Written by Paul Ali - http://ultraavon.com
This event first came to my attention about 18 months ago and it’s fair to say that the event has a bit of a reputation largely in part to the Race Directors Henk’s no nonsense attitude.
Although I had missed out on entering last year having looked at entering too late I did pop down to see a few runners and turned up on the Sunday morning to be greeted by the few people I came to support sat around a camp fire with various injuries. I like a bit of a challenge and promptly added it to my list of “to do” races and entered as soon as I saw the race entries open.
The race takes place on the Ministry of Defence training ground in Aldershot and the format is a set number of 10 mile laps with a 3 lap option which starts midnight and further 5 or 10 lap option which starts at mid-day on the Saturday. This year the cut off for the 100 miler (which I was undertaking) had been reduced from 30 to 28 hours. To make things harder for next year Henk had suggested the slowest finishing time this year would be the cut off time for next year. I was glad I was doing the race this year if it was going to get tougher and tougher each year.
(Runners congregate at the start)
In terms of race plans and build up, I didn’t have anything too specific. Due to a recent shin injury I hadn’t quite completed the ideal training but the injury wasn’t severe enough to stop me running completely for a period so I had been ticking over with lots of short easy runs and went in with the attitude that I’d rather be injury free and less fit than carrying an injury. The big concern was the weather as the week before had seen heavy rain and I had anticipated pretty poor ground conditions in places particularly after a few laps when this would get churned up with lots of runners. My public goal was simply to finish particularly as I didn’t want to underestimate the race but privately thought I could finish this comfortably a couple of hours before cut off (26 hours) and maybe even closer to 24 hours with a good effort.
I arrived at about 11am and registered, collected my race number with bar-code and said hello to a few familiar faces including annual attendee Dave Baker, Iveagh Jameson, Nicole Brown, Shane Benzie who were all taking part in the 100 mile race and James Elson/Mimi Anderson who were on time-keeping/crewing duties.
The 10 mile course follows a sort of figure of eight route (simplistically speaking) and there is an aid station just after the half way point. The start and finish is in the car park where there are food and refreshments (including hot food after dark) and also which also provides easy access to your kit/car each lap.
I had loaded up the boot of the car with spare kit, shoes, rain gear, blanket and some extra food/snacks. I had prepared a small food bag for each lap and had some bottles of drink ready. The plan was to check in each lap and then grab a fresh drink, snacks and move on. I had planned at least one major stop at the half way point to change socks and get some hot food and then grab hot drinks during the night as required.
Henks pre-race speech was quite amusing. All I can say is thankfully I wasn’t wearing a combination of compression socks, wearing a Garmin and carrying a hydration bladder otherwise you would have been singled out for a few choice words! A few minutes later we were off.
(Henk in fine fettle)
The immediate goal was to get the first 3 laps done in 6 hours so I could collect my head torch before it started to get dark at 6.30pm. The first lap was quite congested as runners headed along the route and it was a little slow going up and down some of the narrow areas but this soon spread out after the first lap.
I chatted to a few people on the first lap or two and ran with Iveagh for a bit before he moved on ahead as I found my own rhythm and pacing by running the easier sections and power-walking the hills and trying to take care on a couple of the trickier descents. There were a few muddy areas which I thought would become particularly problematic later on with runners churning the area up but that was a problem for later.
Surprisingly after the first lap, the runners became pretty spread out. There were a group of runners who stormed off ahead and I knew there were a group of runners behind me but quite early on I was running with no-one around me. It didn’t really matter as the route was very well marked with signs at every turn and glow-sticks put out before it got dark. The only navigational issue I had was quite near the start where there was a sharp right hand turn down a hill. I had been reading a text on my phone, missed the sign and overshot the turn and was just starting to think I should have turned right when someone behind me gave me a shout (thank you). It was my own fault for being distracted on that occasion and remiss of me to miss the turn on the next lap again! After that, there were no problems navigation wise you just had to remember to keep looking out for the sign or glow-sticks when it was dark.
Between lap 2 and 3 I also had a confrontation with a cow who was blocking my path on a narrow section of the track. Thankfully, after some discussion he moved on allowing me to pass. I caught the scene on camera which I will upload when I do the video report.
I was averaging about 2 hours per lap to start with which felt fine and finished lap 3 by 6pm (6 hours) where I grabbed my head torch and backup hand torch. The weather had just started to rain very lightly and I debated whether to take my rain jacket and compromised on a rain jacket with the sleeves removed. I think it was around this time when I said hello to Keith Godden who popped down to support and I saw a few other familiar faces/Fetchies at the start and finish area (Claire, Leila).
(Pictured after lap 3, photo by Keith Godden)
Taking the jacket proved to be a smart move as the rain started to pour continuously for the next few hours and well into the evening and night. This didn’t help the ground conditions in places which became muddier and slicker and more churned up. There were a number of areas which were now starting to get boggy (I went in up to my shin at one point) and two areas near the end of the course where it was really slippery and you almost skied down the mud in places.
It got dark quite quickly (within half an hour from light to dark) and I trudged around the next loop. I find trail running in the dark quite enjoyable at times particularly when it’s not too late and I quite enjoyed this lap. You have to take a bit of extra care following the directions but having done a few laps the route was looking familiar by now and the glow sticks were well placed as you could pick out the one ahead in the distance.
I finished this lap and decided on the sock change and a hot drink a lap earlier than planned as my feet were soaked through and I was conscious about foot care. I swapped my sleeveless jacket for another one (which unfortunately was my windproof one not my waterproof) and headed out for lap 5.
The rain continued as I trudged around in the dark by now, the going was a little slower and I saw very few people to be honest, Caesars was starting to become a lonely experience. I had heard that quite a few people had started to drop out but didn’t have any idea of numbers to be honest and this wasn’t something that was going to impact my own goals anyway.
I finished lap 5 by around 10.30pm ish (10.5 hrs) and had to have a complete change of clothes as I was soaked through. I decided to put some leggings (I had been in shorts to this point) on and sensibly dug out the waterproof jacket and went for another sock change with the sealskinz socks which were also well padded and helped make my feet feel a little more comfortable. I had some hot food at this point and another coffee before I headed out.
As an aside, I had practiced reducing my caffeine intake the week before to help me get through the night. During the run, I was going to overload on coffees and use gels with caffeine etc. The experiment was a partial success as I managed to delay the onset of sleep deprivation by several hours but I did start to suffer in the early hours of the morning.
I set out for lap 6 around 11pm and from this point slowed as everything seemed to get a little harder. My only real complaint was sore feet. My legs didn’t feel too bad and I still able to break into a jog, I wasn’t feeling sleepy at all, had been eating quite well but perhaps mentally didn’t quite have the drive to keep pushing and running during the hours of darkness.
The next couple of laps wee a mixture of jogging and walking. I do recall it being quite misty in places and felt as if my head-torch was reflecting back the light from the mist in places and I started to use my backup hand torch which I could shine from a lower point onto the ground.
Claire Shelley (who was doing the 30 mile run starting at midnight) passed me when I was on lap 7 and I trotted with her briefly before she carried out. After only doing two laps, she was already covered in mud so heaven knows what I look liked. I plodded around the rest of the lap and stopped for a warm drink before starting off for the next lap. Robbie Britton had now taken over time-keeping duties from James Elson as I checked through.
What was much appreciated was the support of the guys at the start and finish point every time a runner came through, it was nice to look forward to a little lift and a well done even if you weren’t quite feeling great or performing to the best of your ability!
I bumped into Claire again who was debating with Drew (who was supporting) whether to head out for her final lap or not and we decided to trek the next leg together. At this point (around 4am) the sleep deprivation was starting to affect me and I was starting to fall asleep on my feet. Thanks to Claire’s company I just about managed to stay awake for this lap (which I’ve termed my “zombie lap”) although I did start to drift off at the mid-point aid station and Claire had to give me a little nudge to keep me awake (still that’s preferable to Stouty’s approach which is to punch me in the arm!).
We pretty much walked that lap which was my slowest so far but that was my lowest point and I was appreciative of the company. Claire definitely had more running in her although she was a bit more cautious on some of the descent s which were getting towards the point of hazardous. However she easily trotted on afterwards to catch me up. Towards the end of this lap it started to get light and I had started to feel a little more alert as headed back to the start point where we she said her goodbyes at the end of this lap having finished the 30. At this point I had two laps to go and 8 hours to finish them (approx 20 hours in) before the cut off so I knew that a finish was comfortable barring an unfortunately injury but wasn’t particularly looking forward to trudging round another couple of laps to be honest. My Garmin had run out by now so I dumped this and my torches into the car to get rid of any unnecessary weight.
I set off by myself and decided to try and jog a bit of this leg purely on the basis that the more I ran the quicker I would finish. It was a partial success as I finished this lap about 45 minutes quicker than the previous one around the 22.5 hour mark. As I trotted to the start/finish point Robbie who was doing the timekeeping quipped I could do a sub 24 hour if I did this last lap in 1hr 30mins…. er… no chance!
I asked how Dave Baker was doing. He was still out on the course on lap 8 and had left 30 minutes before me and I set off thinking I could catch him for some company. I grabbed a handful of snacks and set out for the last lap and started off with a trot.
I managed to plod the first half of the leg and caught Dave as he was having a hot drink at the mid-way checkpoint with another runner who was with him. He was going to be there a few minutes and I decided to push on, I was less than 5 miles to the finish and didn’t want to stop. However, those last 5 miles were really slow and seemed to take an eternity! I don’t know if my mind had started to wander knowing I was close to the end of the race but every little hill felt like a stop-start effort and I even sat down and stopped for a few minutes before the last hill and chatted with a guy who was out walking. I eventually made my way to the end and jogged towards the start finish to see the remnants of the camp site with the support team starting to break down the tents and tidy up. I had hardly seen anyone for the last couple of laps and thought I must be virtually the last person out on the course.
The guys at the finish gave me a little cheer as I came in and I was genuinely surprised to learn there were only likely to be 9 finishers (there were 4 behind me so I am assuming they all finished) out of 41 starters for the 100 mile race and I had placed 5thposition overall. I sat in the finishing tent and had a chat with Adrian (Exflyboy) who had came out to support, Iveagh who had finished 3rdoverall (great run mate, well done) and Robbie before heading home. I must also mention the handful of runners still out on the course who were not going to complete all 10 laps in time but were still plugging away manfully to get as far as they can, great determination there.
The high level of drop-outs was a good indication as to the conditions at this year’s event which was in complete contrast to last year when conditions were perfect. However, in all honesty I think my finishing position disguised the second half of my race which I think should have done a little better.
Looking back on how I was feeling, there seemed to be a lot of different elements which challenged you along the way (wet, cold, mud, loneliness and sleep deprivation) and individually I dealt with most of these (fuelling well and adding/removing clothing when needed, ipod when required). Physically my legs actually felt ok, no real injuries apart from really sore feet from the stoney paths. Mentally, I was flagging at points and just had enough to keep moving forwards but not quite enough to run as much as I wanted to. At the end of the run I felt relief that it was over, no real elation and a slight sense of disappointment over the second half effort. The race was definitely a tale of two halves for me.
On the positive side, I finished the race and protected the no DNF record in a year where there was a less than 25% finish rate in the 100 mile race so perhaps I should just be satisfied with that.
Next up is the Winter 100 on the 24th/25thNovember which is the shortest amount of time between two long event runs so will be interesting to see how I feel and recover between events.
Finally, a quick hello to Kelvin Gower (who was doing the 50 mile run) who I bumped into somewhere but I can’t quite recall where!