It was nice that this race had a 10 am start it meant I did not have to fanny about travelling down on the Friday. This race I was to have no crew so I spent quite a while working out what to put in my drop bag. I was carrying waterproofs so I figured I only really needed a warm base layer and fleece top for the night section. I packed those and a hat and gloves in a separate bag so I knew exactly where everything was for my 50 mile stop. I tried to keep everything to a minimum to save over complicating my stops. I took no food this time just 4 cans red bull which is my night running essential. My feeding plan was simple Gu gel every 90mins, quarter of a sandwich or similar every other stop, hot food at 50 mile and lots of coffee and redbull during the night. Once I'd packed pre race fodder was to be a fish risotto with the usual two cans of Red Stripe for sleeping purposes.
I travelled down Saturday morning and arrived quite early so I parked about half mile up the road and walked to the HQ in Streatley. I checked in, got my kit checked and settled down to gather my thoughts about the coming race.
Now I had prepared well for this race, I'd been eating well, training right and had a two week taper. I made one mistake and that was to run a marathon pb two weeks previous. I was supposed to have an easy last long run but got carried away and ran a pb instead. I'll come back to that fact later.
I had put a lot of thought into this race in the previous week and had really thought about how I was going to run it? How fast? etc. I have been thinking that there is little point just plodding around these races. For me it is no longer about just finishing. I need a specific aim. When you start running long distances it is at first just that, Completing that distance. As things progress you look for something more. I watched in awe at Anthony Forsyths NDW performance this year, ok he lost to Ed but Ed is a phenom a running machine who has probably ran his whole life. Anthony in contrast used to be very over weight and from what I can make out had little running experience prior to losing the weight (I might be wrong on that fact) but he has turned his life around and is now an amazing athlete and of a similar age to myself. He absolutely smashed the NDW. My Point is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and you don't have to be average you just have to make lifestyle/training changes and great things can happen. Now I'm well aware I won't be winning stuff but I can certainly push my boundaries and do the best I possibly can otherwise whats the point.
So with that in mind my idea was to run flat out for as long as possible and then hang on at the end. As I had nothing to prove and it didn't really matter if I dropped or blew up totally I could just go away and try again another day. My plan was to go sub 20 and I was to run the first 25 in 4hrs including stops followed by two 5hr legs and then within 6hrs on the final leg to go sub 20.
So after the usual race brief etc we toed the line for the first leg on the Thames path. I remembered that it narrowed very quick at the end of the road so I got right up the front and shot off with the leaders. Ed and David Ross shot off as usual and I quickly settled into a 7.45/8 minute mile pace with the trailing pack. The pace was fairly fast upto the the first turnaround but it felt comfy so I stuck with it. There was no need to stop at all on the first leg apart for saying hello to a couple of my friends who were manning cp 1 and 3. Coming into CP3 I was in a bit of trouble already my arse cheek had gone into spasm which in turn yanked on my hamstring leaving me unable to bend my leg this took several miles to shake off. I must of looked odd running fast with a limp but it soon passed. I ran into Streatley in about 3hr 25 and was promptly told by James the RD to back off as I was going way too fast. That wasn't in my game plan so I headed out on to leg two on the Ridgeway maintaining my pace. This section of the RW is quite difficult and pretty much uphill from the aid station at North Stoke. I ran well to the turnaround stopped very briefly before heading back. I really enjoyed the run back to North Stoke it is flat out trail running all the way plus it was getting dark and I wanted to get some miles done in the daylight. By North stoke the head lamp came out and I knew the rest of the race would be in darkness. I managed to pick off 3 runners in this section and put myself into 6th place. I ran this whole leg on my own which was kind of pre planned as I didn't want buddy up or get involved in someone elses race. I ran back into Streatley in 7 hrs 41 which is actually a 50 mile pb. I had some hot soup, changed into my night base layer and set off again this was my longest stop at about 5 mins. The next section upto chain hill is horrible I have run it several times and struggled every time. I thought I would run up to the trail then walk a while as it pretty much goes uphill all the way to bury down aid station. I had beaten Luke Ashton out of the half way stop moving into 5th place but he soon came running past me as we reached the steep part of the trail. This done my head in as I couldn't/wouldn't run this part and I then went on to have a rough patch and walked/run for a few miles. I walked/run most of the way to bury down aid station and it was bloody freezing up there. From the top you can look back and see all the approaching headlamps which gave me a kick up the arss. I put on an extra layer in the station and started running again. I ran all the way to chain hill and caught Luke back up. I took in some soup and got out of there ahead of him. As I ran back across to bury down I realized how close all the following runners were. This spurred me on and I ran all the back to Streatley with barely a walking break. I had completed 75 mile in 12hrs 20 and was in 5th place. Last year I walked the last 25 in 7hrs due to injury so I knew sub20 was a definite whatever but I was hoping for sub18 now. My pacer Jeff was in the HQ ready to go and I grabbed a cup of coffee and we shot off. I was starting to feel the pace now but we ran to the next aid station albeit slower. It was now 8 miles to the turnaround and I was falling apart, I felt like crap. I soon caught David Ross which was a shock but we over took and carried on I was now in fourth. Around this time we missed a turn and ran half a mile across a field. That really pissed me off. The trail seemed to go on forever upto the Reading aid station. We got there and turned around rapidly before heading back. As we started heading back we realized we were being caught rapidly and several runners were right behind us. My legs were shot which I think was not helped by the fast marathon I'd run two weeks previous. My quads were killing me and the energy had just gone. I was now running on empty and marched on regardless. I was still in 4th as we reached the final checkpoint but 2 runners caught us quickly and ran on there was no way I was keeping with them. After a couple more miles I got caught by another runner and his pacer we couldn't stay with them but sort of jogged in for 7th place in 17hrs 54 almost a 5hr pb!
I really am pleased with that result but slightly annoyed to get taken by 3 runners in the last 4 mile. Apart from a mangled calf muscle and my usual Achilles niggle I've come out unscathed and not one blister.
I know I am capable of good times and just need to refine things to stop the total melt down in the last twenty. I did run a good race but it was poor that I couldn't fend off the 3 runners in the last few miles. That is something that I shouldn't have let happen and I can work on that. I now have a month off racing which is well earned and am going to spend chrimbo and new year in Tenerife so plenty of warm weather running to be had there. I have entered way too much next year so I will be cancelling some of it but my main objectives are to get more top 10 finishes in ultras, a sub 3.15 marathon and if I get in to WS a sub 24. At present I am running The Winter Tanners, Thames Trot, TP100, GUCR, SDW100, NDW100, Lakeland 100, Coast to Coast and I have entered the WS100. So some of that has got to go!
Not impressed with a couple of things (a) my new headtorch the Silva Trail runner 2 is really not very good. I put three brand new lithium batteries in it pre-race and they lasted 4hrs now I'm sure that wasn't in the advertising. I put in another 3 standard batteries at 75 mile and they didn't last 3 hours. Rubbish. (b) My Suunto Ambit ran out of battery again at 13hrs. I have changed the GPS fix time and it still doesn't last. All I want is a GPS that can last for 100 miles. Luckily I wore my £10 stopwatch as well which certainly out performed my £350 Suunto.
Finally anyone who struggles with blisters or macerated feet must start using Camphor spray! This stuff is amazing. I use it about once every three days. No blisters...