Finding my first 100 miler – Race Day

6am.  Race Day.  No turning back.  It’s now or never.

The car was full of refreshments and a change of clothes for after, plus all the painkillers you can imagine.  My pack, re-packed for the 7th time was hanging on the back of the chair.  My drop bag, with changes of socks/tops/food, additional first aid kit, additional ‘spare’ food and electrolyte sachets is by the door.

Back in October 2020 when I looked at starting training this race seemed so far off, like it would never come.  Today I complete the challenge I have trained for so hard over the past 11 months.  It all comes to this point.

I’m normally a very nervous runner.  Race day is normally a nerve wracking experience right up to the gun firing.  Today is different, I’m not so nervous.  I guess I have less expectation.  I really am starting this 100 mile race with nothing more than the hope to finish.  30 hours is the cut-off.  It sounds easy enough pace wise, but 100 miles, it’s a big deal.  So there weren’t nerves.  The pre-race period was strangely relaxed.

Race Director Ronnie gave a great briefing, settled many nerves for many runners, light hearted but important information.  

‘There’s a 10K going on in Wellbeck but their markings get priority as they are running a proper race, and this is just stupid!’

8am.  Go …

The first 6-7 miles is a near loop around a few tracks, gravel paths and a stubble field.  This takes us to the canal.  I started easily, settled in with a couple of chaps that seemed to be at the pace I wanted to run, good conversation and a nice start.

Once of those was Mike Scandrett, I would spend almost the whole of the remaining race alongside this seasoned 100 mile race goer.

We soon chatted about expectation and Mike was gunning for a sub 21 Hr result.  I like that idea and felt that sticking with Mike was wise.  Little did I know I would stand shoulder to shoulder with him at the finish line.

I reach Aid Station 1 alongside the canal at around 13-14 miles.  I take an age to get myself sorted.  Mike is in and out like a well oiled machine, I’m fumbling around like somebody hunting for their keys in a suitcase.  A quick lesson learnt, better planning of my kit and packing to be efficient at aid stations.  I got a lot better during the event!!

The Canal was lovely to run along, lovely little hoses, wildlife, a few barges.  A nice trail, and it’s not until nearly 20 miles that I turn to move away from the canal and head towards the forest.

At this point legs didn’t feel as strong as I would have hoped.  They were a little achy and heavy.  This worried me, thinking that another 80 miles might be hard work here!!

The trail then goes through some woods, hits some hillier sections, but eventually brings us into the forest.  At 26-27 miles we reach the drop bags.  The first time round I skip the drop bags.  Refuel, grab. A satsuma (my lifeline for the race) and head out.  

I’m now on the big loop.  2 approximate 30 mile loops through and around the forest.  I hope to complete the first in daylight, but new I would most definitely end the second I darkness.  Each loop started and finished at the drop bags.

Clumber park then honed into view and it is a lovely park.  First loop there were plenty of families out for the day, eating ice cream at the cafe, cycling around.  A lovely privilege to share the park with them on what was a lovely afternoon.

At 31 miles in we each the start of the 10 mile out and back ‘little loop’.  The longest gap without aid stations.

On this rout was the major oak which was fabulous.  Again rolling undulations, nothing huge in the hill department, and many runnable, but there a call needed to be made about whether you do. Run or walk.  We walked most hills, even the slight ones.   This. Was where experience told.  Many of the slight hills I would have definitely run.  Mike’s experience said walk.  ‘If a marble rolls down it, I walk up it!’  It seems drastic, but it works.  We were putting in a real hard march though, often sub 13 minute miles!!  This approach underpinned the event.  

Around 46 miles we reached Cresswell Crags – the areas answer to the grand canyon – what a Fabulous place!!!  Definitely a location I. Would love to return to with my family one day.  Huge history, hugely spectacular place.

Approaching 50 miles are some fabulous trees that appear to have grown out of large rocks, which form the sides of a trailway.  They were stunning in the light and really moody in the dark..

Drop Bags 2nd time.

This time it was a shirt change, top up my nutrition from my drop bag, new cap.  As quick as we could and then out again.  It was still daylight, we were over half way.  And things felt good.

The 30 mile loop for the second (and final time) was a psychological tipping point for me.  The distance run was higher than the distance left.  We were on the return leg now.  That’s a big thing for me.  I always picture it as a point whereby I have turned around and am now heading back home.

We made kept to the Major Oak a second time before we gave in and went to head torches. 

In the dark the atmosphere was great.  It made the terrain hard to judge and probably meant we walked runnable sections.  

82.8 miles final access of the drop bags before the return to the canal to get back home.  Another change of shirt. Some fresh snacks. Cmon we have this in the bag now. 18 odd miles to go. 

Generally the canal return is pretty much the same in reverse of the out leg, but the canal is so cool in the dark.  Safe as long as you are sensible.  The ground was getting damp so things were a little more precarious. We had to avoid the frogs, toads and hedgehogs. 

In the dark and after that distance things seem to tale a lot longer to get through.  Some of the paths seemed to also for ever!!  I’m sure the checkpoint gets bad moved – they of course had not!!!

Final 3 miles from the canal, was a shortened route from the the first 6 plus miles, so from the canal we knew it was less distance.  But we weren’t ready for the ploughed field.  Ankle breaking stuff.  And a little hard to see the route. The very kind farmer who owned the easily ran stubble field had decided today was the day to plough arrgggh!!!!!

After 20Hr and 19 minutes we reached the finish line. It was strangely calm, I expected overwhelming emotion, but to be honest I had gone through that earlier in the day.

I had done it, 102.5 miles, no words could explain how this feels. But a great cup of tea and some pizza from the car certainly helped!

And, to add a little bit of extra excitement, it turns out I finished joint 5th with mike. My first 100 miler and a 5th place finish!! I cannot begin to understand how that happened!!!

Nutrition

The plan was 250 kcal an hour. I pretty much hit this with a mix of the food I took and supplementing with satsumas (a real winner) and coke –  it’s normally my thing but really did the job!

I didn’t eat all my food I took, but the substitution with the coke and juice I think balanced that.  I didn’t feel I struggled with food at all. 

Fluids were good and I mostly took precision hydration electrolytes. Some tailwind and also towards the end some squash. I’d heard about overdoing the salts so wanted to keep fluids moving in but felt I could move away from electrolytes some times. 

Aid Station actions

Here I sucked!! I wasn’t quick or efficient. I found filling my Salomon soft flasks was harder on the go – definitely invest in the wider necked versions next time!!!  I could have really done this bit better. Something to work on!

Gear

All I changed during the event was top, cap and buff. Otherwise my Inov8 TerraUltra G270 hit the spot perfectly. The rest of my gear was:

  • Runderwear anti-blister socks
  • Under armour twin layer shorts
  • Runderwear briefs (merino)
  • Salomon S-Lab NSO t-shirt (52miles)
  • Ronhill tencel t-shirt (30miles)
  • Ronhill everyday t-shirt (20miles)
  • Buffs of all sorts
  • Trailheads caps
  • Naked runner glasses
  • 2XU calf sleeves
  • Salomon 8L hydration vest with 2x500ml soft flasks

Preparation

I taped my feet a little. Using Rock Tape. Mostly to avoid blisters. Heel, big toe and little toe. 

Treated socks with 2 Toms bluster shield powder too.

Body glide on the chest and ribs where I expected the vest to rub maybe after a while. 

Squirrels nut butter for those most sensitive of areas!

P20 sunscreen. 

Mental and physical

About 1/2 way round I was feeling a little bit of a struggle that was probably a little dehydration.  That lasted about 10 miles, but I adjusted my intake and all was good.  I had some salt sticks tabs so used one for a boost. 

I never reached a point of totally hitting the wall, physically or mentally. 

Physically I walked faster than ever and ran steady. I ignored tired legs. Legs that never hurt but clearly had a preference of stopping. I learnt a lot about what more there is to give when you might otherwise think it’s all done. I found the door to the pain cave but only peered in briefly before realising it wasn’t for me.  I ploughed on, legs tired, but mind winning the battle. 

Mentally I felt strong. There were times when I would zone into a focus and although I ran with Mike almost the whole way we would just go quiet and often a gap of a few metres might appear. We had both discussed how we might be when it got tough and agreed that focus, quiet, determination would likely define our tough moments. I was happy that they were really quite minor though. Mentally I felt always in control. I never felt quitting was a reality. 

Recovery

I had 3 small blisters which caused no discomfort. A bit of rubbing from my vest and a little chafing in the ‘rear’ department – thank you the inventor of sudocrem 🤣

Legs ached for 3 days but never terribly. I was back at work on the Tuesday as normal. 

Better next time

Change the soft flasks for wider necked ones.  I lost time at aid stations trying to carefully tip tailwind into my flasks.

Better aid station strategy.  Sharper, better organisation, prep in the years before the station and move away whilst still getting set again.  Standing still isn’t necessary!!

Better drop bag setup for faster movement through the drop bag points. 

Less gear. Or maybe be more aware of the conditions and adjust gear to suit better. I took 5 pairs of socks and never changed once!

Experience

I had the time of my life. It was tough but not as tough as I expected. It was emotional to achieve such a feet. I really learnt a lot from Mike for which I am properly grateful for. 

Most of all I learnt that the Robin Hood 100 isn’t my limit. It exists somewhere else. I just have to try and find it!

What’s Next?

For the rest of 2021 and into 2022 im focussing on shorter distances before then thinking more 100s in 23.  That’s to give me a year of focus on becoming a stronger runner, building a firmer foundation for an attack on more 100s in 2023.

Will I go beyond 100?  Im not sure, the one thing that might limit it is just time.  The training to make the 100 was intense and took a lot of time.  Listening to many, going longer doesn’t mean more training miles, and if I get a bit stringer in the next 12 months I might feel that this is the foundation to keep the mileage in training as it has been, but to the go further on event days.

What I do know, is that I haven’t attempted my last 100 mile race, there are more to come.  I have a taste for what this now.  No other event I have ever done comes close.  

Rea the rest of my story here!

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