Thursday, 23 October 2014

Winter 100 2014

The Winter 100 hadn't really been on my radar for 2014 but earlier in the year having completed The Thames Path and South Downs Way I decided to book up for the Centurion Grand slam again. However this plan got scuppered early on due to a chest infection just before the North Downs way. All the same I thought I'd still do this as my last ultra of the year. I wasn't quite sure how things would go being that UTMB was only 7 weeks previous but I felt ok, so went along with no great ambitions of a fabulous time.

The build up hadn't gone exactly to plan, I think I peaked a week early. The previous week had been quiet at work, I was full of energy and although I supposed to be into a two week taper I was running every day. What I hadn't anticipated was what a hard weeks work I had booked myself up prior to the race. I am a groundworker / landscaper so there are no easy days but I at least like the Friday off before a hundred to relax. Not to be this time, we did a full shift on the Friday. I did however go to bed at 8 o'clock that evening and slept right through until 5 am, so mentally tired I was not.

5am is a bit early for pre-race breakfast so I drank a couple of mugs of tea, grabbed a flask and an egg sandwich, chucked my kit in the van and set off. It's only a two hour drive from Maidstone so I had enough time to work out my plan for the race ahead. I had a few plans actually milling about in my head so it was only a case of picking which to run. Although I keep the plans simple I think it is important to have one even if you ditch it later on, in my case I tend to ditch early on. Having a pre-race plan is a great tool to get you mentally in the right place. Plan "A" was to run a 3 ½ hr first 25, 4hr 2nd 25, 4½ hr 3rd 25 and 5hr 4th 25. This obviously would have to be a perfect day, perfect weather, fitness, trail, nutrition, perfect everything really. Plan "B" is sub 20 using 4hr, 5hr, 5hr and 6 hour splits. As I didn't know what effect UTMB or the previous weeks work would have my head was saying plan B but my heart was screaming plan A. Given what a poor season I've had trying to achieve various time goals there would be little point holding back for this one so Plan A pb pace it was then.

Check In was great this time round, there was so many people there I knew and it was a pleasure doing the rounds and chatting with everyone. I did sit briefly and chat with Jeff Springford and Lee Kelly while I had my breakfast and deliberated what shoes to wear. There was not much cohesion in peoples view of what condition the trails were in. I had brought my Inov-8 290s for comfort or my Mizuno Harriers for grip. Finally deciding to go for comfort to start with. The format of the race is 4 out and back spurs so you are never more than 25 mile from your drop bag at HQ. This is great because you can travel pretty light. My decision for this race was to have all the mandatory kit on my person but just the most minimal kit I could find. Then I could have more substantial kit in my drop bag should conditions change. The kit  I carried for the race consisted of Ultimate Direction Highline pack with the bladder and padding stripped out, a bottle, both maps, Berghaus Vapourlight hyper smock, a £2 poncho, pair of skins tights which pack so small and I knew I wouldn't wear them, a 180g base layer, lightweight hat and gloves, Silva trail runner head lamp, small hand torch, batteries, tiny £2 compass, equally tiny whistle, 2 gels, iphone, scaps and an emergency blanket. I would not normally race this time of year with so little but given the format and warm weather forecast this was my decision on the day. After getting our kit checked, numbers pinned on and the briefing we were ready.

We had to walk up to the start due to the change in location of the HQ, so we strolled up to the Morrell rooms and carried on chatting. I went to the front for the start, a top 10 was going to be tough today but you might as well stand in the position you roughly want to finish. The rain just started to spit with 5 mins to go, so I composed myself and readied for the task ahead. With a blast of the horn we were off. A quick sprint down to the narrow foot bridge then we could settle into our pace. The top half dozen were off very quickly and a group of about 5 of us settled in to a 7½ to 8 min mile pace. It felt quite fast but not unmanageable.

We were straight out onto the Thames Path which wasn't as muddy as I had expected and I was just about getting grip on the grassy path. Within a couple of miles we reached a pub and three of us shot ahead when we should have turned left. Good job we ended up at the bottom of someone's garden or I would have just kept going. The pace was relentless and we shot through the 1st aid station. I was running with Paul Ali, Peter Bowles and two others, between us we exchanged chat and the miles just melted away. We were about 1/2 mile from the turn when Ed came bounding back along the trail followed not too far behind by the other podium prospects. I stopped at the turn, filled my bottle and sampled some cake. We were heading back.

One thing was for sure, it was hot! I was sweating buckets, I had anticipated a mild race and only wore shorts and a tee shirt but it was un-comfy hot. I suffer a bit with cramping in my legs but during UTMB I was taking scaps and drinking salty soup with no cramp at all. I decided that the cramps must be down to a lack of salt even though I take scaps. So I was taking one every hour during the heat.

One of the best things about the out and back format is you get to see the race unfold at the front and you can encourage all the runners throughout the pack. After many high fives we got back to running the 1st leg. The trail had now turned very slippy due to it being churned up and grip was hard to come by. I dropped back ever so slightly which felt more comfy, I felt I was pushing it a bit too much in the mud. We ran on to HQ and the first leg was done in about 3hrs 40 ish. I got in and decided that I would change to my grippy shoes for leg two. I also creamed my feet while the shoes were off. I took a few handfuls of food and shot off again.

Leg two is without doubt my favourite, it go's along the Ridgeway through South Stoke onto North Stoke and on up to Swyncombe via Grims ditch before returning. I backed off the pace slightly but still had it mind that I wanted the 50 done in daylight and that gave my 4hrs for this section. The run to North Stoke goes parallel with the Thames and isn't very far, maybe 4 mile or so and we arrived there very quickly, I still stopped, filled my bottles and grabbed some gels knowing the next section was 8+ miles. The route is mainly uphill for the run into Swyncombe, going through woods, across a golf course and through fields, a bit of everything really. As I neared the golf course the leaders came back the other way they must of been 8 or 9 miles ahead already. I carried on steadily onto the turn around being passed by the leading ladies in the process.
I had been taking the scaps very regular and eating plenty of gels backed up with crisps and fruit. Something wasn't right though, I wasn't sweating anymore and certainly hadn't peed although I'd been drinking loads. As I wasn't sweating my temperature was rising and my head felt very un-comfy.
I replenished my stocks at the aid station and headed back. Although my head felt like bursting I felt right in the zone a ran like a man possessed. I greeted everyone on the way back and really enjoyed the trail running, really great fun all the way to North stoke. I quickly filled my bottle and ran hard to the half way point. I made it in plenty of time 7hrs 50 ish and daylight to spare.
Instead of rushing through the Aid station I had a to do list and stuck to it. Change t-shirt, change socks, cream feet, fresh buff, fill bottle and eat properly. I did all that and decided to change shoes back to my 290's and I was off again. Roughly a 15min stop, but  I got everything right. I had grabbed a few bits to eat while I started leg 3. I walked up the High st, ate and carried on walking for about a mile. I was passed by a couple of runners but wasn't feeling the need to chase them down, I had a good fifty but didn't feel I had a pb in me on the day so I wasn't really bothered. I did resume my running and ran/walked upto bury down. Usually there is a wicked head wind as you run along the Ridgeway towards Chain Hill but luckily enough there was a cross wind today and it was very runnable, boring but runnable. As I reached the monument on the trail I knew the turnaround was not that far. Up ahead was the aid station, it looked like a spaceship from Close Encounters, lights flashing and all. As I got closer I could hear what at first I thought was SL2's "On a ragga tip" but soon realized it was in fact Prodigy's "Out of Space", a tune that brought back memories of my hedonistic lifestyle circa 1992. The fact there was a giant chicken in the aid station made me think for a second I was back there. Defo time to move on.
I ran back along the Ridgeway smiling and reminiscing about my youth, a happy runner was I. Back through Bury Down and the long slog back to HQ. I was through 75 in 13hrs 21. Happy enough with that but no pb today so I'd concentrate on a sub 20. Another quick cream of the feet and I joined the Thames path for the final leg.
I felt really shitty as I started the leg and really struggled to run right from the off. My hamstrings felt like they were being tightened as I moved and I was lacking energy. My stomach was not playing ball at all, I had eaten about 8 gels and 3 bags of shot blocks during the race and my stomach had had enough. I felt sick! and couldn't get any calories in. Peter Bowles and Peter Hague soon caught and passed me, I didn't care, I'd had enough to be honest. We joined up again in the aid station and walked out heading toward the final turnaround. They both soon started running and I tried to stay with them but I was hurting and just concentrated on run /walking there was no way I was death marching this one out. As I left the Thames to negotiate the housing estate I saw Peter Hague walking around looking lost. Luckily enough I have run through that estate about a dozen times and knew exactly where to go. It wasn't marked at all at the junction (someone must have removed them). We stuck together through that bit and rejoined the Thames. It soon started raining and before long it was hammering down, I put my poncho on which is really a bin bag with sleeves and a hood. The rain continued for a couple of hours and the poncho worked a treat.We chatted for a fair few miles and it soon emerged that Pete was feeling as rough as I. We carried on together and kind of worked out that sub 20 was borderline but I was doing what I could. I felt as sick as I ever have at this point but needed to eat! Energy levels were near zero. Just shy of the aid station I ate another gel, this made me gag, I swallowed it and pressed on gritting my teeth so not to be sick. I turned around at the aid station and headed straight back giving Pete the option to come with me. He agreed and we left together. We were both hurting and made a pact to finish together, we pushed each other all the way back, for once I was glad of some company. As our sub 20 came and went, we finished together in 20hrs 19mins, happy enough with that and another buckle in the bag.
All in all I had a good race, I think the weeks hard work affected my legs in the latter stages but I had kind of expected that. I didn't stop me pushing the pace when I should of reeled it in a bit but where's the fun in that. I really enjoyed meeting up with everyone before the race and making new friends during the race which for me was the highlight on an pretty uneventful race.
Something that really did go well was my feet, no blisters, no maceration, I think I really have it sussed. I used Camphor spray everyday in the run up to the race to harden the skin. The evening before I rubbed Gurney Goo into the soles of my feet as recommended and on the morning repeated that. I have now changed from drymax socks to icebreaker merino wool socks that are far less abrasive. I also reapplied the Gurney Goo every 25 mile and changed socks at 50. Sorted.
So as my ultra running season comes to an end the year hasn't exactly gone to plan. I haven't really performed when I wanted to, each time I stepped up ready to attempt a pb or other goal I've fallen a bit flat. My highlight was definitely UTMB which was a fabulous experience. My low point was the TP100 where after training so hard, losing weight, eating right and generally doing everything perfect I blew up in monumental style. So my attention turns to 2015. I have an entry in for Hardrock but with a 2% chance of getting in I'm not holding my breath. My third entry will be going in for Western States next week. Surely 2015 will be my year for that. I am holding out for HR or WS to be my "A" race next year. I have an entry in the Thames Path 100, In case I don't get in Western States so I have qualifier for 2016. When I find out my fate on the US races I can book up the rest of the season. At the moment if I don't get in either I shall enter Spartathlon but if I do I'm thinking about doing an Autumn Ironman. Apart from that it will be marathons and 50 mile or less ultras.
So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year ;-)

Thanks again to for your ongoing support.

Congratulations to Kyle Blackburn for his fantastic Barcelona Ironman Finish. Well done bud.

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