bit of a beating on this descent as I found it really difficult not to stride out. I guess I need to work on my descending skills. Thankfully, at the bottom of the canyon was a most welcome river crossing which really felt good on the legs. I could have stayed there for hours!

Once across the river, I was faced with the notorious hike to the Devil’s Thumb aid station – 36 glorious switchbacks on a 1,750ft climb. From what I remember there were only a couple of runnable sections on this climb, and I definitely worked up a sweat as I made my way to the top. At the aid station I took time to chug down some water, refill my bottles and stuff the cooling buff with ice.

Out of Devil’s Thumb there was a long (5 mile), gradual descent down to the El Dorado Creek. Halfway down the descent I noticed my 50 mile split was just under 10 hours – not too shabby, and well on pace for a shiny, silver sub-24 buckle. I forced the thought out of my mind though as there was still a lot of running left to do. It was also on this descent that I first noticed signs that my quads were getting sore. I tried to back off the pace a touch, but the braking action of slowing down seemed to put even more pressure on the muscles. With each painful stride forward, I decided my mind and body was ready for another climb.

Once across the bridge at the bottom (at least I think there was a bridge), the trail quickly steepened and I settled in for the almost 3 mile climb to Michigan Bluff (Mile 55.7) where I’d get to see my crew again. I was drinking a lot on this section of the course and at one point was a little concerned that I’d run out of fluids before I reached the aid station. Finally, the trail popped out onto a dusty, rutted road and in the distance I could hear the clapping and cheering of the Michigan Bluff aid station. Ah, civilization at last!

Entering Michigan Bluff

Entering Michigan Bluff – Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

Entering the aid station I removed my hydration vest and weighed in at 138.5lbs. That’s more like it! I bypassed the food/drink tables and jogged along to where Ally, Shannon and Greg had set up my supplies. After 50+ miles of running, it was really good to see them again. I switched out bottles, stocked up with Tailwind/Island Boost and took a minute or so to cool off with the giant MISSION cooling towel. Aside from the quads, everything felt good, although I’m pretty sure I whinged a bit about the two “brutal climbs” that I’d just negotiated. I didn’t hang around too long at Michigan Bluff and after a quick “See you at Foresthill”, I was off running again.

Michigan Bluff to Foresthill [66th Overall]
I ran part of the next section down to Volcano Canyon with another runner whose name escapes me at the moment. It was good to chat a bit, but he soon left me as the singletrack dropped off the closer we got to the canyon. I expected this section to be a bit flatter and, despite taking things pretty easy up to this point, was surprised at how much the downhills were already hurting.

The climb out of Volcano was a welcome respite for the quads, and it was nice to power hike the paved Bath Road section with one of Shannon’s friends who was looking for her runner (she was on pacing duties). From Bath Road it was just over a mile to the Foresthill aid station where I’d get to see my crew again and pick up Greg who would accompany me the last 38 miles of the race. This was a fun section along Foresthill Road with lots of cars honking their horns and folks outside their houses shouting and cheering.

The aid station was a bit overwhelming and quite hectic – lots of crew, and plenty of pacers all waiting anxiously for their runners. After a quick weigh in (138.5lbs again), and a few cups of coke, I exited the station and jogged along to find Ally, Shannon and Greg. Greg was raring to go, but I needed a few minutes to take on board more fuel and liquids, and also stuff the Petzl Nao Headlamp into my hydration vest for later on along the course. It was kinda nice to get going again, but as we headed out I realised it would be much later at night when I’d see my crew again at Highway 49 (Mile 93.5). 31.5 miles seemed so far away.

Foresthill to Highway 49 [77th Overall]
After running solo for much of the first 62 miles, it was great to have Greg for company and to chat a bit as we started the descent down to the American River Canyon along Cal Street. The 16 miles to the Rucky Chucky river crossing passed pretty quickly, although fatigue was definitely setting in and my quads were locking up.

Leaving Foresthill - Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

Leaving Foresthill – Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

Foresthill to Cal-1 was a nice descent, but it was hard to stretch out as my quads rebelled. Cal-1 to Cal-2 was a lot more technical, with numerous rollers along the red-soiled terrain. I think I stopped to shake out some rocks from one of my shoes along this stretch, and was surprised how tough it was just to bend down. Cal-2 soon arrived, however, and after topping up fluids and squeezing down an Island Boost, we were soon off again.

Cal-2 to Cal-3 was more downhill and more rollers. We hiked the ups, jogged the flats and suffered through the steeper parts of the descent. Once at Cal-3 I knew there was only about 5 miles to go to the near side aid station. Thankfully the singletrack levelled off a bit and we were able to run a decent pace along this stretch. At least it *felt* like a decent pace at the time…

I expected the singletrack to continue all the way to the river crossing, but it ended kind of abruptly and turned into a dusty fire road instead. I think there was a bit of a hike involved along here, before the road dropped down gently to the aid station. Once again I jumped on the scale (140lbs – back to my pre-race weight), topped off fluids and as darkness was almost upon us, strapped on a waist lamp and the Petzl Nao.

The short, steep descent to the river was slow going. My quads hurt and it was difficult to pick out a boulder to step down onto. The river crossing, however, was awesome. The cold water felt great on my legs and the support from the volunteers manning the guide rope was fantastic. At the far side of the river I mentioned how good the water felt on my quads, but at that precise moment, my right foot slipped on a rock and I nearly cramped up big time. Thankfully I successfully avoided the cramp and was able to jog slowly up to the far side aid station where our drop bags were waiting.

For the first time in the race I sat down and let a volunteer change my soaked shoes/socks. With 22 miles to go, it would be nice to at least start off with dry feet. The volunteer struggled a bit with my Injinjis, so I bent forward and helped her out. Greg changed his shoes too and after a few more minutes we were off power hiking to Green Gate – a steady 2 mile climb on a rather nice fire road.

I made sure to drink plenty on the climb and munched on a couple of dried pineapple pieces which I’d stowed in my drop bag. They tasted great and made a pleasant change from Tailwind and Island Boost. This section of the race was quite busy with several pacers making their way down to the far side aid station to meet and pick up their runners. It was also quite cool to be moving along with just a headlamp lighting the way.

We reached Green Gate in 61st position overall (the best of the day), quicker than expected and mentally I was still feeling good. Unfortunately it was on this next section to Auburn Lake Trails that I realized my quads were 100% shot and I wouldn’t be running much, if any, of the remaining 20 miles. The pain was intolerable and frustratingly I was forced to hobble down the descents one sorry step at a time. I’m still wincing at the very thought. Thankfully, I was still on pace for a sub-24 finish and was able to stride out on the flats and hike the ups at a pretty decent clip.

The 5 mile stretch to Auburn Lake Trails seemed to take forever, and by this time my Garmin had died and I was reliant on Greg to keep me up-to-date with regards to pace, estimated finish time etc. From what I can remember, ALT was a great, fully-stocked aid station, but with me reduced to a walk-only mode, there was literally no time to hang around.

Somewhat despondently, we headed out of Auburn Lake Trails faced with another rolling 4.5 miles to go to the next aid station at Browns Bar. I kept telling myself at least there were only 15 miles to the finish and in my mind mapped out the distance of a comparative route that I run most weekends. One step at a time, Steve. One step at a time.

Greg and I chatted often but also went quiet for long stretches. I think the stretch to Browns Bar was predominantly a quiet one, aside from the numerous times we were passed by runners moving quicker than us (i.e. not walking). I probably bugged Greg a lot on this section asking “How far since Auburn Lake Trails?”, “How much further to Browns Bar?”, “How much time in the bank for my sub-24?”. It was also frustrating as I felt like we should be running this allegedly-easy section of the course, but my legs just wouldn’t allow it.

Finally, Browns Bar came into earshot with some crazy loud tunes playing in the distance. It was a bit weird though as the closer we got, the quieter the songs became. Did we miss a turn, or did we have to run some kind of crazy loop to get down to the aid station? Suddenly, the tunes got louder and the aid station miraculously appeared before us! [Note: we found out after the race that Rogue Valley Runners who man the aid station apparently like to confuse runners by messing with the volume of their music. Thanks guys – it certainly worked for us.]

Out of Brown’s Bar came another painful 1.5 mile descent (are you kidding me?), followed by a 1.75 mile hike to Highway 49 where Ally and Shannon would be [patiently] waiting. Again, this section seemed to take forever, and the steep descent did nothing to help rejuvenate my quads. After being passed by at least another 4 or 5 sets of runners accompanied by their pacers, the Highway 49 streetlamps soon came into view and it was just a short hop across the road to the aid station.

I could sense Ally and Shannon were concerned about my dramatic slowing from Foresthill to Highway 49, but they didn’t mention it, and just made quick work of switching out my bottles and getting me on my way. I sat down briefly for some reason (not sure why to be honest), and decided to swap my Petzl Nao (which was starting to annoy me) for my Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp. Might as well have a bit of comfort for the final 6.5 miles, eh?

Highway 49 to Finish [87th Overall]
Heading out of Highway 49, we were greeted by another 1 mile gradual climb up to Cool Meadow. I would have loved to have run this section of the course but my legs were having none of it. Once across the meadow, there was another annoying 2.5 mile descent down to No Hands Bridge. Again, the pre-race plan was to run this section quite hard and make up a bit of time, but all I could do was keep up a pretty good walk pace.

The bridge soon came into view and was semi-lit up with Holiday lights. A nice touch, but all I could think about was one more climb, and just over a 5K left to the finish. As we crossed the bridge, Greg reassured me that I was on for a sub-23 finish if I could just keep the same pace going. However, I knew the climb up to Robie Point was a tough one and it would take a real effort to reach the Placer High School track in time.

The climb was indeed pretty brutal and coupled with some confusion regarding the distance to Robie, I was just ready to hit the asphalt and be done with the race. The folks at the Robie Point aid station provided a huge boost, however, and as we hit the last slope of the day, it hit me that I was about to complete the Western States 100 Endurance Run. Ally and Shannon were waiting just beyond the 99 mile marker, and it was really cool (and emotional) to follow the painted WS100 footprints and stride out together towards Placer High. The school floodlights soon came into view, and it was such an amazing feeling to hop onto the track and run the last 250m to the finish line, just as I’d imagined so many times in the weeks/months leading up to the race.

The Finish - Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

The Finish – Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

The End
After crossing the line and thanking Ally, Shannon and Greg, I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. I chatted briefly with Kim Wrinkle (iRunFar.com), sat down for a while to reflect on the race, but soon started to feel chilly. Ally went back to the crew vehicle to grab warm clothes and some compression gear, whilst I weighed in for the final time (140.5lbs would you believe), before heading to the medical tent to snag a cot and a blanket to keep me warm.

What Next? - Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

What Next? – Photo courtesy Ally Speirs

The next 6 to 8 hours were a mix of snoozing in the car, chowing down on the post-race breakfast, sitting in a chair icing my feet and attempting to stay out of the sun. Finally it was time to head to the Awards Ceremony where the Top 10 Male/Females were announced, and every finisher presented with their respective buckle.

100 Miles One Day Silver Buckle

“100 Miles | One Day” Silver Buckle

Post-Race
Thanks to the Merrell Bare Access Trail and Injinji TRAIL 2.0 socks, my feet are the happiest they’ve ever been post-100 Miler. Aside from a couple of small hot spots, they look almost the same as they did before the race. My quads, however, took several days to come around, and 9 days on, are still a teeny bit tender. I thought I’d prepared enough for the Western States 100, but in reality I guess I was nowhere near ready for the almost 23,000ft of descending after all. In all honesty the 18,000ft of climbing wasn’t too bad, and I felt pretty comfortable hiking at a good clip where I needed to. I’m just a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to run much in the last 22 miles and take advantage of the “easier” sections of the course that I kept reading about.

Deep in the latter miles of the race, I remember telling Greg that I had no plans to return to the Western States 100. Despite the trashed quads, I had no doubts along the way that I could finish (which of course I did), but I wasn’t feeling the need to return and put myself through the pain and suffering of a very challenging 100 Miler. Of course, just a day or two after the race, thoughts of “I could do this better” and “Maybe if I tried this?” started to creep into my mind, and maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be entering the WS100 Lottery again.

I would also like to officially thank Ally, Shannon and Greg for their tireless work last weekend in supporting me. Running 100 Milers is tough, but it’s arguably just as tough, if not tougher, to crew these races. I owe each of you big time. Also, the online support I received via Facebook and Twitter was amazing, and it really kept me going to know that so many people were tracking my crazy journey to Auburn. A sincere thank you to everyone.

Finally, thanks to Hammer Nutrition, Tailwind and Island Boost for fueling me through the 100 miles with no stomach issues whatsoever. Aside from a couple of pieces of dried pineapple, I stuck religiously to a liquid only strategy, and it worked tremendously. I did tire slightly of the Tailwind taste in the last 10 miles, but I think if I’d been running, that wouldn’t have been so much of an issue.

So, lots of positives to be taken from the race – I finished with happy feet and a happy stomach, and achieved my pre-race goal of earning a Sub-24 buckle. There’s also the knowledge that I can definitely do better if I’m lucky enough to get another shot at the race one day. We’ll see, I guess…

Written by Paul Ali - http://ultraavon.com

The Winter 100 is the final event of the Centurion calendar year and the last event which makes up the Centurion Grand Slam. The event involves 4 x 25 mile out and back legs along sections of the Thames Path and Ridgeway. The race was first run in 2012 and at the time was held towards the end of November but was impacted by flooding of the Thames and had to be re-routed (and it rained constantly for about 17 hours I recall) and the event was subsequently brought forward to mid-October.

I knew I needed to get into better shape for the final event of the year having not really put any long training runs in (i.e. anything over 15 miles) since before the Thames Path in May due to a sequence of racing/recovering/tapering and family holiday/work/life over the summer months.

I knew my fitness over a long distance wasn’t where I wanted it to be and so a week after the disappointment of the T184 I was completing the first 25 mile recce of the Winter 100 with Nicole Brown (thanks for being my regular running buddy in the build up) along the Ridgeway and we were then joined by Paul Radford and Fiona McNelis on subsequent weeks as we ran a 25 mile leg most Sundays. I also had the pleasure to meet up with the awesome Team Consani one week and I recce’d a leg with Debbie and Karen Hathaway (who kindly didn’t rub the T184 result in at all… Karen won the race outright!).

The training didn’t quite go 100% to plan as I continued to experience a few minor niggles (sore knees and sore Achilles) which was symptomatic of my year to be honest. I also suffered a sprained ankle three weeks out from the race when running with Paul Radford, which saw me having to hobble 10 miles back to my car. Despite not hitting the mileage I wanted to and having to take a few days of enforced rest I did get all my long runs completed each weekend and also completed the Purbeck Marathon and my final run at the Longmynd Hike two weeks out from the race which then gave me a couple of weeks of rest all my niggles, taper and rest.

In summary, I was feeling 90% fit but not quite the 100% fit I had felt prior to the Thames Path 100.

In the few days before the race I had a bit of extra motivation (pressure) with a little fun bet with Nici Griffin. Several of you may be aware of the “lucky hat” which I started wearing at all my events a few years ago and its unfortunate association with wet weather that always seem to follow it.. at each and every event. As I have run a few Centurion events, they have been particularly unlucky with some of the weather conditions (2012 Thames Path – race abandoned, 2012 Winter 100 – 17hrs of constant rain, 2013 Thames Path – flooding resulting in a diverted route, 2014 North Downs Way – the remnants of Hurricane Bertha) in particular.

Quite simply, the hat has a fair amount of sentimental value to me and everyone else hates it. It even has its own spoof twitter account @PaulAlisHat (not run by me I hasten to add, but I now know who!)

The idea of a bet had first been mooted from a conversation back in June at the Endure 24 (the circumstances of which were; Nici was running, I was wearing my hat and it rained a lot) and a few days before the Winter 100 an exchange of messages between Nici and I led to agreement of the bet. The terms of which was as follows:

  • If I ran 20 hours or over, Nici would get to keep (or burn I think was the likely outcome) “the Hat”.
  • If I ran a sub-20 then Nici would agree to run a 100-mile race.

I’ve run about 15 races of 100 miles distance or longer and 7 specifically at the 100 mile distance. I’ve only ever run a sub 20 once which was a 19.36 set at the Thames Path 100 earlier this year. Whilst I had a certain degree of confidence I could run the time (as my finish times have improved a bit year on year) this was by no means guaranteed. Essentially, it was a fair bet with a certain degree of risk for both parties which is exactly how it should be.

2014 Nici Griffin

2014 Winter 100 - Hat Bot 22

2014 Winter 100 - Only maket bets I'm sure of

We posted details of the bet on the Centurion Facebook page which generated a bit of interest from people and resulted in some mock banter between us both in the lead up to the race and on race days itself.

2014 Nici Griffin

2014 Winter 100 - Stella

2014 Winter 100 - Delusional

Race Day

The Winter 100 is a local event for me and I live a 20-minute drive from the start and knowing (and having run) each leg which gave me a little advantage. I arrived at the start of the race in plenty of time to some jibes and banter and mock threats of “random kit checks” at every checkpoint.

Nici and I caught up before the event and the banter began pretty quickly as I recounted to Nici my Daughters last words as I left the house that morning “Daddy, I don’t want you to lose the hat”…. Yeah it was a pretty cheap shot early on in the mind games! In tennis terms it was 15 – love to me.

The Sub 20 plan for the day was 4hrs for leg 1; 4-5 hours for leg 2; 5-6 hours for leg 3 leaving me with 6 hours for leg 4. If I could get back to Race HQ at the 75-mile point by midnight (14 hours in) then I was fairly confident I could march out the final leg in 6 hours. I gave Nici the heads up for my plan in confident terms… 30 – love to me.

Nici was predicting a 22hr finish for me and then recounted her plans for the ceremonial burning of the hat after the race had finished. Damn, point Nici’s, 30 – 15.

I heard the rest of the Centurion team and volunteers had been joking with her and were helpfully researching possible races for her the night before! I was assuming there would be a lot of banter and exchanges with runners and volunteers and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

I spoke to several familiar faces and a few new ones at the start and then walked to the start point with Shawn.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 02

Walking to the start of the race (Photo Stuart March)

 Leg 1 – Thames Path West

A different mindset was needed today and rather than assume my typical position somewhere near the middle to back of the field at the start and then working my towards my general pacing group, I elected to start near the front with fellow club runner Wendy Shaw. It was Wendy’s idea to go for a fast (but not quite suicidal) but comfortably quick pace and we set off near the front of the field.

I also made a decision not to hang around at Aid Stations and not to waste time tweeting or Face booking at all. The sacrifices I had to make for this race you know…. it wasn’t easy….

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 21

Wendy and I dressed like ninja’s.

Wet weather had been predicted all Saturday but whilst it was overcast, it wasn’t raining and it was reasonably humid. I had decided to wear my leggings as I didn’t want to faff around putting them on if it rained or got cold at night but just wore a T-shirt at the start and was carrying a spare base layer and waterproof jacket if needed.

We set out quite quickly from Goring, west along the Thames Path towards the turn point at Days Lock. About a couple of miles in I called a couple of runners back who missed the left turn by the Pub and then ran chatting to Wendy and Dill mainly as we held an 8m/m – 8.30m/m pace on the outward leg not bothering to stop at the first Checkpoint (apart from having your number recorded).

This leg was a mixture of muddy paths, fields and some road. The ground conditions were a little tricky in places with my Invo8 Race Ultra 290’s not having the best grip and there were a few stumbles with Peter Bowles going down after Benson followed by me over a small wooden bridge which was wet and slippy.

The lead runners were already on their way back as I was a mile or so away from the turn point and it was great to see the top guys in action (the girls would overtake me a little while later into the race).

After a quick stop and a quick water refill on the turn point it was back on the return leg. About a mile into the return leg Ian Thomas stumbled and went down pretty hard and I stopped briefly to help him, fortunately he managed to carry on albeit a bit gingerly at first.

I continued on passing stream of runners coming the other way and giving a wave, hello, high five or a well done and headed back towards Goring. A few of the runners reciprocated with “Go The Hat!” type shouts which was much appreciated. Whilst 4 hours for the first leg had been my target I wanted to be a little bit ahead of this just to put some early pressure on Nici.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 03

Hat-Bot? Photo by Stuart March

The track path sections on the way back were a little more tricky after 150 odd people had passed through and I had to take care on some sections after stumbling once or twice and it was actually quite nice to have some road and pavement sections to break this section up.

I arrived back in Goring in 3.37, in 14th position. As soon as I entered Race HQ the volunteers were immediately winding Nici up. “So, twenty minutes up on schedule!” I beamed to Nici as I grabbed a few snacks, refilled my bottle and headed out the door for Leg 2. No messing about here, game on.

I think I headed out of the Aid Station ahead of a few others and gained a few positions here.

2014 Nici Griffin

2014 Winter 100 - Only maket bets I'm sure of

Leg 2 – Ridgeway North

The second leg saw runners follow paths and pavement for a mile or two before following the Thames river for a couple of miles after which it’s more of a traditional trail route covering subtle gradual incline through bushes, trees and more wooded areas. The weather was overcast and cool but there was some sunshine and this was a great leg to run particularly on the turn when it felt like there was a lot of downhill.

I ran by myself for a few miles passing through the interim Aid Station which was being manned by Jen Bradley and a few others and grabbed a few snacks and a drink. I had cut my arm somewhere possible after stumbling around on leg 1 and had a line of dried blood running all the way down my arm.

One of the Centurion volunteers pointed this out to me and asked if I needed any assistance which finally… finally allowed me to use the Jesse Ventura (Predator 1987 boys action film) “I ain’t got time ta bleed” line as I headed out the Aid Station. I’ve only been waiting 25 years to use that in a real life situation.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 04

 Pulling a “Stouty”. Photo by Stuart March

Scott Harris caught me up and we ran together briefly before he moved on ahead and Sarah Morwood also passed me running the section before Grims Ditch. I was pretty impressed each time I saw Sarah on the course, she was absolutely relentless with her continuous pacing each time I saw her and looked really positive. A superb Ultra running talent (she came 4th overall in 17.22).

Ed and Marco passed me on their way back running neck and neck at breakneck speed and Dave Ross was in 3rd position about 15 minutes behind them.

I passed through the Grims Ditch section, through the Golf Course and then crossed the road about a mile away from the turn and crossed through the two ploughed fields before I spotted another runner not too far ahead who I caught up and realised it was Paul Radford. Paul mentioned he had a bit of injury trouble which I suspected as I was expecting to see him further ahead and I made some quip about getting further than our recce run on a few weeks earlier. As we approached the Checkpoint another few runners including Ryan Brown, Scott and then Sarah were coming back in the opposite direction.

We both grabbed a few snacks and a drink refilled our bottles before heading out together. We ran together for the next few miles over some really runnable slightly downhill terrain making some good pace until I heard a scream behind me as Paul had stumbled over and aggravated his injury. It was uncomfortable for him at first but carried on and a few miles later drifted ahead of me.

The downhill gradient (and Paul’s company) on the return leg meant I was quicker on the way back clocking sub 10m/m for most of the return leg. I hadn’t realised it at the time but I was in 8th place at the 37.5-mile point which was confirmed by a text from Matt Dunn who was keeping an eye on the Centurion tracker.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 05

Photo by Stuart March

I spotted Karen Hathaway a few times as she out supporting Debbie and appreciated the shout out as I passed her. I ran briefly with Warwick Gooch who I don’t think I had met before but I had spotted his name in the Centurion rankings (way ahead of me) on a number of occasions and it was good to put a name to a face. I think Debbie also overtook me around this point not too far from the Goring Aid Station.

Stouty had kindly agreed to pace me for a leg and he was planning to meet me at the 50-mile point. I had told him to be there for 6pm as I would be arriving between 6-7pm (8-9 hours). In fact I was actually going to get there just before 6pm (and before it was dark which was also a little objective) and I slowed to a walk as I phoned him to warn him but didn’t get through. Thankfully, Stouty had the presence of mind to check the tracker and saw I was doing ok and was there when I arrived.

I’m quite relaxed about having a pacer. It’s great to have a bit of company on a run but equally I feel comfortable running by myself for long periods. We had agreed Stouty would run leg 3 which meant it was a Saturday evening run and I felt this was the critical section of the race.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 01

Arriving at the 50 mile point… like a steam train… maybe (Photo by Sunday Odesanya)

As I approached the Goring Aid Station and the sun was starting to set on the horizon I saw Kate Hayden and family out on a walk supporting John and jogged the last couple of miles eventually arriving back at Race HQ. Nici came over and cursed me as I let her know I had just set a new 50-mile PB time (honours even with that exchange).

Stouty was there but needed to get changed and I told him not to worry as I was ahead of schedule and could wait around for a few minutes if he wanted. (40-15 to me I believe, as Nici glared at me again).

I was feeling motivated and in control of my destiny but you don’t run a PB pace without having a few aches and pains but there was no way I could show any weakness in front of “the enemy” (Nici). I then proceeded with my planned change of shoes at the halfway point as James Adams wandered to say hello just as I pulled out my Hokas from my bag…..

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 09

Pulling another “Stouty” and on target at the 50 mile point (Photo by Ashok Daniel)

Damn, what did I say about showing weakness to the enemy?… wait for it… wait for it… and then James delivered some quip about the Hokas.

Hokas are like marmite, people seem to love them or hate them. I am currently experimenting with them as I do suffer from bruised and battered feet. In fact the last time I ran the Ridgeway Challenge in 2012 I had sore feet for a couple of days after and so anything which would help cushion my feet were a bonus.

2014 Nici Griffin

2014 Winter 100 - Only maket bets I'm sure of

Leg 3 – Ridgeway South

I changed into my Hokas, put on my base layer as Stouty finished changing and we set off for the third leg in 9th position. I spoke to Ryan Brown who unfortunately had to drop from the race after aggravating an old injury which was disappointing as he had run well at that point and was placed quite highly at the time.

I could immediately feel the benefit of wearing the Hokas. A few minutes earlier my feet had been feeling bruised and sore and then I could hardly feel a thing. In my training runs I didn’t really appreciate the level of cushioning as the training runs didn’t tax the feet too much but when I put them on after 50 miles of solid running.. well difference and cushioning is really noticeable. Safe to say that I may be using this tactic again.

The plan was to run the flats and downs and hike the gradients for the next leg and see if we could get complete this leg in around 5 hours which would give me a comfortable 7 hours for the last leg. The first few miles were roads and paths as the route led onto the Ridgeway before a steeper section as you got into top of the Ridgeway and then it was a series of undulating terrain.

We put our head torches on after a few miles as it got dark quite quickly and then kept our run/walk pace going. A lot of the terrain on this leg was pretty runnable with good quality track/path (if a little stony in places) although there were a few wet and muddy sections to pass through.

I was pretty familiar with the navigation and we passed a few people who had missed a turn and directed them back on course which was a nice advantage to have in your locker as it provides confidence over your directions, knowledge of which sections are runnable and which ones you can take a break and generally just saves you time. It was home turf advantage for me.

Stouty did a great job keeping the conversation going and keeping me motivated (thanks buddy!) although my legs were really starting to feel it and I found it more difficult to consume food as my body started to reject it (I started to convulse slightly when I tried to eat something). I found fruit to be the most palatable of foods to digest because its largely liquid and has a nice sharp taste and I started to survive on tangerines, melon slices and grapes primarily but I knew I wasn’t eating as much as I normally do.

We ran/walked/hiked towards the interim Checkpoint being marshaled by Rich Cranswick (in Chicken costume) and a few others. It was a brief stop for a cup of tea (which I managed to immediately knock over first time) and then we pressed on. I was started to feel the need for a toilet break to the extent I was having a slight stomach ache but I was hoping to get back to the comforts of Race HQ rather than go ‘Al Fresco’.

We jogged/marched/plodded to Chain Hill to see Barry Miller, Martin Pether and a few others and headed back quite quickly past Stuart March taking some pictures near the monument.

The return leg felt more downhill than up and we jogged the downs and most of the flats and hiked the gradients (however gradual). I was definitely feeling the effects of the first 50 miles now as my legs were sore and aching (generally the hamstrings/quads) but we kept pressing on and were just about on course to complete this leg in 5 hours-ish.

We were passing runners coming in the opposite direction reasonably regularly now and kept offering a well done, wave or acknowledgment although as it was pitch black it was hard to distinguish who people were. However, one or two people still managed to identify “The Hat” (not me personally… I was simply the faceless host)

Stouty kept me moving, kept prompting me to run and I generally responded to this despite aching legs and a nervous stomach. I was looking forward to some hot food and drink at 75 miles as well as a visit to the toilet. We marched the last couple of miles towards the checkpoint passing Drew and Claire on Streatley Bridge who asked if I could at least run as I approached the Checkpoint to tease Nici.

That was always the plan Drew…. always the plan, regardless of how I felt.

I arrived back in the Checkpoint at 11pm and immediately dashed to the toilet (ahhh relief) and then tried to eat some chilli and bread which Gary handed to me as Ashok helped me with my bottles. I tried to eat the chilli, nibbled on some bread but couldn’t really consume anything at all and headed back out for the final push. Stouty was leaving me here having pushed me along leg 3, it was just my hometown stretch now.

Nici popped up again. Swore at me (not in a harsh manner) and then hugged me acknowledging that I was having a good run and admitting that at some level she was pleased I was doing well which was a kind and honest comment.

It was fair to say that as I was working my way through Aid Station and passing other runners whilst there was loads of support for “The Hat”, it was clear that people really wanted to Nici take on a big race next year and my own run was secondary to be fair.

In a perverse way it showed the admiration and respect people had for Nici due to all her contributions and efforts towards the UK Ultra running scene (not just Centurion events but also other events you have crewed at and supported) and there was a huge number of people who would be happy to support/crew/pace Nici if she had to tackle her challenge.

I’m not sure I got managed to get that message across but it now felt that from being 40 – 15 up and nearly having won the game it was back to Love – Love…

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 07

Photo by Ashok Daniel

2014 Nici Griffin

2014 Winter 100 - Only maket bets I'm sure of

Leg 4 – Thames Path East

13 hours into the race and I had a comfortable 7 hours to go to complete the last 25 miles. The hard work had been done and I was feeling the aches and pains now.

The last stretch of the race is pretty familiar with the few miles in Reading running past my workplace and lunchtime running territory and this leg would be completed in the dark.

I marched the first mile and grabbed a few shot bloks from my pack and tried to eat these but my body wasn’t reacting well to food and I convulsed and then spat these out .. back to fruit then.

After this point I tried to run some small segments. I find it mentally difficult to string together even a slow run in the latter stages of a race and find myself running in short bursts and this is what I started to do managing to keep the pace down to 11.30 – 12.30m/m.

The checkpoint at Whitchurch was run by a group of groovy hip funksters in 70’s style fancy dress and I passed through quickly, over the bridge and onto the fields towards Mapledurham. From there I followed the familiar path through the streets of Purley and towards Reading, down the steps by the Pub and back onto the Thames Path.

The tall grinning form of Marco Consani passed me at this point and I gave him a wave. By this point he had a commanding lead as it was a little while later that Ed passed me on his way to the finish.

The rest of the route to the Aid Station followed my usual lunchtime run and I plodded my way along the well lit path past the Boatyard, my office (which was a little strange seeing it at 2am in the morning), Tesco’s and finally over the horse-shoe bridge to the turn point at the Boatyard.

By this time the top ten runners were on their way back and Dave Ross, Sarah, Paul Radford, Debbie Martin-Consani and a couple of others had all passed me. I counted the number of runners on the way back which confirmed I was in 9th place and when I got to the Aid Station unusually I was the only person there and had silver service treatment from the couple of volunteers on hand at the time.

I had a quick cup of tea and some fruit as that was the only food I could manage and then headed back. I was feeling pretty drained by now and I knew I hadn’t eaten the amount of food I normally would and found myself struggling to motivate myself to run at all and initially settled into a fast march on the way back. Based on my time, I was looking at a 19hr finish.

I did try and run in short bursts although there was no real discipline here it was simply a case of spotting a lamp post and running to it, marching and then finding the next landmark such as a bench, lamp post or head torch and running towards it. I started a game where I tried to make sure I was running each time someone passed me in the opposite direction. It all helped to keep the miles ticking over.

About three people were close behind me (within 5 minutes time wise) of the turn and I assumed they would catch me up and overtake me as they were all running and I was feeling my lowest around here and I started to work out a point on the way back where I thought I could hold my position. I decided this was the 90 mile point as anyone I passed there would be 5 miles behind (2.5 to the Checkpoint and 2.5 back).

As I passed through the familiar sites of Reading it started to rain. It didn’t feel heavy at first but was constant for an hour or two. I decided not to put my water proof jacket on initially as I was less than 10 miles to the end and simply couldn’t be bothered but after a while I could feel the rain had soaked my top-layer and was seeping through to my base layer and I paused briefly to put my jacket on.

I passed Wendy and her pacer Adrian through the streets of Purley and then trudged slowly through the fields in Mapledurham which were now wet with puddles and getting quite muddy and I was quite pleased to see Whitchurch bridge illuminated in the distance meaning I was about ½ mile away from the last Aid Station.

At this point a runner passed me in the opposite direction and asked where the aid Station was. I paused and said about 7-8 miles and he then realised he had missed the Whitchurch Aid Station and he over-reacted a bit by swearing profusely and cursing his luck and swearing blind that markings must have been removed. I guess emotions were running high at that point as I suggested he had better re-trace his steps and gave him some directions back.

A few minutes later I arrived at the Checkpoint to find the markings were in place and I spotted the same runner passing me having retraced his steps back to the Aid Station and back on the correct path. It was a good example of the highs and lows experienced during an Ultra showing sometimes how small things can really trigger an strong emotion in runners.

In all honesty, there had been no running for the last couple of miles before the Whitchurch Aid Station. I saw the funky groovsters again and paused briefly and sat down (I may have had a cup of tea) for a few moments before realising I was just wasting time and I thanked the guys and headed out for the final few miles to the finish.

Looking at my watch I was on for about a 19 hour finish which would be a new PB by 30-40 mins which was good but I couldn’t help feeling that there was a bit more to give and if I could have motivated myself to run a bit more of those segments then there’s a little bit more of improvement to come. It was a slightly surreal position that I was well under my target and at some level didn’t feel the need to have to work any harder now. I suppose after 18+ hours of exercise you can be excused for slacking off a bit.

I followed the wooded section and couple of hills away from the river taking care to avoid the tree roots covered by fallen leaves in the dark. By this point, I hadn’t been caught by any of the three runners who were seemingly close behind me on the turn and whilst I assumed that they would catch me earlier and I probably would have just let them run on, I now felt the desire to defend my top ten position and gradually I started sneaking in short running segments even if it was a 50 metres here or there or perhaps longer on a downhill stretch.

By the time I got to within a couple of miles of the finish I didn’t want to be caught and with the clock ticking over at 18.30, I really wanted to sneak under 19 hours (18.5x something sounds so much better than 19.0x hrs something) and started to jog a bit more through the fields and various gates and back onto the path. It was still completely dark as it was approaching 5am in the morning and Streatley Bridge took an eternity to appear but as soon as I saw it I broke into a sustained jog (which felt harder than it possible should as I was feeling out of breath despite the fact that it was no more than 10m/m pace for a few hundred yards) and ran into Goring Village Hall for the final time in 18hrs 56mins and holding 9th position despite struggling a bit on the last leg. “The Hat” was victorious!

2014 Nici Griffin

2014 Winter 100 - I want to cry

Nici was at the finish and we exchanged a hug and a few words (I can’t remember what we said now but we were back on very friendly terms following the earlier mock banter). I felt an overwhelming desire just to sit down on the floor which I did for a few moments before collecting myself and then being awarded my finishers buckle and Grand Slam finishers’ buckle which was almost an afterthought after the bet and the Hat banter during the race.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 17

 Paul says “Finished:. Nici says “Oh s**t what have I done?” (Photo by Gark Kiernan)

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 20

All friends in the end.

I sat down had a cup of tea and got changed and briefly reflected on the race. A new 100-mile PB, sub 19 hours, my first top 10 position at a Centurion race and completing the Grand Slam all in the same race. It was a bit of a dream outcome and a far cry from some poor efforts in my last couple of races less than 2 months ago. I guess it shows what can be achieved with a bit of motivation! We were fortunate that the weather was pretty good and although there were a few areas where ground conditions were slippy the course was in pretty reasonable running condition overall.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 06

 Photo by Centurion Running

A final word on the Centurion Grand Slam. There were 41 Grand Slam starters at the Thames Path but unfortunately only 16 people managed to complete all four events. Dave Ross dominated the Grand Slam finishing in a combined time of 70.03 followed by Warwick Gooch in 78.35, the consistent Peter Bowles 80.12 and then myself in 83.57. I had actually managed to get myself closer to my pre-year target of 83 ½ hours but still needed another half an hour from somewhere and it was a little too much to do after that shoddy effort at the NDW.

Well done to all of the Grand Slammers in 2014, it was great to see you all during the year!

Thanks to the Centurion team and the army of volunteers who supported the race once again, well done to the runners and in particular thanks to Nici for being such a great sport during the event (and afterwards by contributing a few words towards the write up) and giving me the motivation I needed to have a decent run and finish the Ultra running season on a high. St Oswalds Ultra has been nominated as the forfeit so runners book up the race and volunteers put the date in your diaries!

Winter 100 Report – Part 2 “The Bet” by Nici Griffin 

(Thanks to Nici for supplying these words which can also be found on her blog www.femmerun.com)

I’m sure by now you are quite bored if you have read Paul Ali’s version of events (hey! It’s comedy gold up there ^) but I feel it’s only fair to give my side of the story.

I’m not a superstitious person. I’ve never rubbed a rabbit’s foot (they’re hard to catch), I don’t ‘knock on wood’ and I smash mirrors for fun.  I am under no illusions that The Hat has any special weather powers. Let’s face it, it’s England – it rains.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 14

 “I’m going to burn this hat when I get my hands on it..”

However I love a bit of banter and I love our Paul Ali. So it just seemed natural that him and I would fall into friendly back and forth banter/insults/threats about the hat.

If you’ve read my pitiful blog you may remember that at Endure 24 he even tried to bribe with said hat if I completed another lap but at 65 miles I was broken and I hated him, his hat and all things ultra. I got over that in 26 hours and signed up for another 24-hour race though.

In the lead up to the Winter 100 I wanted to, in my own silly way, give Paul something fun to think about. He’s had an incredibly busy year and quite shockingly his first ever DNF at the T184. I hadn’t spoken to him in person so wasn’t sure if this had ‘messed with his head’ but I just wanted the last big one for 2014 to have a bit of fun attached.

So I joking said “Bet you can’t run a sub 20 at W100″ and goaded him that if he didn’t manage it then I was going to get The Hat.

He countered with “If I do then you run a 100 miler in 2015″

Anyone who knows me will attest that I have ZERO desire for 100 miles.  Zero. It’s ok though. It was a sure bet.

But this was a sure bet for me. Paul’s best 100-mile time is 19:36 at this years Thames Path 100. Perfect conditions. Not the predicted deluge that was on for this years Winter 100. He’d never do it.  He’s had an event filled year. Tired legs and crap weather were in my favour.

So it was with ease I said “Sure, whatever”.

Then before I knew it there was a bit of a social media flurry on it. I was getting lots of messages of support and offers to pace/crew me.

Excuse me? I’m not losing!! It was a sure bet.

2014 Winter 100 - A Game Hat Boy

I won’t go into the details of Pauls race (note the aforementioned bored factor) but will tell you that it was a great day from start to finish. Although I do think he dealt some low blows. The first being that when he arrived for registration he informed me his little girl had asked him to not lose the hat! Low blow Ali, low blow. So I of course was very mature and countered by telling him that we had already purchased the petrol and the hat would be burned in the middle of the road outside HQ.

Now for those who don’t know the format of the W100 is 4 out and back legs of 25 miles so I knew I would get to see Paul 4 times (including the anticipated 22 hour finish). Before they even set off on leg 1 I had total strangers asking me how I felt about a 100 miles, had I picked a race yet, what was I thinking etc.

Whatever. It was a sure bet.

I wish I could say that once the race was under way I had put it out of my mind due to being so busy at HQ but it was here that the first major blow to my confidence happened. I started recalling conversations at dinner the night before with the event crew and some friends. James Elson looked at me and said “He’ll do it you know” and then the whole table gleefully started making suggestions for my 100 miler.

Fabulous! It was maybe a sure bet.

I have never been so frustrated in my life when the race leaders Marco Consani and Ed Catmur came flying into the hall at the end of leg 1. First thing Marco said was … “The hat looks good”.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 08

Mid race banter

So when Paul comes skipping in I just stared at him. I was not chanting in my head about him tripping up. Honest. I did love though that so many runners at both the sharp end and the back of the pack were joining in the fun (or rather my misery).

I was still quietly confident that the weather and night time would send things in my favour. Bloody wish I’d taken Paul Stout up on the bribery offer though as he was going to be pacing him on leg 3. It was not a good sign when Stouty got there early for his duties because he had noted on the tracker that the bloody hat was rocking along ahead of schedule.

My stomach dropped when Paul came breezing into the hall looking like he was out for a Sunday jog and announced he has just made a 50-mile PB. I tried to persuade Gary (Kit Check Captain) to perform an hour-long details mandatory kit check and evaluation. He was too busy confirming the mileage for the West Highland Way to hear me.

That’s ok. It was a kind of sure bet.

By now I am genuinely worried and start praying (thanks for capturing that Gary). The ever-supportive HQ crew were doing their best to console me by gleefully researching on the HQ laptop what races I could do!!! Every time I went back to it there was one left up on the screen. I was even now being drawn into conversations of what kind would I like to do, why I can’t do a Centurion one, who would be on the crew ….. thanks so much for the solid support! Although on the bright side I did hear one runner say he had fallen almost taking the hat out with him! That cheered me.

2014 Winter 100 Nici Griffin

“Nooooooooooooooooooooo” (Photo by Gary Kiernan)

End of leg 3 that stupid hat and its bloody owner came into the hall and my heart softened just a little bit (don’t tell anyone) as he looked a bit pained. As he sat there I couldn’t help but give him a massive hug and tell him that I wanted to be angry but I couldn’t as I was so bloody proud of him. He was absolutely on for getting a PB and ending his year in the right way. On a high. It seems the HQ team were too busy to console me as they were deciding between West Highland Way (with Elson offering to run an extra 4 mile loop with me to make up the distance), Hardmoors 110 and St Oswalds Way for me. How kind of them. What happened to team Nici?

It’s still ok. I could deny the bet right? After all I would never encourage gambling. No?

Stupid bet.

I will be honest and say it was at this point I resigned myself to the fact I would be taking on a 100 miler in 2015. Now anyone who knows me will agree that I love every one of our runners from the folks at front on fire, to the ones playing with cutoffs and to the ones who end their day early. Each and every one of them is part of my extended family whether they like it or not. Yet now I hated them as they came in the hall in differing stages of pain, joy, tears etc … it scared me. What have I done?

Oh well. It was a bet.

When Paul came in at the end of his 4th leg I was standing waiting for him. What an amazing time. 18:56 !! I hugged him and quietly told him that I could not be prouder of him. I was not going to cry. Nope not me – I’m made of ice water.

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 15

Realisation sinks in..

I then felt a bit sick.

There is no such thing as ‘A sure bet’. I must be the last person to realize that little gem.

Now I know there are many who are thinking that surely Paul would not hold me to the bet. After all 100 miles is a crazy thing to have to do for the sake of a silly friendly bet. Small problem is that I would have absolutely taken the hat and burned it if I had won. A bet is a bet.

I have now officially taken on a coach. I have entered a race. I have made out my will.

I will continue to hate that hat.


St Oswalds

Challenge accepted! Well done!

2014 Winter 100 Paul Ali 18

“Double or quits?”

Written by Angela N Brin - https://thechubbyultrarunner.wordpress.com

The ascents were lung busters, the descents were leg destroyers and the flat bits were really quite hard. Apart from that it was fine!

This year has been hampered with injury and therefore a lack of training. I had been debating whether to start this race at all in the weeks leading up. Training really had been minimal and what I had done was crammed into the month leading up. I arrived for the start severely undertrained and nervous but feeling that a finish was probably achievable. Race registration was buzzing with nervous excitement and I was glad of the distraction of catching up with lots of running friends. Further to my poop problems at Great Glen, I was relieved to achieve pre-race pooping! I may even have shared that information with a few folk, they seemed pleased for me. Soon it was time to start – Donna and I almost missed the start while taking our pre-race selfie…

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Tyndrum – Bridge of Orchy, 7 miles, 1:24:22, pos 187 (last place)
This section was relatively straightforward and I was blissfully unaware that I was in last place with the sweepers keeping a very respectful distance at this early stage in the race. The last time I’d been on this section, had been in February and my friend Heather and I were forced to turn back due to blizzard conditions. It was a lot more pleasant this time around! Great support and encouragement from the marshals – there was a timing team, road crossing team and water stop. It felt like five star treatment. I had a swig of water and headed off up Jelly Baby Hill. I tweaked my right calf on a training run the previous weekend, unfortunately it began to niggle within the first few miles. I tried to stretch it off but to no avail. I decided I’d just have to keep an eye on it and consider my options if it got considerably worse.

Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe, 11 miles (18 miles cum), 2:50:38 (4:15:00 cum), pos 186 (second last)
I marched over the hill feeling quite happy, I’d power hiked it and back the previous weekend and told myself well at least I only have to do it once today. I enjoyed jogging the descent and a few tourists asked me questions and gave me encouragement. I spotted ultra legend Ray just ahead of me. As I got to Inveroran and the tarmac section a car slowed to give encouragement and I peered inside to see Robert Osfield smiling back.

I slogged along the road, taking some walk breaks and getting some food into me. Ray remained ahead. I was glad to get off the road but also knew the Drover’s Road is deceptively tough – it looks so runnable but there is a long, steady climb. I was glad to see Ray wasn’t doing a tremendous amount more running than I was. After a while I caught up with him and we had some chat. We yo-yo’d back and forth a while as we made the long trip over the moor. I dropped back so I could go for a wee. I think it was just after this that I heard voices and realised the sweepers were on my tail. I wondered if they were sweeping another runner but a glance over my shoulder confirmed I was in last place. I got a bit upset and tearful and had to remind myself that I was fully expecting last place anyway and I’ve always been proud of a finish whether last or not. I also got hit by nasty abdominal cramps and realised that unfortunately my prediction of getting my period was spot on. Just have to get on with it.

I turned a bend and saw a comical Ray sight – he has a notoriously bad sense of direction, truly a thing of legend. I swear he’d got lost in a plastic bag! Actually he was negotiating himself into his poncho as the weather was becoming less friendly. I would also have to put my jacket back on. We had some more chat but I fell back and enjoyed the solitude, realising that I wasn’t feeling very sociable at all and hoping that 1. the sweepers would keep their distance and 2. my mood would be more sociable by the time I picked up my support runner at Kinlochleven.

There is a rather more stubborn climb before you get the descent towards Glencoe ski centre, but I was glad of it as I knew the descent and cheery checkpoint would be coming soon. The descent was very welcome and I became incredibly motivated to get well in front of the sweepers and see the friendly faces that surely awaited at the checkpoint. I overtook Ray, who by his own admission has quite an erratic style and he told me he’d come over quite tired suddenly. I met Cat walking her dog George so got lovely dog hugs and asked Cat for a hug please and she obliged! I pressed on and got to the checkpoint where Katy Smith gave me a lovely welcome and none other than Debbie Martin Consani tended to my drop bag needs – I guess I didn’t faff too much as she didn’t seem to feel the need to chase me out! As I’d been entering the checkpoint, my friend Marianne was leaving and we shared a hi-five. I was leaving the checkpoint as Ray and the sweepers were arriving.

Glencoe-Kinlochleven, 10 miles (28 miles cum), 3:09:02 (7:24:02 cum), pos 180 (joint last place)
It’s downhill out of the checkpoint so I picked up a jog. I could see Marianne and she didn’t seem that far away, I thought maybe I’d catch up with her and we would have some chat. I dallied a little too long at the road crossing getting hugs from Noanie, Lorna and of course Sam the dog. Noanie and Lorna told me I was going well and could definitely make the seven and a half hour cut-off at Kinlochleven. At this point I felt reasonably confident of it too as I was at 4 hours and 19 minutes, leaving me over three hours to get there – surely do-able?

Off I trotted, but my undertrained legs were asking for walk breaks when they really shouldn’t or perhaps it was my brain. Marianne continued to remain beyond my reach for quite some time. I could see her jogging up small ascents that would reduce me to a walk and I admired her so much for her strength. It was not until I got into some traily descents on the section between Kingshouse and the foot of the Devil’s staircase that I eventually caught her up and she complimented my speed over the section and I declared my admiration for her uphill running! We jogged along in single file for a while, I slid and cracked my foot painfully on the rock of a drainage culvert – Marianne checked I was OK and I pretended I was but in fact it hurt like fury but we were making progress and I felt it would ease off if I kept moving. The weather started worsening, some kind tourists held a gate for us. When we got to the Devil’s staircase Marianne told me to go on ahead.

I slogged up, passing walkers more frequently than I expected given how my legs were feeling. I know this hill, I’ve been over it several times and know what to expect but not usually with as many miles in my legs first. I kept thinking the next turn would be the last and it wasn’t. I muttered swear words and bent my head to protect myself from the wind and rain. Happy days – I heard cowbells and some friendly faces came into view, Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie were braving the weather in rather fantastic outfits and giving out sweeties and encouragement. A boost to help me make it to the top. By now I could see Ray making great progress up the hill and knew he would be overtaking me again. I could see the sweepers on the path below. I kept pushing on trying to stay in front of them and thankfully was able to pick up my pace for the descent.

The descent to Kinlochleven goes on for-absolutely-*******-ever. The weather became worse and worse, the descent became ever more difficult and the cold water flowed down the path and around our ankles, freezing our feet and ensuring this would be one of the rare occasions I would get blisters. I met Susan Addison coming up from KLL, she gave me a hug and told me I looked great, I kept the tears until we parted ways. I spent some time with Ray and worried about him, he didn’t have enough clothes on, he couldn’t feel his arms. He pulled ahead of me and when I would lose sight of him I worried I’d turn the next corner or dip and find he’d fallen but I should know better – Ray is the most resilient of us all! I know the descent is long but it was taking forever just to reach the fire road and get away from all the slidy, pointy rocks. The cut-off seemed to be slipping away, the going was tough and the weather awful. I found myself thinking that it wouldn’t be all bad if I got timed out, it might be for the best.

Marianne really sped up to make the cut-off, Ray was a bit more chilled (as usual) but we eventually made it into the checkpoint in a group with about six minutes to spare.

The sun came out, the marshals were lovely, my boyfriend was there (a surprise and more surprisingly I didn’t just ask him to take me home!) and my incredibly cheerful support runner was waiting for me and all ready to do her best to help me finish. Damn sun, damn nice people and thank goodness for the G&T in my drop bag. Bolstered by dutch courage, sunshine and the kindness of others I set off, let’s do this!

Smiling again, unbelievably! Photo: Matt Williamson

Smiling again, unbelievably!
Photo: Matt Williamson

Kinlochleven – Lundavra, 8ish miles (?) (36ish miles cum?) , 2:34:28 (9:58:30 cum), pos 178 (3rd last)
I walked out of this checkpoint, explaining to Ruth that we were about to do a horrible climb and I was not sure how much running I would manage at all over the final 15 miles. I hoped the G&T I’d guzzled would sit OK and that it would make me drunk enough to continue! We slogged up the killer climb, my slowest mile of the day was the first mile out of KLL. Thankfully with the nicer weather we did have beautiful views – that was something. Ruth’s enthusiasm was infectious. I had cheerily said to Marianne that there had been joint winners and perhaps we’d be joint last place to top and tail things nicely – she wisely told me it was a bit soon to think about that. Although Ray had left the checkpoint after us, he got a second wind (and I know he was worried about making his bus) and he passed us and off into the distance.  Just as we were heading out onto Lairig Mhor we met Terry Addison coming the other way and I got another Addison hug and words of encouragement that the worst was over and this was ‘only undulating’. I surprised myself by picking up a jog for downhill sections but I had nothing for inclines and not a great deal even on relatively flat bits.

We’d been told another woman was not far in front (having been mistaken for me initially at KLL by Tom and Ruth due to her purple jacket). She came into sight and Ruth made it a bit of a mission to catch up with her and her support runner. I was not convinced but we did eventually catch up and it was my friend, Donna. I thought that was it and we’d be finishing together but after a little socialising, Ruth kept pushing me on. My feet were sore by now and there are some of the pointiest wee rocks known to man on the Lairig. A couple of ouchy moments but nothing serious. Amazingly the Lundavra checkpoint came into view and I hit it at just under the 10 hour mark. It was lovely to see Alexa, Norma and Robin there. Some flat coke and a hallucinatory unicorn later and I was on my way – I felt I had to keep walking and not stop too long. Two hours left but still seven tough miles to get through.

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Thanks to Norma Bone for capturing this moment!

Lundavra – Fort William, 7 miles (43 cum), 2:08:04 (12:06:34 total time), pos 178 of 180 finishers
It’s a wee climb and some undulating trails after Lundavra, I tried to get my stomp on, I was staggering around and took something to eat after which I did manage to jog some downhills. I was hanging on for the bit when you get into the forest for a change of scene and some nice pine needle covered paths. The change of scene was good but the paths were reduced to slippery rock thanks to the rain. Steps are difficult when your legs are tired but they had to be done. I knew this section of the route from one recce but Ruth didn’t, I told her there would be a big downhill coming once we got onto the forestry road and I knew I would need to try and make the most of it, although I knew it was going to hurt. In my head the race was 42 miles but now it definitely seemed to be 43 miles and had some new hill at the end that I had never reccied – I felt pretty nervous!

We got on the forestry tracks and picked up a jog, Ruth urged me to let the hill take me – I was trying but only hitting about 12:30 to 13:30min/mile pace, I pumped my arms to try and get my legs to follow and managed to push the pace a little but couldn’t sustain it. I spotted a welcome sight in the distance – a tall man and a wee boy walking toward us, it must surely be Craig and wee Duncan setting off on their father-son adventure. Ruth tugged me away from them, but I insisted on getting my hug and hi-five. We nearly caught Ray again but then he pulled away and I knew he was into his finishing sprint – the kind that those really experienced ultrarunners seem to be able to start from about 2 miles from the finishline. Once we got off this path and onto the road that leads to Braveheart Carpark I was struggling to run and in fact was sometimes more able to manage a 13to 14min/mile pace by walking. Ruth got me to run a bit but I started to feel a panic attack coming on and she managed to talk me down. Cowhill, well that is more than a sting in the tail – it may be smaller than the climbs so far but it’s steep and tough after what you’ve already done. We finally got to the top and Ruth was still thinking we could make it under 12 hours but I suddenly recognised where I was (I had walked my dog on these hill paths behind the leisure centre when I was supporting at WHWR last year) and I knew that I would not get there in less than a minute but I did manage to jog down the hill albeit probably no faster than if I’d walked. I saw the finish line. Everyone joined in the cheering and whooping that Ruth had been doing for the last quarter of a mile (convinced that the finish would appear any second). Round the play park and up the finishing funnel at what I hoped was a run and I was done – in more ways than one. “You fanny!” I exclaimed to the race director, John for the new finish!

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Thanks to Helen Munro for the photo.

Photos by Colin Knox

Photos by Colin Knox

A great welcome with hugs galore. Tom was waiting for me with my wee dog who jumped all over me with her muddy paws and of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jemma offered me her trousers. I love a reference joke – she was frozen at the end of the Fling and I offered her mine (I had running tights underneath) but a seat and a hot coffee did the trick. If I listed all the hugs, this would go on for some time but it was lovely that people who had finished their race much earlier had stuck around to support the final finishers. I was able to cheer Donna and Marianne over the finish before going for a painful shower.

The nasty finish hill aside, a huge thanks to John Duncan for taking on this race and keeping it in the calendar – the organisation and team of volunteers were outstanding and the atmosphere was wonderful. To those volunteers – thank you for looking after me and especially all the slower runners, you put in an even longer day than even the slowest runner. Special thanks to Noanie for her advice before the race (it worked), Tom for being the very accommodating driver for the day and to Ruth, who was an outstanding support runner.

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

It wasn’t my longest race but it was definitely the toughest I’ve done so far. My strava stats say it was 43.8 miles with 6,679ft of climbing but I think there’s quite a bit of variation between people’s gps devices. I look forward to taking this race on again at some point when I am properly trained for it, I think I could do it a little bit faster and definitely under 12 hours. For now, I’m happy to have completed it and I don’t feel like I could have tried any harder on the day.

Thanks Donna for this photo - somehow we've managed to look like we haven't just run 43 miles...

Thanks Donna for this photo – somehow we’ve managed to look like we haven’t just run 43 miles…

Written by Steve Navesey - https://navs1962.wordpress.com

Courtesy of Centurion Running

(Courtesy of Centurion Running)

Here we are again. That time of year where for the past three years my race season has started. The South Downs way 50 (SDW50) is a 50 mile point-to-point race starting in Worthing and finishing in Eastbourne, taking in 5700 feet of climb with a 13 hour cut-off. Which appears in the calendar just as the clocks go forwards, the days are getting longer, the temperature is rising. In other words, just as I’m interested in going out running. Which is bad because it means that I haven’t been as  interested in running as I should have been up ’til now. After spending 16 of my adult years being frequently cold and wet for a living, I don’t get excited about doing it for fun. So throughout the winter months my wife battles bravely to get me out the door to train. While I think of ever more inventive excuses not to. I’d joined local running club, Haywards Heath Harriers, to help combat that side of my character. And it has been helping. They are a great bunch who give me someone to look forwards to running with during the week, but it’s something I should have done much earlier.

That said, this is probably my favourite event of the year. I love the South Downs, love being up on them. In my defence, over use injury late in the year did put a bit of a spanner in the works just as the weather got to it’s most miserable towards the end of October, which dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. Some niggles had made training running up to the event a bit hit and miss as well.

Despite my Victor Meldrew approach to winter training, I always look forwards to the SDW50. After a 10:08 finish in 2014 I had a target to beat. I had been aiming for sub 9:30 to build from last year. But after the lacklustre winter I would settle for just equalling last year’s effort. I had to finish in daylight though as Chris and Nikki Mills were down and staying with us. I had a date at the pub after the race, so I couldn’t afford to hang about. More importantly I couldn’t give Chris an open goal for piss taking. Chris, having run it himself last year was volunteering this year and carrying out course marking. To give some insight into the popularity of Centurion events and the strength of the brand; there is a waiting list for volunteers to help out! Centurion mark the course the day before and then send a sweeper behind the last runner to clear up. After that those of us who live and train in the area tend to keep an eye out for any odd bits that were missed, especially on the stage that is cleared after dark. Anyway, whilst Chris was out on the course in Friday, I was resting hard.

8:30am Saturday and I was in and registered at Hill Barn recreational ground in Worthing. Nikki was already there playing shopkeeper as Centurion had brought their shop to the event. Which was doing a roaring trade by all accounts as people discovered that what they thought was suitable for mandatory kit actually wasn’t. A quick word on kit here. An ultramarathon takes place over many hours. In that time weather can change, things can go wrong out on the course, you may be out after dark and the organisers have a duty of care to make sure runners are equipped to look after themselves out on the trail. So there is a mandatory kit list in the rules that is strictly adhered to along with guides as to what is acceptable. The clue is in the word ‘mandatory’. The bottom line though, is that we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

Having been through kit check it was into the runners pen under the start gantry for the race briefing and the standard wait for the starting hooter. Race director James Elson, who is also a friend, spotted me on the way across and gave me a greeting over the tannoy. Complimenting me on my choice of clothing. As it was a cool and windy day I’d opted to over equip to the staggering tune of 70 grams and don a Salomon lightweight wind proof jacket. A surprisingly effective piece of kit. Something James sells so I have a sneaking suspicion there was something mercantile in James greeting.

2014 SDW50 Start (photo - Centurion Running)

2014 SDW50 Start (photo – Centurion Running)

9:00 and the hooter sounded, sending 320 runners streaming across Hill Barn and heading for the bridle path leading up to the Downs. This is a long uphill drag to join the Downs at Chanctonbury ring. Due to the recent rains the path was slippery but in pretty good condition. We settled into a steady jog and formed a brightly coloured conga line, hemmed in by the hedges and fences bounding the path.

As the field breaks out onto the wider area reaching the Downs it begins to spread out and people start to work on their pacing out to the first aid station situated at Botolphs on the A283 road 11.2 miles in. I was running well at around 10 minute mile pace. But already there was some stiffness in my quads and hams. I should be able to cruise fairly comfortably out to about 20 miles, so the negative impact to training was already making itself known. I tried to relax and run comfortably. Remembering to eat a half chia flapjack bar about 5 miles in to keep my nutrition up. Eating before I need to, because by the time I need to it’s already too late.

Through Botolphs, a quick stop to top up water, grab a handful of nuts and head on up to Truliegh Hill. The early miles ticking off but the pain in my thighs not going away. What wasn’t helping was the bitter North East wind blowing in that was providing varying degrees of head wind as the trail twisted along. After hiking the steeper part of the hill I jogged over the crest and followed the rolling trail over to Devils Dyke and the fast run down to Saddlescomb Farm to complete the 5 and a half mile section.

Typical Centurion aid station (NDW100 2014)

Typical Centurion aid station (NDW100 2014)

A minor panic when I arrived at Saddlescomb and didn’t see the aid station in it’s usual place. There was some building work going on and the station was further up the track. Sometimes prior knowledge isn’t always a good thing. Another quick top up of water, this time taking on more food at the aid station, then stepped out to climb towards Clayton and the next aid station at Housedean Farm, some 10 miles away.

Trudging up past Pyecomb golf course I noticed people I’d passed in the early stages coming back past me. I was slowing down. Which was odd because as I approached the top of Clayton Hill at a jog I thought back to the previous year and I definitely wasn’t jogging then. But despite that it was definitely feeling like hard work. It was also getting windier, colder and wetter. Then just before Ditchling Beacon I saw my wife Bev, my son Paul who held the course record after last year (6:11) and my 4 month old German Shepherd puppy Zach, out to support me. Always picks me up. A rain squall hit so I stopped to get my waterproof jacket on and have a few moments to talk to Paul.

Me, “I’m not having a good day”

Paul, “What’s up?”

“Dunno, can’t get going”. “When did you last eat?” I’d had another half of flapjack at Clayton Hill. “Eat some more before you get to Housedean! Easy running after this, try and make use of it”. With that ringing in my ears I determined to make the best of the remaining section to Housedean. Which incorporated a long steady downhill section after some nice rolling Downland, with a short, sharp climb and then a steep descent to the farm by the side of the A27 road. It is as Paul described, easy running. Only it wasn’t, my quads, hams and glutes made sure of that. I generally run these races wearing compression shorts and calf guards, I’d elected to move away from that. It was beginning to look like a bad idea.

Houseden Farm, Marathon distance covered. (photo - Nick Jones)

Houseden Farm, Marathon distance covered. (photo – Nick Jones)

Housedean Farm, 27 miles done and I’m almost half an hour behind schedule for last year’s time. To say I’m unhappy is something of an understatement. Furthermore, Victor Mound, the race leader, looks like coming in under the course record. With that in mind I left Housedean behind me and began the long grind up Kingston Hill. About a mile and a half of climb before another nice rolling section of Downland out to Southease. This is a 7 mile section which again gives some good running. But not today. I could run it but not well, though in contrast to last year I actually felt as if I was going faster as then I could barely run at all by this stage of the race, yet was half an hour further down the road. Odd.

Bev was at Southease and she was frozen, As I was constantly on the move I hadn’t noticed how cold it had become. The rain squall had passed almost immediately but I’d kept my waterproof on for comfort. She headed back to the car to get across to Alfriston while I grabbed what I needed from the aid station and left for the next stage. Southease has arguably the hardest climb of the course. It just keeps going. Not only that, I knew as the track turned back on itself halfway up I was going to get that wind in  my face. I wasn’t disappointed. But for all that it didn’t seem so bad. Maybe everything was now just hurting equally, maybe I’d been up this hill so many times it just didn’t figure. I just zoned out, listened to my iPod and before I knew it the radio masts on top to the hill were coming in to view. I quite like those radio masts. Weird I know but you can see them pretty much from Black Cap above Housedean. Each time after that when they come into view they are appreciably bigger. It’s a way of seeing that I’m making progress along the Downs. Yeah, ok, it’s weird  but I don’t care. I take part in ultras, what do you expect?

More rolling Downs, easy running, or it would be on another day. Firle Beacon and Bo Peeps passed at a jog and then it was the run down into Alfriston. Was it me or did it seem to be less bad than it had been up to now? Things were still sore but now it was more ‘uncomfortable’ than sore. Bev was in position on Kings Ridge for a wave and encouragement, I barely paused this time. Down into the village and the checkpoint. Nikki had moved from the start and was now helping at Alfriston, so I got a welcome hug for making it to 42 miles. Now it was a food change. By this time I’d consumed all the flapjack in my pack and had stayed away from sugar at the aid stations to avoid the spikes and crashes. With 8 miles to go this was no longer an issue. I wanted a spike. Jelly babies!

Entering Alfriston

Entering Alfriston

Out of Alfriston, over the river bridge and turn towards Wilmington Hill. The weather had changed, it was warmer. Too warm to be running in a waterproof jacket. That went back into the pack. Right, Wilmington Hill, and I have a pocket full of jelly babies so you don’t scare me. I’d also consumed my first mule gel of the race at Alfriston. Again, Wilmington hill just seemed to pass but as I crested the hill the bitter blast of North wind was there to greet me. This time I was only wearing my trail running shirt on top. Oh, that’s cold! No matter, less than two miles to Jevington and this really is easy running. The weather had cleared from dull and misty to clear and bright. The vistas opened up that make the South Downs worth being up on. So fuelled by mule gel and jelly babies I ran into my lengthening evening shadow to the last checkpoint at Jevington.

Four miles and one hill. More jelly babies and another mule gel. I made a point of grabbing a piece of Roni Cheeseman’s lemon drizzle cake too, while I was at it. Volunteers often take things to the aid stations themselves to supplement the offerings. Roni had advertised her lemon drizzle cake prior to the race. So I determined to take a few seconds to grab a piece. Also a moment to have a few words with Centurion stalwart Gary Kiernan, who had crewed Paul to last year’s win.

The last crest of the last hill. There at the trig point where the course leaves the South Downs Way and heads into Eastbourne was Chris Mills, big grin and encouragement. Also other Centurion stalwarts, Drew Sheffield and Clare Shelly. This is the point that two years ago many people were getting lost in very poor visibility after dark. So to combat that James now has this point manned. Drew cheered me a little by informing me that almost everyone was around half an hour off their times. which gave me a little lift. I decided to push for the last two miles to the finish.

Maybe it was the sugar and gels? Maybe it was the knowledge that I could suffer for two miles? Maybe I really did feel better? All I know is that I ran well down from Jevington hill past Willingdon golf club. Passing Joe Delany and Sue Albiston, who I had been trailing pretty much from Housedean. Joe shouted out “You can make sub 11″ as he and Sue graciously stepped aside on the narrow trail. He’d given me a target. Not the one I’d wanted but a target nonetheless.

Out of the woods and down Ratton Drive. Please don’t let Willingdon Road be busy! It wasn’t, result! I caught sight of Rosemary Close. Someone to chase and race. She wasn’t slowing either. I slowly caught up to her shoulder as we ran along Kings Drive but she was keeping me at bay. A clearing in the traffic allowed me to cross the road as the hospital came up and gave me a slight lead. It didn’t last and she passed me as we hit the cycle path around the hospital grounds. As the path sloped away slightly I opened my stride and began to ease back past. Now this is where prior knowledge is useful. I knew exactly where I was, more importantly exactly how far I had to go. So I began to push. Rosemary had shown no signs of letting me get away and was definitely not going to give up. Around the car park to the athletics track, open up a bit more. 400 metres to go, one lap of the track, there’s the finish gantry. I’m even hugging the inside of the track so Rosemary will have to go around me but a quick glance tells me I’ve pulled a gap, now I just want to get over the line because it’s really hurting again now. I can hear the yells of encouragement from all the supporters at the finish which really helped me keep the legs turning. And finally the relief of passing under the gantry. To be greeted by James, who has the uncanny knack of making everyone he speaks to feel important. My second hug of the day, this time for finishing, from Bev and my finisher’s medal from ultra running legend Mimi Anderson.

I’d crossed the line in 10.53. Victor had taken Pauls’ course record in an outstanding 5:53. Which goes to show the difference between the elite runners and the back of the pack. The last person home crossed the line with seconds to spare at 12:59. To a wondrous surprise as ladies winner Sarah Morwood had donated her trophy to the last lady home. Her view being that anyone who had stayed on their feet that long deserved it.

The finish line!

The finish line!

But for me it hadn’t been a good day. To miss my goal by such a margin was galling, more so because the fault lay fairly and squarely with myself and it was an achievable goal for me. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. I had definitely failed to prepare. The conditioning wasn’t there because I hadn’t put in the miles when I should have. I had decided to move away from using compression kit, which turned out to be a bad move retrospectively. Now I have unfinished business and a 9:30 or better is the only way to expunge this result. It wasn’t all bad though. I’d pretty much nailed my nutrition and as a result I hadn’t suffered from cramps which have been debilitating in the past. The same with hydration, my energy levels were pretty good through the race. The Inov-8 RaceUltra 290 shoes had been, well totally forgettable, which meant throughout a 50 mile race my feet felt fine and had been planted on the trail from start to finish. The Inov-8 RaceUltra 10 pack had been equally comfortable to the point I’d forgotten about it.

So onwards to the next event. The South Downs way relay with Haywards Heath Harriers in June. Followed by the SDW50’s big brother, the SDW100. And so reader, here is my goal for the SDW100. 100 miles in 24 hours or less, watch this space. I’d best do some preparation.

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

Let me start this report by stating the following:
1.  The Keys 100 was the first race of my life.
2.  It was my first attempt at a 100 miler.
3.  This is the first report I’ve written–so bear with me.

Preface

It had been a long journey to reach the starting line of this race. I had a very typical backstory of a former school athlete (baseball in high school and into college) who eventually started his career and got more and more out of shape. By the time I hit age 31, I was tipping the scales at 226 lbs (101 kg) and I’m only 5′ 8″ (173cm). When it finally hit me, by way of the scale combined with a mandatory physical for a new job, that I wasn’t even overweight but obese, I had a moment of truth in which I knew I had to do something about my situation. Somehow I knew that running was the quickest way to get back in shape and lose weight but I couldn’t even run more than 10 minutes at a time. I joined a gym and put in 4-5 days a week of walking and jogging on a treadmill along with weights, elliptical trainer, and stationary bike. At the end of two years, the longest I run I did was a half marathon on a treadmill in about 2:20.

When I moved to a new location for work, I no longer had a gym membership but instead tried my hand at running outdoors. That was a huge change from only treadmill running. I quickly found out that I couldn’t run more that 2 consecutive days without bad pain in my knees. I also encountered the dreaded IT band syndrome from running on many hills. I had to stop running for 2-3 months and just cycled instead. I eventually started running about 3 days a week with about 3 days of cycling but another move for work along with a lack of focus meant the training dropped off, the weight started creeping back and I wasn’t generally happy about it.

Then a miracle of sorts happened in June of 2012 — I challenged myself to running every day of the month. However, I did some research prior to starting this goal. Thank goodness for Google! I found out that what I was previously doing was pushing too hard too fast–so common for runners. I learned that if I limited myself to a pace just above a fast walk and didn’t do it for anything more than 30 minutes, I could start to acclimate my entire body and not just my cardiovascular system. The bones, cartilage, ligaments, and connective tissue take quite a bit longer to adapt to a heavy workload like running demands. My method was to only do 30 minutes or 3 miles, whichever came first and to do it a super slow pace (think slower than 10 minute miles or 6 minute kilometers). The first two weeks were a bear but I am one stubborn person when I am challenged with something or someone tells me it can’t be done. After persevering through aches, pains, and niggles but nothing major, the problems subsided. By the time I hit week 4 I felt like a changed person. I accomplished my goal and ended up running for 6 weeks without a break.

Over the next several weeks I slowly increased my weekly distance with an occasional 8km run, then 10km run, and eventually by August I woke up one morning and ran a half marathon as a training run just for the fun of it. At the end of August I attempted my first marathon distance on my own and did it. Yet a funny thing happened when I finished the marathon distance, I felt like I could run farther. Again I went to the Google machine to search for “Longer than a marathon”. Lo and behold, the term I had never heard of before popped up: Ultra Marathon. Very interesting, I thought. The research continued.  I read about amazing distances and the prototypical ladder of ultra marathons (50km, 50mi, 100km, and 100mi).  I thought 50km is doable but the rest are ridiculous and probably not going to happen.  I went to work training for a 50km run.  I set my sights on January 2013 and trained throughout the fall.  I even ran another marathon distance in December 2012 just for mental preparation.  On MLK day in January I set out on the road and ran 50km in and around Luxembourg City in subfreezing temperatures with 3-5 inches of snow on the ground.  After 5 hours and 20 minutes, including time to eat and adjust equipment, I finished.  The last 45 minutes were a death march (I didn’t know that was the term at the time) but something inside of me said there’s no way I’m going to stop after completing more than a marathon.  If I stop now, I’ll have to run all those km/mi over again just to have a chance to finish 50km.  I pressed on and did it.  I reached my home and collapsed on the floor.

The running continued throughout 2013 and by May 2013 I completed my first full year as a real runner.  I had a light June and July with training and only averaged a few days a week of running.  By the end of the year I was running more but not with a real focus on any goal.  When Christmas hit and I was starting to see weight creep back on (I reached 182 lbs after getting down to 170lbs), I knew I needed to challenge myself again.  Let the research begin again, I thought.  Looking back on my training logs via Garmin’s website, I looked at my patterns and what made me successful in 2012.  I committed myself to a run streak of the month of January 2014, kept a strict food/calorie log, and plugged away.  In the meantime I figured out a new goal–I decided I was going to run across the country of Luxembourg.  For those that aren’t familiar with the country, don’t get too impressed.  My path I chose, from Belgium, across Luxembourg, crossing into France, returning to Luxembourg, and ending in Germany, was only 39 mi/63 km.  Yet it seemed like a good goal.  Run 39 miles prior to my 39th birthday.

Oh what a day!

Oh what a day!

Over the next few months I slowly upped my weekly distance and increased my long runs.  I did a recon mission by bicycle tracing the path I’d run on foot.  In May I embarked on my journey and successfully crossed the country running with no walking whatsoever.  My incredible wife even paced me the last 25 kilometers.  I crossed the German border after 6 hours and 22 minutes of running.

With that goal out of the way and knowing how I operate, I knew I needed a new goal.  What was next on the ultra ladder?  50 miles…um, okay but that’s 80.5 km I thought.  It’s only 20km from a 100km so I said what the heck I’m going to do 100km in the summer of 2014.

I plodded away at my training and was starting to run over 100km/60mi weekly prior to my 100km attempt.  At the time of my attempt, I had moved from Luxembourg and was visiting my family in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.  I plotted a course that would have me run from the very beginning of the Rock Creek Park to the Potomac River in D.C. and back.  The last portion of the run would even take me past homes where I used to live, schools I used to attend, neighborhoods where I used to play with my friends, and baseball fields I used where I used to play.  The theme was a literal trip down memory lane.

I felt good 3.5 hours in.

I felt good 3.5 hours in.

The 100 km endeavor was a reality check and a big piece of humble pie.  I’ll cut to the chase by saying I completed it but I was finally hit head on with a firm dose of reality in ultrarunning, you cannot run the whole thing.  By hour 6 of the run, my quads were starting to tighten up and as I approached hour 7 I could barely maintain any sort of pace.  I met my incredible wife at a predetermined location as a makeshift aid station and told her that she may need to start accompanying now because I’m not sure I am going to make it.  I had completed just shy of 70 km of the 100 but there was no more running left in my legs.  We were supposed to meet at km 80 to finish out the route.  After some good pep talk and me swallowing my pride, I decided that if I had to walk, I had to walk, but by golly I was going to finish this 100 km.  We walked for 45-50 minutes and I told her I’d try to run a little bit to see if my legs would respond.  Amazingly enough, they did!  From that point on I did intervals of about 20 min of slow running with 5 min of walking.  We did that until 12 km remained and I gutted out the remaining distance by running straight through.  I even got near 10 min miles during that stretch.  After just under 13 hours I had completed the 100 km.  Now there was only one thing left for me to be fully self validated (at least in my mind) as an ultrarunner–the incredible 100 miles.

100 km finished!

100 km finished!

In September of 2014 we arrived to our new home in Mérida, México.  I had always wanted to live in México because my wife is from the country.  However, I had no idea that Mérida was so different compared to Luxembourg in terms of outdoor sports.  It is 100% flat, there are barely any usable sidewalks, and ZERO trails.  It’s all street running.  I trained for about 2 months but hadn’t committed myself to a date for doing my 100 mile run.

For reasons unknown to me and probably because a friend signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in November 2014, I reconsidered my longstanding view about never wanting to enter a race.  I had various negative reasons for not running in a race including, self-doubt, not feeling like I belong, and fear of failure.  Yet the overarching reason I ran is because I liked to run.  Running is my active form of meditation.  Running is what challenges me to push myself beyond where I may be today.  I have always had a strong competitive gene in my body since my first waking memory.  I think it’s why I did so well in baseball as a kid.  As an adult I found that running is my outlet to find out what I can truly accomplish.  I haven’t found my limit yet but I’ll keep trudging until I do.  Back to the signing up for a race idea…I decided I would find a 100 miler because I just couldn’t see asking my wife to follow me around the Mexican countryside by herself for 24 hours just so I could accomplish my self-imposed goal of 100 miles.  Logic told me that I should find a race that matches the terrain where I live and the weather.  That led me to the Keys 100 in May 2015.  It was further away on the calendar than I wanted because, being the impatient person I am, I preferred to do the attempt in late February/early March.  In the end, that was a blessing in disguise because it helped me iron out a few training issues as well as build my conditioning to a better level.

Race Report

I tried to remember to smile as much as possible.

I tried to remember to smile as much as possible.

When I arrived to Key Largo and attended the pre-race packet pickup/meeting, the butterflies started to hit.  I felt really out of place, knew nobody, and wondered if I belonged amongst all these fine athletes.  Race Director, Bob Becker, went through many details of the exchange points, route, aid stations, and rules but after about 10 minutes everything just started blurring and for those that are familiar with Charlie Brown, I just started hearing his teachers speak.

Following recommendations, I slept well Thursday night but Friday night I only slept until 2:45am.  I got everything ready in the hotel room and started packing everything in the minivan.  My wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law were accompanying me on this trip.  All would be in the vehicle for the first 10 miles of the race, then my wife would transport them to Key West, drive back to find me on the course and crew for me the rest of the race.  Did I mention she is 7 months pregnant?  While loading the minivan, I dropped one of the big suitcases on my left ankle.  OUCH and why wasn’t I more careful?  Was I self-sabotaging just hours before things were set to go?  We got the whole minivan loaded up and headed for the start area at around 5am.

We waited around at the start line, took pictures, saw all the pre-race rituals of the runners, and finally the opening ceremonies including the national anthem took place.  Now the goosebumps were arriving.  I was in the 4th heat of the individual runners which meant I got to watch the first three waves of runners who either said on their entry form they would finish under 21 hours or had run that fast in past events.  I had to fight more self doubt by entering in chatter with other participants to pass time.  Finally my wave was called and I entered the corral.

Mike Morton, the official timekeeper of the event said his little jokes to loosen the tension, counted down the time, and boom…away we went.

My method I used was heart rate based using data that I had captured over the past couple years of running.  I wouldn’t let my heart rate climb above 130 for the first couple hours then would use 140 as a limit as the temperatures rose.  Unfortunately due to my adrenaline, my heart rate was already elevated so I had to readjust to keep my heart rate in the low 130s to start.  It still frustrated me because even at around 135 I was only running at a 6:30-6:40/km pace (approximate 10:25-10:35/mi).  This was quite a bit slower than I normally run at that heart rate in equivalent temperatures and humidity in México.  Yet I resisted the urge to push myself yielding to the advice of so many other runners and books I had read.

Issie and me.

Issie and me.

The first 45 minutes flew by thanks to the fact there were so many runners around. I ended up meeting a very nice guy from Florida named Issie who had run this race before. He commented on my shirt that my wife had designed that said Te Amamos Papá (We Love You Papa). He was a Latin American immigrant and thought it was cool that I had that on my shirt. We exchanged quite a few stories and at the 45 minute mark he pulled up to start his intervals. I pressed on and met back up with another runner I met the day before in the pre-race meeting named Butch. He was a strong runner who had a running background from high school and was part of an ultrarunning team at Virginia Tech. He was also 20 years my junior!! We, too, talked quite a bit and exchanged our running strategies but at mile marker 91.5 (it counts down from 100), the parking area was on the other side of the road from us and my family was still in the car. I didn’t want them to get confused so I wished Butch well and went across to tell my family to go to the next exchange point.

At first mandatory check-in at mile marker 90.5, I met my family, got two full bottles of tailwind mixed in water, and said my goodbyes since my daughters at ages 4 and 3 would not last throughout the long day and night of running. My wife took them to Key West and I wouldn’t see my wife for another 5+ hours. I had no idea how much that would affect me.

I'm still having fun.

I’m still having fun.

At this point I was running by myself but with runners within view in front and behind. We were off the main Route 1 on a service road. It had high trees and was kind of picturesque in a non-Florida/ocean sort of way. I still felt very good but was not running as fast as I wanted. My first bathroom urges were hitting me but I was having a bear of a time figuring out where would be a good location. Luckily there was a construction site which meant port-o-potty to the rescue. I was in and out in under 60 seconds and I felt much better.

Over the next few miles there were various crew cars meeting runners which made me think what exactly I needed to do for my strategy. I had two 16 oz bottles. I held one in my hand and had a hip pack with a holster for the other. I also carried 4 packs of tailwind (1 per bottle) and one almond nut butter. By 8:30am it was pretty darn steamy. My experience from training in 103-108 degree F (39-42 C), made me drink lots of my tailwind concoction. I was finishing nearly 2 bottles an hour from hours 2-3.

At mile marker 85.1, I filled up my bottles with more ice and water as needed. I set my sights on the next full aid station 5 miles away. By the time I hit the full aid station, my heart rate was definitely way too high and I knew right away I was starting to overheat. I checked in, filled my bottles with water and tailwind and plodded away. I was getting more and more sluggish and knew something wasn’t right. My feet were sloshing like I was running in the rain. My left big toenail hurt a bit and I was reaching heart rates in the 150+ range. Just after hour 4, I already had to take a one minute walking break. This was not my plan coming into the race.

Based upon a 50 mile training run I did at the end of March, I wanted to run for 7-8 hours prior to walking. Also based on that run, which was done in harsher conditions than the Keys 100, I had set my goal of finishing the 100 miler in under 20 hours. I knew that was in definite jeopardy if things didn’t improve. Again drawing on the advice of other expert runners and my experience, I knew it was more important to slow down now and get my body in check, rather than running the risk of completely blowing up before the halfway mark. While I did slow down and start mixing in some walking, I had another huge problem. My stomach was feeling bloated and foamy. I did some analysis of what had transpired and I quickly realized that I had been drinking only my Tailwind mix without any pure water. Because of the heat and nerves of the race, I had overloaded my stomach with this solution and my stomach was revolting. To summarize, I had feet that were squishy and sliding forward in my shoes, I was overheating, behind the pace I wanted, and had stomach issues. EXACTLY what I wanted without even completing 25% of the race!!!

As I moved along slowly towards the 25 mile timing check-in, I saw how far behind my desired pace I wanted–at least 20 minutes. Not good at all. Like I said, my plan was for the 20 hour mark. My idea was to run the first 50 miles in around 9 hours to give me 11 for the second half. That was a two hour buffer that I had already eaten into during my first 25% of the race. Frustrating but I didn’t let it get me down. I knew there was a lot of distance to cover and I made the decision then and there, I would just give it my all, but stay conservative. I wouldn’t give up and just walk. I would moderate my pace so I could run the majority of the route.

After that check-in I was in interval mode doing 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking and sometimes I’d skip a walking interval depending on my heart rate and how I felt. Along the way I met a nice runner named Hernán who saw the four flags on my shirt–one being from Brazil. He asked me if I lived there, and I said to him (maybe in my broken Portuguese) that I lived there for a couple years. Then in English I explained to him the flags represented my family. A Brazilian and Luxembourgish for my two daughters, a Mexican for my wife, and an American for me. We chatted when our intervals matched up and he told me he had done the race before but today wasn’t going well for him. He said he wouldn’t finish. I tried to be encouraging but he seemed pretty resigned to his fate. On a side and at my great delight to see, he did finish the race. Good job man! He gave me some advice on not pushing too hard and being careful for the Hell’s Tunnel portion which was a long stretch through stagnant air and mangrove. It was known for just cooking the air. I bid him farewell as our intervals didn’t match up any longer.

Eventually I reached the 70 mile marker (30 miles into the race) and was running by myself again. I was still too hot and was really looking forward to finding the next water station so I could fill one bottle with water and one with Tailwind to help find a balance for my stomach. Finally in a little less than 2 miles I found the check-in and access to more water. At this point I had been redlining–and it really sucked. My modified approach from this moment was to try to balance the water and tailwind solution to make sure I kept the water and calorie intake without bloating my stomach. I ended up running for more than an hour with cramping, bloating, and burping foam. YUCK!

In the time after my family’s departure I figured out that I needed to focus on getting between the “Cooler” (water/ice) stations and the full aid stations. They were roughly 5 miles apart. However, I ran into a bit of a let down when I approached twhat was supposed to be Cooler before the Long Key. There was a sign but no cooler. UGH! Now I was running with low amounts of water and the remaining water was the temperature of the air, which was now in the upper 80s. While running on Long Key, I received a phone call that my wife saying she had returned and was near. She’d meet me on the other side of the bridge I was on. Relief was in sight…or was it? I got to the other side of Long Key bridge, saw a bunch of support vehicles but no wife. Now it was time to cue the pity party music. My phone, which was not a US phone and didn’t have much airtime to work in the US, received a call from my wife but in my sweaty fumbling I couldn’t get the call. I tried to text but it failed. Little did I know that I also sent one of those automatic texts on an iPhone that said, “Can I Call Later?” or something to that regard. With that, my wife didn’t call back. Luckily, which happened many times due to the huge generosity of the fellow runners and crews, another group saw my despair and filled up my bottles with what I needed. About 15-20 minutes later I found my wife at the mile marker 59 check in (40 miles into the race). From this point on, I would have my wonderwoman of a crew known as my wife helping me the rest of the way. I was definitely rescued in more ways than one.

We proceeded to meet each other at each of the designated runner/crew exchange points every 1-2 miles. After the first exchange I entered Hell’s Tunnel. That was not fun at all. It was everything Hernán described. Hot, dreary, non-moving air, and I tell you it felt slightly uphill the entire time. I think it lasted 20-30 minutes but felt like more.

Over the next 5 miles leading up to the halfway mark, it was pretty standard going. I’d run and mix in small one minute walk breaks here and there and meet my wife. I wasn’t in terrible shape anymore, nor overheating due to always having ice in my hat and ice in my bottles. However, at one of the stops before the halfway mark I decided I had to change my shoes because of the pain emanating from my big toes–especially the left one. When I took off my shoes and socks I saw disaster. Both of my big toenails were raised up and the one on the left was a good quarter of inch raised. Looking back on things I should have punctured the blisters right away, treated/tapped them and moved on but in my rush and inexperience, I just put on fresh socks, changed to my Hoka shoes with a bigger toe box and moved along. My feet were in a lot of pain but this race turned into me just blocking the pain out to deal with at another time after the race.

We reached the halfway mark at the 50 mile check-in in Marathon and my wife displayed another one of her many awesome posters, “Keep Calm, It’s Only Halfway!” When I checked my time I realized that I was 45 minutes behind the pace I wanted to keep. Reaching my sub 20 dream goal was just about lost but I refused to give up or just phone in the rest of my race. I told myself that I was going to do as well as I could no matter what and let the chips fall where they may.

From the 50 mile check in there were only two more exchange points with my superhero wife before the dreaded 7 mile bridge. I got fully stocked up before embarking on the stretch that meant I needed to cross the 7 miles with no more refills of ice/water/food. I decided now would be a very good time to start using my iPod. I embarked across the bridge and started what would become my revised method of run/walk intervals which I dubbed “target practice.”

The first target was the elevated portion of the 7 mile bridge.  I decided I needed to run to that point and then I’d walk the uphill portion.  While running on this bridge I was passed several times by Butch, another strong runner Michael, as well as this runner that ran the entire race in sandals.  Their running paces were far stronger than mine.  Yet when we reached the uphill portion of the bridge, my faster walking pace put me ahead of them again.  Near the top of the bridge I started running again and used an interval of 5-11 minutes of running to one minute of walking.  After about 80-90 minutes I reached the other side of the bridge and so happy to see my wife.  We were now 60 miles into the run and sometime during the next 5 miles I crossed into new territory for my running career: I surpassed 100km (roughly 62mi).

Around sometime between mile 60-70, it started to get near dusk and I switched from the desert gear of a long sleeved white Under Armour tech shirt and Ultimate Direction desert hat with the neck flaps to a tank top and regular hat.  I also donned my mandatory reflective vest with flashing LEDs.  Very quickly I realized that I needed to use my Petzl headlamp as the main road didn’t have many streetlights in certain sections.

As a side note, since I live outside of the States, I do all my calculations of pace, distance, etc. in kilometers. From the 100km mark I had about 61km to go. My thought process was to get through km 100 to 120 and then the rest should be downhill. My thought process, as weird as it may be, was that any of my training runs on a given week would be in the 10-40 km range. If I could get my distance down to that range, I could mentally process it as “just another training run” and not some giant distance.

During miles 70-80, there were several routine exchanges between my wife with the exception of one almost fatal mistake. At around the 78 mile mark there was a pedestrian bridge closed right after an exchange point. I had switched my Garmin watches because for some reason the one I had been using was near the end of its battery life even though it was supposed to have had 24 hours of life. (After the race I figured out that I left wifi running on the watch and how to turn on UltraTrac mode to give it near 40 hours of life–would have been nice to know beforehand!) While messing with the backup watch, I kept walking forward on the pedestrian path until coming head on with a fence and seeing it was closed. Now I could have gone back the 200 meters to where I met my wife and gone up to the road but I looked up a small embankment and though I’d just go up, hop the guardrail and be on my way. Unfortunately, when I swung my right knee over the guardrail, I smacked my kneecap dead against one of the wood and metal posts. For a moment I thought my day was over. I got over the guardrail, had blood dripping down my leg and could barely walk, let alone run.

To recap:  The sole of my left foot was badly blistered due to over lubricating it with aquafor–which I had never done before, both of my big toenails were lifted up due to huge blood blisters underneath because of my feet sliding forward due to the aquafor, my left ankle was bruised and unbeknownst to me at the time was swelling from the suitcase I dropped on it, and now my right knee hurt like it was broken in half.  This was the deciding moment for me.  Was I going to DNF my first 100 miler, my first race of my life or was I going to push through and do it??  I did some soul searching while hobbling forward and said to myself that I was going to get there some way or another.  I tried to start running again and it worked.  I was actually in less pain running than I was walking.  I believe it was at this point near the 80 mile mark that I started talking to myself outloud, signing songs or at least just singing the melody, and just plain yelling nonsense.  I also would take the occasional squirt of water directly to my face to get a jolt of energy–like a smack to the face. I must have looked like a madman!

A couple of interesting things occurred at night time, I had some mini hallucinations and I was also a bit worried at times about being hit by a car or falling off a bridge. Due to the dark and my headlamp being the only source of light in some places, I mistook some very large low-lying leaves on a plant as an alligator. It definitely put me on alert the rest of the race. Everytime I heard some rustling in the plants near the water I kept looking for one. I would even scan the bushes with my light trying to see if I saw reflections off of animal eyes like they do in documentaries on National Geographic. While trying to pick targets down the road, I once thought a street sign was a runner up in front of me. I changed my mind about 3 times before realizing it really was a post with a sign. As for the cars, due to the fact we had to run on the small shoulder of the road, there were several times where the oncoming traffic going 55mph+ got too close for comfort. I was worried that in my weakened state that I might take a misstep and go into traffic. Crossing some of the pedestrian bridges, I noticed that the barrier was barely hip height. Again, I thought that if I take a tumble or trip, I could easily flip over and into the water. YIKES!

From miles 80-90, I saw Butch and Michael a couple more times but I seemed to be getting out of the aid stations and exchange points a little faster. I think around the 85 mile mark was the last time I saw them. They were both in some pain and needed some stretching and regrouping. When I got in front of them from that point, I sort of used it as motivation to keep me going. My target practice method was in full effect as well. I would pick objects down the road like a building, a street sign, or a stoplight to run to (about 1 km away) and then I’d see if I needed a quick walk break of 150 meters. I also met an extremely inspirational runner along this stretch, Jason Romero. The first time he passed me, I noticed he was with another runner but what was different about this situation was that Jason had a sign that said blind runner.  He has severely reduced vision essentially giving him a small little tunnel of sight in front with zero peripheral vision.  He would follow the light of the guide runner.  Everytime he passed me over the miles remaining, he’d be very supportive and positive.  I was amazed and motivated by his positivity–especially this late in the race.  I came to find out that this man had run all over the world and even represented the United States in the Olympics in London.  AMAZING!

From miles 90-100 it was more of the same, I would meet my wife, get more water/food and I started using some caffeine sports gels every hour at this point, too.   If the next meeting point was a 1.5 miles or less, I’d run all the way until I saw her.  If it was further, I’d run about a 1.5 miles, walk for 150 meters, and then run until I would see her again.  I also started looking back quite a bit to see if any runners were closing in on me.  My competitive streak was starting to take effect.  Instead of having any runners to catch, I just wanted to make sure no one would catch me.

At the 95 mile mark, my wife left me to go wake my daughters and mother-in-law.  It really did my spirits well to know I was going to see my daughters soon.  My oldest daughter Fiona was so excited about this race and had even run with me some while I was training.  Keep in mind she is 4 years old so having that much enthusiasm touches my heart.  When they saw me for the first time around 2:00am in the morning, they were going crazy with excitement.  I gathered my new water and ice, gave them a kiss and started walking a little bit before my running commenced.  My younger daughter Gianna said, “Daddy you have to run not walk!”  I smiled and said okay here I go.  We met again with 2 miles remaining.  They again were cheering.  I left them and at the final exchange point I didn’t stop and told them just meet me at the end, Daddy is running all the way.

I didn’t stop running until I reached the finish line. There it was, the moment I had dreamt about for years. My family cheering me on, fellow runners cheering, and everything rushed through my head…with the final thought that I DID IT! All my hard work, dedication, desire, stick-to-it-ness, whatever you want to call it, paid off. 20 hours and 28 minutes from the time I started I was at the end. When I crossed the timing area and gave my chip to the time keeper, I immediately went back to my family grabbed them all and we crossed the finish line together hand-in-hand. Without my family, especially my wife, none of this would have ever even been a dream let alone possible.

We did it!

We did it!


Post Race
I felt pretty good considering the undertaking. I didn’t feel like collapsing. My feet were a wreck from blistering but my muscles and legs themselves felt pretty darn good. For my first race of my life, I was pleased but I know I can improve quite a bit with refined training and strengthening. The next day I also learned that I finished 8th overall.

After researching all the runners who finished ahead of me, I found out that all are very accomplished runners. They run all over the planet and in some of the most fabled Ultra Marathons such as Western States Endurance Run, Badwater 135, Marathon des Sables, and 4 Deserts. I received plenty of positive feedback from some of these runners who said I did great for my race of my life let alone my first 100 miler. I thought at the time it was casual chatter but came to realize after the race that maybe with a whole heaping ton of hard work, I might be able to have some success in Ultrarunning!

My valuable lessons learned:

  • I’ll make sure to follow what I normally do prior to my long run training and definitely not do anything different race day. The lubricating the bottom of feet was a terrible mistake.
  • I will give myself a little more leeway on my heart rate in the beginning to account for early race adrenaline.
  • I will make sure to have two water bottles: one with Tailwind and one with pure water.
  • When blisters arise, I will tend to them right away to avoid the pain factor I dealt with for 17 hours.
  • I will make sure to get the Garmin in the correct mode for a 100 miler prior to the race.
  • In hot races, I’m going to use ice much earlier rather than wait to nearly overheat.