My prep up to this had been perfect in my eyes. I will not lie, after the W100 although I did well I could see room for improvement. I decided that I would try and smash a fast hundred at the TP then I could concentrate on UTMB.I trained hard, ate better and felt great going into this. I worked out all my splits based on a 17hr 30 finish. What could possibly go wrong?
Registration was a well organised affair. Get in, bag check, receive a token then go get your number and get out. Very regimented. Was nice to bump into so many people you know, registrations are more like a social gathering, Everyone relaxed and chatting its a great chance to catch up with people you hardly see. Made a point of finding Luke Ashton, Shawn Timmons and the rest of the Bosh group. Its amazing how many "friends" you have on Facebook and most of these people you have never met so I made a point of saying hi to anyone I vaguely recognised. Amongst the new friends was plenty of old ones as well. David Bowen, Jeff Springford, Paul Ali, Gary Kiernan and Lee Kelly to name but a few. I really enjoy the pre race buzz and those 2 hours flew by.
We were called back in for our race brief and went through the usual stuff, course changes, conditions, aid stations etc. Pretty pointless me listening as I have the memory span of an ant and all the important stuff goes in one ear and out the other. Mind you I made more of an effort than most as my wife told me at least half the runners just stayed outside and didn't even bother coming in. As the countdown began we were called up to the start line. There was a lot of spectators at the start even spotted a couple of Z list celebs. Oh what an illustrious bunch we are.
I said to Jeff that if he wanted to go faster or slower he should do his own thing because I was running to a plan and sticking to it. Soon after this Jeff dropped off and had a walk it was really quite warm and the heat was getting to him. I carried on running at sub 8 minute miles. I soon joined up with David Ross and had a nice chat. David is an excellent runner and places top 5 in just about everything he enters. Good company to be in if you want a fast time. We entered CP2 at 22miles in under 3 hrs and first chance to meet crew. I had some fruit and some beetroot juice that I have been experimenting with. My wife informed me I was 8 mins down on my split so I filled my bottles and pressed on. I felt very sick soon after which I put down to the beetroot so I decided not to have anymore of that. As we passed the marathon distance we were at 3hrs 28. Fast, yes but it was planned.
Running along a river is one of my favourite things to do and it doesn't get much nicer than the first 30 mile of this race. Sun was shining, trail was perfect, boats, birds, friendly people. This run had it all. As we approached 30 mile in around 4 hrs I was getting the first signs that my legs were not happy. David had run on and I had my first little walk. One of the problems with a flat race is getting the run walk/strategy just right although my splits hadn't accounted for much walking at all in the first half. I had a minimal stop at CP3 and cracked on. I had managed to pretty much avoid my 18 mile wobble today but I was about to have a major wobble at about 32mile. The next 6 miles into Cookham were not great and I was run/walking. I would walk for about 20 seconds then run for several minutes and repeat.
In to CP4 at Cookham and I informed my wife I was struggling. My legs were feeling dead the energy had just dropped out of them. I ate some food at this CP and left feeling rather sick. I tried to run but my stomach was turning. I put my fingers down my throat to try and bring the food up but it wouldn't come so I walked for a couple of miles and things soon settled so I could resume running.
My memory between 40 and 50 mile is sketchy to say the least but I was still run/walking and not loosing too much time so I thought if I can keep this up i'll still be in for a good time. Truth is I knew I shouldn't be feeling this bad this early, my legs were dead. Just no life in them at all. This was not good. I reached the 50 mile mark in about 7hrs 50. CP6 at Henley soon followed and a chance to get some hot food. I didn't hang about though and I was off again. I still couldn't manage any prolonged running and things were getting worse I was getting so much leg pain and now my calves were playing up.
In 2012 I was dogged with Achilles tendonitis and i was worried that the pain in my calves was actually my Achilles playing up again. I had used different shoes for this race as I try and move away from Hokas which is a bit of a trial. I believe my Hokas aggravate my hip so I have been trying various other shoes and todays shoe of choice was the Sketchers Go Ultra. These are a much hyped running shoe designed specifically for Ultra races. They do have a fairly low drop and I was worried they were tugging on my tendon. I backed off more knowing that a tendon injury was not going to do me any good this season especially with UTMB coming up. I was weighing everything up now and seriously thinking of packing it in.
At Henley I had told my wife to meet me at Reading so I could pick up my night gear. Unbeknown to me she couldn't leave Henley as her car had broken down. I ran into Reading looking for her car but she wasn't there. Oh shit. As soon as I approached the CP Barry Miller walked over with my bag, luckily she had given it to Phil Taylors crew who had kindly brought it into the CP. I stopped and chatted for a while to gather my thoughts. It was good to just stop moving for a while and also have a think if I really needed to carry on. I have nothing to prove over the distance, my legs have no energy and I'm worried I'm carrying an injury. No brainer really, but on the flip side this is my Western states qualifier the whole point of all my running. I could drop and then have to rely on the SDW as my qualifier but if I'm injured I would have no qualifier at all. Right, I thought I can't let this go I have to finish. So now that decision was made I could press on with one thing less to worry about. I now text my wife telling her not to worry as I have everything to get me to the finish and if the car didn't go with the help of the AA it didn't matter. Another thing not to worry about.
I pressed on, I thought I would try and get to Whitchurch before nightfall. Something to aim for anyway. One thing that did strike me and something I have not noticed before was the amount of drunk undesirables along the river near Reading. I thought it was only Maidstone that had that amount of piss heads.
For the second half of this race, pretty much from Reading the trail is the polar opposite to the first. The first is predominantly hard pack trail and tarmac whereas the second is a rut. You have longish grass and a rut which is about a foot wide and bowl shaped. It is a complete nightmare to run on. As my legs were shot I was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other. Which may seem silly but actually putting one foot in front of another is not a natural running technique and can be very painful.This leads me on to the massive problems I had with my shoes. (1) They are quite a low drop as previously mentioned but this is not the shoes fault. (2) The grip is absolutely the worst ever on a trail shoe. On the very rare occasion we came across mud, I slipped. There was nothing, in fact I would safely say my road shoes would have been better. I lost all confidence and literally tip toed through any mud. (3) Omg this is the worst. I had worn them a fair bit prior to the race and had noticed a fair bit of lateral movement. The sole is very spongy and cushioned but so much so that they tend to move sideways, a lot! The problems that causes are, your foot will regularly turn over so if you dare step out of the rut your ankle will turn on the uneven ground and if you do run in the rut your foot is not landing level and your foot slides inside the shoe. This can mean only one thing, Blisters!
I was being passed very often now by other runners and my mind had gone off a time and just a finish was all that mattered. Paul Ali passed me on this section and looked strong, we spoke briefly and he moved on. I reached Whitchurch, mile 67 in about 12 hours and couldn't believe how many runners were in there. Not many of them looked keen to move on any time soon. I personally have never sat down during a 100miler through fear of not getting up again. So true to form I stood, gibbered some rubbish, ate some food and walked out. In fact this aid station worried everyone (well my mum anyway) because my time didn't get logged, they were worried I'd got lost on the trail and my word does my mum worry. She's my biggest fan really but just hates seeing me buckled in pain after the event and always asks if I'm packing it all in after the next one, to take up bowls or something else rather more pedestrian. Not yet mum.
The 4 mile to Streatley went on for ever and I was glad to meet up with my wife, I put her mind at rest and told her to meet me at the finish so she could sleep. I was going to be a while yet. I went in the CP and grabbed a baked potato and plodded on. Soon after Streatley or before I'm not quite sure I became massively disorientated. There was a lock with no markings and I really didn't recognise it. Luckily there was another runner near who told me I needed to cross, I didn't believe this could be possible and I needed quite a bit convincing as there was no tape but sure enough as we reached the other side I saw tape. I was really relieved as had that runner had not been there I would not have crossed and could have ended up anywhere. With all the movement in my shoes my feet were now really sore and every step was like treading on broken glass. This combined with all my other issues meant I was walking the last 30. Joy of joys, there is nothing more boring than walking all night.
I was having some wicked hallucinations during the night and they seemed to be based on friends popping their heads out from weird places, some amusement to get me through the worst bits at least. It had got very cold in the early hours so much so that my jumper didn't quite cut it and I had to put my hat and coat on. Cold, walking, in pain, excruciating pain, alone and pitch dark it don't get better than this. I don't actually remember more of the night than that, not even the aid stations, I think my brain just blocked out all the bad shit.
I think it got light just before reaching Abingdon. I know I had just had a lengthy conversation with myself whether it was spelt Abindon or Abingdon which turned into a song about the place. My brain was completely fuddled at this point and every thought was taking massive effort even the Abingdon song was as much as I could compute. I don't remember the aid station at Abingdon, I just remember someone saying 4 miles to the next aid station then 5 to the finish. That was probably my favourite bit of the last 30 mile. I power walked the 4 mile to the last aid station and stopped briefly for a snack. I had convinced myself that the last five would be runnable and I made every effort to run that five. I shuffled, hobbled and generally dragged my self along for the last few miles. With about 2 to go I was caught by a Dominic Grise and we had a good chat about the inconsequence of running 100s. We would run from bridge to tree and walk from bush to lifebuoy, it was as much as we could do. As the finish approach we agreed to walk to the field then ran across the field to finish. Thank Christ that was over. 20hrs 34 min. Quick photo, buckle and t-shirt acceptance followed by an absolutely astounding bacon sandwich. I didn't hang around long as I didn't want to seize up so we got in the car. My feet were so sore my wife literally had to rip my shoes off, not dissimilar to pulling a plaster off. There were toe blisters, sole blisters, what felt like burns in various other places and what I thought was a previously defunct verruca had turned into a mini volcano. I could not even put my feet on the floor of the car, I had to wrap them in my down jacket for relief. I sat back and put my sunglasses on, next thing I knew we were home.
My word that was hard, mentally and physically I was broken. I had said I was going for a time and that meant I had to go out hard, so I did. It really was shit or bust and I bust, big time. I'm not sure what to take from this as I am still a bit miffed about what went wrong. I think the heat didn't help early on but it has left me with more questions than answers. I'm not disappointed, just one of those things. There is always next time and next time I will not go out quite as fast and I'll be wearing different shoes.