Challenge the Wight and the Hampshire Hoppit

The one where I run one of my slowest ever marathons and then run another one even slower 12 hours later…

What do you do when two marathons you like the look of fall on consecutive days, with start times 12 hours apart as the first one is a night race? You enter both of them obviously.

The first marathon was Challenge the Wight, starting at the Needles and running almost the full width of the island to finish at Yaverland. We actually started at 8:45pm as it was a small affair and everyone was getting cold stood around waiting in the wind. The first half of the race is a route I know well and thoroughly enjoyed, although in hindsight probably ran a bit too fast. Most of the hills are here, rolling up and down towards Carisbrooke. Darkness fell around Brighstone but it was still pretty warm.

At halfway I was doing alright, probably looking at just over 4 hours if I maintained pace but with most of the elevation behind me. Then we went up to St George’s Downs, another route I know really well. Along here a car followed me down the track… a bit creepy, it stayed well back though so no worries, possibly just a race marshal. Down and put the back of Arreton and now I was in less familiar territory. I started running with Steve who was struggling with a bit of cramp, I’d overtaken him earlier but he’d caught me back up so we started running together. I say he was struggling with cramp but we seemed to be keeping a similar pace at that point. We hit Knighton (pronounced Kay-nighton) and we’re engulfed in fog, which was a bit annoying with head torches, probably the ghosts.

On the way down the other side of Brading Downs and Steve’s cramp kicked in again. Decision time and I opted to slow down and wait for him; I have no doubt he’d have finished without me and I do doubt I’d have been much quicker without him. From there we got lost, probably did an extra 1km but eventually found our way to Brading and off through the marsh, skirted Culver and plodded down into the Yaverland car park to finish. We collected our medals, said our goodbyes and I drove straight to the ferry terminal, parked up my lane, climbed into the back of my van and fell asleep.

Two hours later and my alarm went off to make sure I was awake to drive onto my ferry. An attempt at a nap on the boat then a 45 minute drive to the start of the Hampshire Hoppit. I was very early so parked in a nearby car park and made myself coffee and porridge (I did have to go and use the race portaloos before registration opened). At registration I found Colin (off twitter) and for chatting, so much so that we started the race together and ran for the first few kms. Any idea I had of a time were long gone, this was just about finishing and trying to enjoy myself.

My legs were feeling fine, I was just tired. At some point we got chatting to some other runners and I went ahead of Colin with a runner called Charlotte who I would play tag with for a lot of the run. It wasn’t long before the tiredness caught up with me and I started to slow (I wasn’t exactly going quickly to start with), Colin came back past me at an aid station as I stopped for some watermelon. I’ve no idea where I was for any of the race but it was generally a lovely day out on a variety of trails. At some point in the second half I was just tired, not so much “exhausted can’t move” tired, more “I would like to go to sleep now please” tired.

Around 35km in and we hit an open slightly downhill section that lasted about a kilometre and it rejuvenated me a fair bit, I wouldn’t say I was fast but I was moving more freely again. A reasonable climb followed it but I was still feeling positive and managed to keep running for another few kms. I’d been warned that the final hill was a tough one so I knew there’d be a little walking left but ran all the way there and actually overtook a few people. At the top of the final hill I lost some of my positivity as the path turned away from the finish, at this point I spotted Colin again going back the other way on the finish straight. He challenged me to catch him up so when I finally turned onto the finish straight I opened it up a little. I was amazed that my legs felt fresh as a daisy and I was actually running properly for the first time all day. I did catch Colin, he was struggling but still moving so after checking in I ran off again to enjoy the finish. There was only a couple of hundred metres left and we came in just under 5 hours.

They were two very different marathons; the first was a low key local affair, the second was a much larger operation. There was no getting lost on the Hoppit, every possible junction had a superbly cheerful marshal to direct you with words of encouragement and often the ringing of a bell. There were goody bags at the end (salt and vinegar crisps are a post race winner) and a free pint in a free pint glass (I poured mine in a flask and drove it home).

I’d originally planned to run them both like the first half of a 50 mile race (around 4 hours but holding plenty back) but ended up running them both like the second half of a 50 mile race (lots of walking and not very fast). Lots of reasons, but mainly I haven’t trained for these specifically, they were just something I threw in at fairly short notice for fun. And now I’ve written that down I feel a lot better about it, sure they were slow but I have to be grateful that my fitness levels allow this sort of silliness without much prep! Suspect I’ll go back to the Hoppit to run it properly one day, it was a good day out.

As always Strava links here for Challenge the Wight and The Hampshire Hoppit.

North Downs Way 50

Six weeks between races is a fairly civilised interval, in theory it allows for recovery, a week or two of training and a taper. In theory. I prioritised recovery initially, lots of cycling and no long runs. Then life got in the way and I couldn’t find the time for training, so my longest run was 10 miles run just after parkrun, although I did get a 5 hour bike ride in one day. I gave up and did a two week taper, week one had similar mileage but little and often, race week was just two looseners.

So I was relying on my South Downs Way 50 training to still be in my legs and carry me along the North Downs too. Given the circumstances that seemed fine and probably the missed runs wouldn’t have added much at this stage anyway. Goals for the day were the same as last time, sub 9 hours, sub 10 hours or at least just bloody finish. Race plan was the same too, half way at 4 hours and hold on, I’d heard the second half of this one was a little tricky.

As always I dragged the family up with me and we got to the hotel at 9:30pm on Friday night. I was in a room with the eldest as she always sleeps through… so obviously she was up for half an hour at midnight. Pre-race sleep is always naff though, so felt fine when my 5:15am alarm went off. Registration opened at 6am and I bumped into Helen on the way in. Once I was ready I headed in for the briefing and got chatting to Lenny, we stayed together for the first couple of minutes of the race before I optimistically went ahead. The start was weird, we were led from the briefing towards the start and then suddenly someone was counting down from five and we were off.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the race, I ended up running with a small group going at my pace for a lot of it. I ran with Ian for most of the early race, he was local to the area so was very useful in keeping me on course. A couple of others ran with us for a good while but left us behind after Box Hill when the going started to get tougher. Ian was struggling but you wouldn’t have noticed as he left me behind heading up the second steep climb. I was feeling fine up to 50km but I was starting to slow down, which was fine, all part of the plan.

Just over 60km and I started to struggle, nothing hurt but I was just tired and I was getting increasingly despondent about my pace. I just couldn’t string a whole kilometre together at a reasonable speed, too many short sharp hills that just sucked the time away. I wasn’t doing the maths but it soon became apparent that sub 9 hours was out the window and that’s when my motivation vanished. I kept moving, I didn’t want to slip beyond 10 hours which I easily could if I wasn’t paying attention, but the need to push was gone. Somewhere in there Gary (of double slam fame) came passed looking fresh as a daisy on legs that did a sub 20 hour Thames Path 100 two weeks ago. He would go on to finish sub 9 hours; I’m a little in awe of his fitness levels!

Not long after the last check point I met Cas (off twitter) who was cheering on runners, I knew she would be somewhere towards the end so seeing her gave me a nice little boost and I finally put together some semi-respectable splits. Until the next hill anyway. At this point I was being passed by the occasional runner but wasn’t overtaking anyone. Then a familiar figure appeared in the horizon and I caught back up with Ian, he was really struggling and was mostly done running so I was very pleased to see him get to the finish not too long after me. Not far from the end I looked over my shoulder and saw Lenny catching me up. It would have been quite nice to finish the race as I’d started, but finally I’d found a bit of motivation to push a bit! Lenny was only behind me because he had the misfortune of catching covid not long after SDW50 (where I think he finished half hour in front of me) and there really was no need to race him but some part of my brain said no so on I jogged. Still got overtaken by someone else but for some reason I didn’t care about that.

I preferred the finish line here to the South Downs, except for having to run past it first and the uphill finish, in a field surrounded by cheering supporters. The kids joined me to cross the line and then we relaxed to watch some other finishers for a while. Across the line in 9 hours 34 minutes and 21 seconds. Not the time I wanted by the right time for me on the day.

Looking back at my splits I was 16 minutes ahead of schedule at the third aid station, just before halfway but by the next aid station I was 6 minutes behind. I only lost 4 minutes in the next section but then I hit those difficult kilometres after 62km and lost nearly half an hour from here to the end. I wasn’t paying masses of attention to my time during the race but this fits with how I felt; good to halfway, ok but a little slow up to 60km and then demoralised as my time slipped. It’s really weird to have finished a 50 mile race and have no strong feelings about it, but there we go, that’s why I didn’t push harder and I don’t feel bad about it.

I struggled with fuelling and nausea last time out but none of that here. I got some food in early on but then eased off more than planned. When I did start to feel my stomach complaining though I had some more grub and it calmed down. I know a lot of people with disagree but it really helped me that it wasn’t that hot. The shade from the trees really helped and whilst I could probably have taken on more calories I had no complaints. This leads me to think early food is good, save the reliance on Tailwind til later on.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to the North Downs Way, the first half was alright, some good scenery and very runnable. The second half has all the hills, which were not runnable (for me anyway) and as my hiking skills are so awful I lost a lot of time there. But that’s not really what put me off, I could train for that if I came back. One problem with the steep hills was the lack of a rest; I was yo-yoing between feeling like everything was relentlessly runnable and wondering if I’d ever be able to run again. The forest sections were great and I really enjoyed them, but it felt like there was an awful lot of road (which I don’t enjoy in an ultra) and it just didn’t feel remote enough, there were constant signs of civilisation and I prefer feeling like I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Next challenge is in a couple of weeks where I run one marathon starting at 9pm and then another one several hours away starting at 9am. Logistics still to be finalised but should be fun. I have nothing long planned then until the next Centurion 50 miler in the Chilterns. As always Strava link here.

South Downs Way 50

Looks like it’s been a while since my last blog, I’ve done a couple of races since then; a decent performance at the Chilly Hilly in December and a disappointing one at the Ryde 10 mile in February. The rest of them time has been spent on a training block for some 50 mile races. I struggled to build up the mileage so started topping up with cycle commutes, but It was starting to feel really good… Then a few weeks ago COVID breached the walls for the second time and this time I fell victim too. Luckily I was only unwell for a few days but it took awhile to bounce back running wise. When I signed up for SDW50 I had my eye on getting as close to 8 hours as possible, I didn’t quite feel like the training had got me there so reassessed to aim for sub 9 hours.

We had to wait til the 7:30pm ferry on Friday night as Sally works til 6:30pm so it was gone 10pm by the time we’d checked into the Premier Inn at Horsham. Worth it to get up at normal time though, 6am start much preferable to 3:45am that would have been needed otherwise. We drove down to the start and I got coffee, registered and did my last toilet stop. Bumped into Jon off twitter for a chat too. As always we had time to spare and entertaining the kids was a challenge; mostly they just wanted to eat. Then it was off to the start line, I had a chat with another fan of bright clothing, Luke, who I’ve seen at two other ultras, and then Helen off twitter came to say hello.

To the race! There was a warning that faster runners should start at the front as it was narrow to begin with. I obviously ignored this as I’m not fast and then for some reason was surprised when the first 3km were two abreast with no room for overtaking. I told myself to chill out, it was uphill and stopped me getting carried away, but 7:30min is a very slow first kilometre. It did mean I got to say hello to Jon again and briefly meet Spencer off twitter, so not all bad. Not long after that I ran with Like for a bit, joking that I was sure I would see him come past me towards the end just like he did at the SDW100 and Isle of Wight Challenge, but he was taking it easy today as he had the Brighton marathon in the morning, prepping for a backyard ultra! Thankfully it widened out before the first downhills so I could open up and cruise past some folks. If you look at my splits at the start you’d say I started far too fast (one of them starts with a 3), you might be right but it felt super easy, my HR wasn’t too high, so I just went with it. I really enjoyed the first 20km to Botolphs and I was running at sub 8 hour pace. I knew it wouldn’t last, after a while I lose that range of motion, but I saw no harm in using it while I had it.

On the hill out of Botolphs I had a chat to a runner who I would play tag with for a while, turns out he’s called Jason and he held on for a very solid sub 9 hour finish. He reckoned everyone’s speed dropped after 20km and he was certainly right about mine. It wasn’t long after this I started to feel sick, I kept it at bay with half a hot cross bun but I could tell my inability to consume food had set in earlier than usual. I was still pretty happy with my pace to Saddlescombe and I was still overtaking more than I was being overtaken, which is nice. It’s a long slog to the next aid station but I got a boost from seeing the family at Jack and Jill’s windmills.

It was starting to feel harder now but nothing unmanageable and I made it to 40km in under 4 hours. I think it was somewhere around here that Lenny from twitter came back past me and we had a nice chat for a while about preserving our modesty whilst wearing colourful shorts possibly designed for ladies, before he leisurely skipped off into the distance. At Housedean I was very pleased to see the selection of fresh fruit on offer and ate as much as I could. Next up was my worst section of the race, not long after Housedean it became a cross wind and I found myself feeling sick, whilst being too hot and too cold, often at the same time. Multiple muscles were threatening to cramp and really I was just concentrating on keeping things ticking over. It felt rough but my pace didn’t drop too much and I was very satisfied to see my watch read 4:59:59 at 50km (my second fastest 50km according to strava). My stomach was still causing issues and I made the mistake of dwelling on it, daydreaming about being sick, which instantly made me feel like I was about to be sick. Lesson learned, I didn’t let my mind wander that way again.

By now I was running purely on tailwind except for aid station fruit so I was pleased to see Southease where more was on offer. Another lesson in mind games here, I’d told myself that when I got to Alfriston, although there were two big hills left I was on the home stretch and I was nearly there. This worked nicely and gave me a boost at Alfriston, but it back fired before that as now I thought I still hand a bazillion miles to go after Southease. I ran out of Southease with Eugene whose GI issues sounded worse than mine but who still outpaced me after a chat. Still he was kind enough not to laugh at me for mistaking a model airplane for a bird of prey. Whilst the previous section had been physically worst, this next bit was mentally the hardest. The family were waiting at Firle Beacon and it was all I could do not to cry. I ran with the kids for a bit which was lovely and left to the sound of Sally ordering me to eat something. I thought about it but just couldn’t face it; I knew I was feeling sick because I wasn’t eating but equally I was convinced I would be sick if I ate something.

Just after this I ran with a couple of really nice runners who gave me the encouragement I needed just then. I don’t remember much after that, I was just trying to keep my head up and willing Alfriston closer. Alfriston came and went, more fruit was consumed and now I was feeling more positive. With the big hills the last two sections were my slowest paced but I knew the end was coming and I felt good. I caught up with a couple of runners at the bottom of the penultimate hill who were part of a group near the front who accidentally cut 3 and a half odd miles out of the course by taking a wrong turning. They’d been given a one hour penalty at the next aid station and were gutted, among their group had been the leading woman as well (she finished 2nd lady but dropped to 7th with the penalty). We had an interesting chat about how to encourage our kids to pick up good outdoors habits then I spotted mine again; they’d snuck in an unexpected third supporting stop. This gave me another burst of energy and I used it to make it look like I was running and it kept me going beyond them. I even had the energy to run again when I spotted a photographer halfway up the hill.

Jevington came and went, I got a tailwind top up but didn’t touch it, just an excuse for a rest really. On the way up the last hill I was caught by Gary off the twitter, he’s doing the double slam so has Thames Path 100 in four weeks, then North Downs Way 50 two weeks after that. Sounds mad but when I saw how fresh and bouncy his gait was as he left me for dead down into the gully (after a quick trig point selfie) I figured he could probably do it. The last I saw of him was sneaking under that fallen tree, squatting down under it nearly did for my legs; they were not prepared for a different movement.

The gully was a bit slippery but not too bad, the worst terrain of the whole course for me was the footpath into town. It was here I contemplated pushing hard to finish but as my calf cramped running through some mud I figured it probably wasn’t worth it. Pretty sure the cramp was just the different movement of running on mud, but I was looking at a comfortably sub 9 hour finish and the couple of minutes I might gain wouldn’t change much. Better not to risk completely knackering myself and impacting recovery before the next 50 miler in six weeks. Still I plodded along at just over 6min/km and was pleased to finally see the track, with the kids waiting. The eldest two joined me for the whole lap and the cheer squad at the end made for the perfect finish. Afterwards I was very pleased to see PBs on strava for every segment I’d run at SDW100 except for the track at the end.

My time was 8:35:23 so I was made up. I still think I have an 8 hour 50 mile in me but not this year. Those 25 minutes were all made up in the first 20km, which for me validates my positive split approach but I might just be kidding myself. Solid start to the slam and a great day out, next up date in six weeks after the North Downs Way.

As always Strava link is here.

Gosport Half Marathon 2021

This one is a race I’ve run before, back in 2019 I ran it in 1:34, going out too fast as always and struggling to keep the pace up for the second half. I’ve not run a half marathon since so this has remained my PB for the distance despite running a sub 90min strava PB last year when I was at the peak of a really good training block but with no races to run.

Obviously I entered again with the aim of repeating this performance and breaking that arbitrary time barrier. Then my ankle and foot started playing up and it became about running a steady race and beating the 1:34 PB. Thankfully after the Newport 10km I’ve been able to add in some more speed sessions and increase the weekly mileage slightly (peaking at 50km so still fairly low). Then my training plan took another hit when I realised the race was a week earlier than I’d thought! I was planning a decent distance tempo run to test the waters but had to sack it off as I didn’t realise my error in time. Then in the weeks running up to the race we had to navigate a series of close COVID calls (all negative so far thankfully) and with less than a week to go I caught a cold…

That’s enough excuses, I’d managed to cobble together some good runs and for the last couple my foot was feeling a lot better. So was sub 1:30 back on? I went back and forth over a pacing strategy, should I got out fast aiming for around 4:10min/km and see if I could hold on, try a neutral split at 4:15min/km or start slower around the 4:20min/km mark to secure the PB?

On to race day and I bribed my wife with the promise of Wagamamas for lunch and dragged the whole family over on the ferry. We arrived in Gosport in good time but parking was in short supply and I had to rush off for a last minute toilet stop. Still made it to the start line in plenty of time, I didn’t have time for a warm up run but foot felt fine so wasn’t overly fussed. The start was super congested, had to carefully shepherd the kids through the throng and to the safety of the pavement beyond the start line then try to find a decent place to start. No time markers meant it was a bit of a free for all.

A short speech from the Gosport Mayor and we were off! The first km felt slow due to the sheer volume of people but it kept me modest and set the tone for the first half. A few spurts between crowds and first km was done in 4:14. So were the next 3 splits. It was all going pretty well; I didn’t realise I’d been going uphill until we went back down again or that there was a headwind until it was a tailwind. The pace felt good and sustainable so I tried to stick to it as closely as I could, and the splits were pretty even for the first 12km.

It’s around this point that you do the loop a second time and now it felt uphill and the wind was clearly against us. No worries though, I let the splits fall back to just over 4:20min/km til it was over and then pushed them back under that as we turned downhill again and back along the front. I couldn’t find the 4:14min/km pace of the first lap but that was fine. 90 minute finish would be very tight, but more importantly this was the pace that felt sustainable. I could feel my form slipping a bit, when it got too bad I corrected it but I know I wasn’t quite as light footed as earlier. But I wasn’t struggling excessively so I just kept plodding along.

I’d planned to up the pace a bit after we left the seafront and then again once we left the loop on the finish straight, which I though was just over a km. I struggled to make up the time lost on the slight uphill from the front and then I had a km to go and I wasn’t where I expected to be. Ah well, time to push and finish with a progressively quicker last km. Always pleased to see the last split be the fastest of the bunch and I was spent across the line. I knew when I saw the 400m left sign that I wasn’t sub 1:30 but I pushed to keep it as close as possible.

A different sort of write up to an ultra, it’s all splits and speeds, but that was the target today. I didn’t really run with anyone today either, there were a few faces (backs anyway) that featured a few times. One chap thanked me for pacing the first few km nicely for him, one lady seemed determined to trip me up with tight overtakes (she finished comfortably in front of me in the end) and “Robbie” ran behind me for a good stretch and must have been cheered on by every single spectator we passed. Entertainingly he finished stronger than I did but when I checked the results his chip time was identical to mine.

So primary aim of a new PB comfortably achieved, knocking 4 minutes off my result from two years ago. Seems I went for a steady attempt at a neutral split but couldn’t quite keep the pace up, despite giving myself a slight bit of wiggle room for a positive split. Secondary aim of sub 1:30 missed by 19 seconds. I’m determined not to be annoyed by that though, could I have made up 20 seconds if I really pushed? Probably, but I ran a strong race, felt good throughout, and really enjoyed myself so who cares? It’s worth noting that my average pace according to my watch was 4:15min/km and my strava half marathon time was 1:29:48. A reminder that watches aren’t 100% accurate and to hit targets you have to give yourself a bit more wiggle room than 12 seconds!

I’m hoping this is the start of the end for my niggling foot and achilles issues and I can enjoy the last month of the year before starting a decent training block in the new year. I do have another race in December, the Chilly Hilly, a local 10 mile race involving some tasty hills. I ran it last year, again after recovering from a foot injury (different injury same foot), so will be looking to see if I can go faster this year. Then 2022 is the year of the Centurion 50 mile slam…

As usual, strava linkie here.

Newport (Wales) 10km Race

I think a lot of people have experienced a race like this during the COVID pandemic. When I signed up I don’t think COVID had even been coined as an acronym yet, 2020 was going to be the spring of the fast marathon. I was starting the training cycle with a fast 10km attempt (that I never ran, ended up transferring my place this summer as couldn’t make the new date) and then on to an intense marathon training plan.

I think you all know how this story goes. First there was the initial postponement without further info as we waited to see how COVID would pan out. Then there was the virtual race offer; I ran two halves back to back that weekend but it was the peak of the first lockdown and running a full intensity marathon just didn’t feel right for me. Then we waited some more… and finally a new date in Autumn 2021. My original target for this was to go sub 3:30 and I got the opportunity to do that at my local marathon last autumn. Could I go faster? Maybe but 2021 was the year of the ultra, I was training to go further not faster and, to be perfectly honest, I’m knackered! The prospect of running a marathon without the time and energy to train properly was not appealing so during my slog across Dartmoor I made my mind up to downsize to the 10km instead.

This is where everyone’s COVID delayed A race stories diverge, did you run yours? Decide it wasn’t as important anymore and give it a miss? I wasn’t going to run my fast marathon on the flat Newport course, but I could finally get a road 10km race under my belt and put a chip timed PB in that box finally. Realising I had nothing longer than a half marathon planned for the rest of 2021 was quite liberating and I loved running fast again and concentrating on better form and structure, rather than distance, distance, distance. Obviously then I got a cold, always do in the autumn. Running didn’t suffer much and I thought I was recovered when I set out for a 20km steady long run, but towards the end I felt full of cold again. Afterwards my feet and achilles hurt, I shrugged it off but the next day I could barely walk. I self diagnosed plantar fasciitis and insertional achilles tendinitis, and started on a reduced running schedule with calf raises daily and some strength work.

Training was now just about moving and stretching out my legs. I started adding in some speedwork again but it was limited to making sure I could maintain a reasonably fast pace, not going as fast as I could. The logistics of getting to Wales were a challenge as well, we ended up making a weekend of it with the family. A good excuse to get off the island, do something different, see some friends and do a little jog. Somehow I managed to forget to take my trusty Injinji toe socks, all I had with me were thick winter socks so I ended up running in a pair of my wife’s Christmas socks… not sure why that’s all she had with her!

My last purchase before the first COVID lockdown was a pair of Nike Pegasus Zoom running shoes, to go with my normal Pegasus shoes and try and help me go faster. Until recently they’d done about 100km as once the races were postponed I used the down time to transition to zero drop. They sat on the floor as a constant reminder and felt like a frivolous waste of money, but now I needed a heel again to rest my achilles and they finally had a purpose again. In a happy little side story they ended up being used on race day in Newport as originally planned and completed their purpose. Now I’d quite like to get back to zero drop though, heels feel weird and unnatural and I’m having to take it easy as I don’t have the ankle muscles to manage them.

We stayed a short drive away from the start and with a 9:45am kick off it was a weirdly slow start to the day. Rain was forecast but thankfully it stayed at a refreshing fine drizzle and didn’t progress into an energy draining downpour. My Strava 10km PB is 39:20, I didn’t think my current fitness would allow me to go sub 39mins but I had been practising holding 4min/km pace and really wanted that 10km time to start with a 3.

I started in the white pen (first starters just behind the elite runners) which was quite nice as even from the start we quickly fell into similarly paced groups. I planned to set out at 3:54min/km and see how long I could hold it. At 5km my watch put me 2secs slower than target, although the chip timing mat put me at 18secs over, and I was feeling pretty good. That didn’t last much longer though, after 6km I started to struggle, my foot was starting to hurt, and the next 3km splits all started with a 4. Weirdly the whole course felt like it was slightly downhill except for the bridge about a km and a half from the start/finish line, which was a slight bump. I took the downhill as an opportunity to get back my stride and carried the pace towards the end, finishing with my fastest split of the race.

I didn’t pay much attention to the time as my watch time started with a 39 and my average splits were 3:58min/km. When the results came through my chip time was 39:49, not as far under 40mins as I had expected but importantly it begins with a 3! I forgot how important those extra few watch metres can be over a shorter distance, no one pays any attention to the final distance over 100 miles but over 10km those extra 70m recorded on my watch can be the difference between a PB and disappointment.

No disappointment here though. I finally have a 10km chip time to call my own proper PB and my Newport marathon saga comes to a happy conclusion. The aftermath doesn’t appear too damaging either, my planter fasciitis has been just a bruised feeling on the sole of my foot for a few weeks now and no significant worsening post race. Equally my tight achilles doesn’t appear any more or less tight for the experience. Now just to see how the next 5 weeks go and whether I can put in a reasonable attempt at another half marathon…

As always Strava link here.

Summer Snowman and The Crossing

Three weeks after my last race and I was back on it. This time for something completely different; a 10km around a nearby farm renowned for being tough (we started by running down a very steep hill and then turning round at the bottom and coming back up again). On the day it wasn’t very summery, it had at least stopped raining but there was still a decent breeze. It was just cool enough that some were debating wearing more clothes, but if you’re cold then you aren’t trying hard enough!

I did this race in the winter of 2019 in an old pair of road shoes as my first ever run off road. This year I was back with trail shoes and a year of trail running in my legs… it wasn’t enough!

As always I went well down the hills but lost time on the climbs, and the climbs were brutal, after a km I think I was in 4th but two ascents that left me light headed at the top found me back in 6th. Then at about half way we had to run across a hill where I struggled on the slant and was over taken again. I wasn’t standing for that and took the place back on the subsequent decent. I pushed down a steady hill and just gave myself enough of a lead to maintain my 6th place at the top of the last hill and the finish line.

For the first time ever after a race my thighs burnt and ached for days, I’m usually not too bad at going fast and easy downhill but some of these were just brutally steep! Would I be recovered by the following weekend to run across Dartmoor? Was I recovered from the last 100km race? Was I recovered from my first 100 miler? Probably not to be honest.

Fast forward to the following Friday night, inside a tent in South Devon laying out my race kit for the next day and I don’t have a bloody survival blanket. I knew there was a pre-race kit check in the morning so figured I was buggered, and weirdly I was quite relieved (and very embarrassed). I called the race directors in the morning and one of them kindly lent me one, so that was a bit of a storm in a teacup, thankfully I was able to return it at the end. At 9am Saturday morning I toed the start line in Belstone and headed on up into Dartmoor.

I really enjoyed the first 25km, but it was taking its toll my legs from the start. Every ground contact required thought as no two steps were the same; there were big stones, little stones, grass, soft grass, lumps of grass, boggy puddles, wet mud, hard mud, rivers, and the occasional road. This race was a similar distance to the Big Way Round I enjoyed in May, but I knew this would be a slower course. At just under 60km I would have loved to have gone sub 6 hours but knew sub 7 hours was a more reasonable target given the terrain and my current fitness (I was on an upwards training curve in May, since SDW100 in June I’ve been on a slow and steady downwards curve). At 25km I saw the family at Dartmeet and then almost instantly knocked my knee climbing over a wall and then had a decent incline that drained my enthusiasm. At that point I’d been in 12th place, the guy in front was within reach and I’d pulled a gap on the guy behind. A lot of boggy terrain and my usual 30km bonk and that changed, over the next 10km I must have dropped 10 places.

Due to the inaccessibility of most of Dartmoor aid stations were few and far between, so when I was having real trouble I was well passed the last proper aid station and the quickest way to finish was to get to the end. Otherwise I think I would have just quit. My running form was shot with the uneven terrain, I wasn’t injured but I had multiple twinges and was really worried running with poor form on uneven terrain was going to leave me hurt. A slight slip or ankle roll here or there just reinforced this.

I just didn’t want it enough. When it got tough on the South Downs Way I eased off but kept going and it never occurred to me to stop, just wasn’t an option. Even going around the Isle of Wight, where I struggled for a bit, stopping was never an option (logistically I could have stopped at any point easily). On Dartmoor my central controller wasn’t happy with the effort and I didn’t want it enough to overrule them.

I think anyone who’s read any of my other blogs can guess how this one was going to end. At some point the bog gave way to some hard packed stone and I started rediscovering my form. Pace wasn’t great and walking breaks were frequent but I was getting back in the groove. At the last water station (just two guys with a lot of bottled water) the rubber behind me caught me up. I hadn’t been overtaken since I’d hit terra firma but had seen someone catching me up, turns out he wasn’t looking to zoom past but figured we were going similar pace so had pushed to catch up. I was happy for the company so happily fell into his run a mile walk a bit routine, hard to tell if it was more or less running than I’d have managed alone but it was definitely a quicker pace than I’d have managed. At the 5 hour mark I’d calculated I needed to do 7km/hour to get in on 7 hours. I was embarrassingly close to that for the first hour but now we were comfortably within the time window. I say comfortably, whilst I was happy to have fairly consistent ground underfoot it was rock (literally) hard and killing the soles of my feet. I don’t think they’d fully recovered from the beating they took on the Isle of Wight Challenge as it was only 7km about 50km in, wouldn’t have been a problem at all in May. So yet again my race had been helped along by a fellow runner.

We were promised the last 9km from the water station was all downhill, and according to Strava it pretty much was, but it didn’t feel it. Then we left the path and took a mighty decent, 125m down in a kilometre, and I was pleased to see I still had some bounce in my step downhill on some grass. Then we hit the road for a plod to the finish and formed a gentleman’s agreement not to race each other for the finish. I interpreted this that we would finish together and forgot all about it when my kids joined me on the finish straight. I ran in carrying the 2 year old, holding hands with the 4 year old and with the 6 year old following close by. Josh kindly eased off to let me finish a fraction of a second in front of him despite my hindrances!

I had a good day out, disappointed by how hard I found it but aware I wasn’t giving it my best. I learnt I need to give myself longer to recover after an ultra race, planning one a month is a recipe for waning performance. Partly because of the recovery time but more because of the lack of running in between; there’s a recovery week, then a low mileage training week, then a taper week, and then race week. I didn’t find it long enough to recover and maintain fitness. I was also reminded that I really need to sort my ultra nutrition out to minimise those bonks! With this in mind I decided not to run a marathon in October (or at all this year) as I don’t have time to do a proper training block and my next target race is a half marathon in November so a marathon a month before would not help. So I transferred to the 10km distance instead; the family still gets a day out and a 10km race forms a good part of a half marathon training plan.

I had nothing to prove on Dartmoor and ended up proving nothing, I ran a steady enough race (finishing 21/94) in the time I set myself, had a nice day out and it helped me decide on my near future running plans.

As always, Strava link here if you’re interested.

Isle of Wight Challenge

The original plan for this race was to build up with a couple of shorter ultras in 2020 and then concentrate on working hard to make this my target race in May 2021. What’s the saying? Men plan, COVID laughs?

My not quite 50 mile ultra in October 2020 took longer to recover from than planned, so training didn’t start proper til the new year. Obviously around then we were well into another COVID lockdown, luckily exercise wasn’t really curtailed as long as you were alone but I did struggle to fit it in and get to the different parts of the route I wanted to practice. All the time wondering if the race would even go ahead… then the road map out of lockdown was launched and all looked like it might be ok in time, but the set up of overnight stays for the walkers wouldn’t be allowed in May so the race was pushed back to July. Sure, you say, extra training time should help. Only you’ve probably read the last blog so you already know I’d optimistically booked a 100 miler in for June.

Suddenly I had to train for my first 100 miler without stepping up to 100km first and then I had to recover within 4 weeks to do the 100km race. I took the week after the South Downs Way very easy, then started adding the runs back in. I was having some achilles tightness and with a busy social calendar couldn’t fit in long runs, so whilst I was running regularly again within 3 weeks the longest I ran was a half marathon and my weekly mileage was around 50km. Good tapering but it didn’t feel like good race prep.

Talking about race prep; I wanted to do this race as it’s around my island; a route I’m keen to do but couldn’t find the time to do as a training run. This should give me a local edge too, right? Possibly, but it also made me complacent and the night before I realised I wasn’t really feeling that ready. The 100 miler was a big logistical operation, I’d treated this one like the local marathon that starts near my house, just get dropped at the start and crack on.

On the start line I was feeling positive, opted to start in my waterproof as the forecast was wet, which obviously was a mistake but not a massive one. The plan was to go out quick, as always, because the first 25km was fairly flat. Found myself flying and running in the top 5, clearly too fast even for my fast start plan, but it felt steady and I was enjoying it so I went with it. The trouble started around 30km when I slowed. This was the plan and my splits were ok in line with that, but I got it my head that I was crashing and going to slowly and struggled to shake it off. Only 2km previously I’d felt on top of the world but now I was right back down to earth with a bump. I was tired too, normally I don’t worry about caffeine in race day, have a little to cover the usual addiction but race day gives me the buzz, not sure if it was that or the really bad sleep the night before but either way I cold happily have stoped for a nap. I plodded along the coast line as the weather cleared, really only cheered when a peregrine falcon flew past a few times then stopped and watched me run past. By the time I hit half way at Chale it was meltingly warm and I was grateful for the biggest incline of the day as it gave me a good excuse for a prolonged walk. Luckily I still had some bounce for the downhills but there were more and more roads and my trail shoes are not cushioned enough for excessive road pounding.

Needles as seen from Headon Warren
It wasn’t quite this clear on race day

It was pounding down these roads that I heard a honk from behind and was relieved to see the family cruise by and pull over down the road. Dad had brought my nephew over to say hello at some point earlier but I was struggling and it didn’t register as much as it should have (sorry!). Not sure if it’s the buzz from seeing them or just the fact that my wife force feeds me (party rings, mango and orange) that helps but I was a new man when I left them. 3 people overtook me whilst I was stopped but I’d caught back up by the next aid station in Ventnor.

St Catherine’s Lighthouse

This begins the third stage of my race, we’ve had the fast start and the hard bit, now was the bit with the people. Two of the people that overtook me where James and Richard, I ran with both of them at points and then together into Ventnor. I ended up running a lot of the race with Richard for company and we ran walked together from Ventnor to Culver, bumping into the family twice more for moral support and more mango. James struggled here with stomach and foot issues but he caught us up again before long. We were run walking now but the walking stretches were getting longer and the running getting shorter. James caught us back up with Jamie, and Charlie who had kindly nipped out to pace him for a bit as he was struggling with a toe injury. We let them pull us along nicely and ran as a fivesome into the last aid station at Oakfield primary school.

Onto the home stretch, 18km of roads. I’d planned to try and catch some time back up here but none of us had much left to give. There was a lot of walking and eventually Richard and Jamie left James and I behind with their insanely fast power walking. At Lushington Hill I convinced James to try a jog, we made it to the bottom and I felt pretty good. James was fine but didn’t have any running left so we said farewell I jogged on. When I caught the other two up we ran together for a bit, again I had more running left so I pushed on ahead. I never finish a short race strong but seem to find something towards the end of an ultra; probably just the thought of stopping soon.

It wasn’t long before the running was hurting again, but then so was the walking as it put different pressure on the blisters I could feel on the balls of my feet. I was counting down the last couple of km though and knew I had enough left to run it home. I was on autopilot now, I knew the area well and just spotted the signs to make sure I took the right route. Finishing along the cycle track is a bit boring, I was just plodding along looking for the next km marker that I knew was due… but it didn’t come. Bollocks. I almost sprinted back in myself the 300m I’d gone past Stag Lane to see the arrows pointing up the hill! The sun was low blaring down the hill and I hadn’t seen the arrows in the glare, so I’d run 600m unnecessarily and now I had to run up bloody Stag Lane. I could see Richard and Jamie (well two people) and had to shrug off the urge to just walk it from there. I know the hill, it’s not as bad as it looks so I sucked it up and kept running.

Again, I was running slower than I could ever dream of running in a training run, proper ultra shuffle at 7-8min/km. Finally I turned into the Agricultural Showground and down to the finish line. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to be there but I spotted my sister, then heard Sally give an embarrassed cheer (she assures me it wasn’t) and then the much louder cheer from Martyn. I was a bit too knackered to be as appreciative as I should have been but it is nice to be welcomed in by familiar faces. I must have been knackered because when Sally jokingly suggested the massage tent I dropped my bag and wandered in… I’ve never had a massage and hate the idea of one, the lady was keen to point out she it wasn’t going to be a full sports massage but it wasn’t so bad. Don’t think it helped though, still hobbled to the car!

I finished in 14 hours, 6 minutes and 53 seconds. A respectable time and slap bang in the middle of my target range, giving me 17th place overall I think. I didn’t get the finish line buzz that I did on the South Downs Way though, overall I was just relieved to be finished and a little deflated. I found this harder than the SDW and yet it’s hard to see why as nothing really went wrong, I didn’t have any big issues to work through, it was just really hard work. I think there were lots of little things; incomplete recovering, low recent training mileage, usual poor fuelling, lack of caffeine, starting too fast, too many roads pounded in trail shoes, etc. Ultimately though I think I just underestimated it and let myself get stuck in my own head when it started to hurt. I seem to rely on Sally a lot to get me out of these funks, might need to do the next one without her to test myself further, which isn’t an immediately appealing prospect but that’s kind of the point.

Apologies, lots of words and no pictures for this one. I decided not to bother with photos as I’ve seen it all before, turned out to be a mistake as my phone decided to disable itself bouncing around in my bag and I had to restore it from factory settings to get it working again. I dug out a couple of photos from training runs to spice it up a bit. One more shorter ultra across Dartmoor in August and then I’m concentrating on shorter, faster stuff again for the rest of the year. Maybe.

As always, Strava link here.

South Downs Way 100: The Aftermath

I wanted to blog a bit about what went well and badly along the South Downs Way and thought a separate blog would be better as the other one already felt quite long. I’m not sure how I feel about running another 100 mile race at the moment, but if I choose to this might be handy to refer back to.

Overall my race went pretty smoothly, sure I struggled in the heat, but I didn’t have any other major dramas and managed to shuffle on and on. It’s easy to gloss over that, but it must mean I got something right in my training. I didn’t hit massive weekly mileage (probably averaged 80-100km a week) but I was consistent and doing a 100mile four day weekend and a 50mile training run definitely helped my confidence. I was surprised not to struggle more mentally, especially in the heat of the day, but I seemed to adapt quite readily. I think it would have been a different story if I was looking down the barrel of another morning in the heat, but who knows. At no point did I feel like I was picking up an injury, I was just tired. Another surprise was not getting any blisters, my shoes had been tight when I bought them and the left was still very snug. I taped over the main rubbing point and that seemed to do the job.

Probably the lack of blisters was down to how dry it was, but that heat obviously brought its own problems. In hindsight I should have been topping up the aid station tailwind to make it more concentrated. I didn’t plan to as I thought it would lead to taste fatigue with it and leave me without liquid calories; I always struggle getting solid food onboard even when it’s not hot so knew I would need tailwind throughout. The weaker tailwind left me lacking in electrolytes though, or at least that’s my assumption given the cramping issues I had from midday onwards. I was aiming for 200+ calories per hour and hit it over the first few hours but as soon as the midday heat kicked in I couldn’t stomach more than a few pieces of fruit now and became almost entirely reliant on tailwind. Need to carry more fruit next time (if there is a next time).

My other problems weren’t really problems, more just training gaps for the future: hills and stamina. I walked hills in training but I’ve always approached them like I’m going for a walk, need to practice hiking with a bit more purpose. Stamina will just come with time. I was assessing my body and my form through the night and nothing hurt, my legs just didn’t have the energy and range of motion to give me any bounce. Something to work on for the shorter ultras I have planned for the next few months.

Kit wise again everything went well. I wore a pair of Inov8 Terra Ultra G270s and loved them. For background I’m a barefoot convert under COVID; I stopped wearing work shoes and then found after a few months they didn’t fit anymore. I have super wide feet and wear barefoot style shoes, if any. I even run in barefoot style shoes sometimes, but usually stick to zero drop with minimal cushioning. The Inov8s are a bit narrow for me but perfect as far as cushioning goes and my feet didn’t hurt at all after plodding on hard chalk for the whole day. I’ll take the feel of the ground over excessive cushioning any day. I had the LEDlenser MH10 headtorch and it didn’t miss a beat. Kalenji pack, soft bottles and visor from Decathlon all did their job perfectly as well as being cost effective. I saved a new pair of Injinji toe socks for race day as I love the feel of them new and I’ve find them essential for stopping toe blisters with the tightness of the Inov8s. I don’t think you can beat Goodr sunglasses for running and general life, they aren’t super expensive and they are good quality, and now they do a slightly bigger range for those of us with massive noggins (my wide feet are probably needed to support my big ole head on my otherwise skinny frame!). On my wrist I had a Garmin Forerunner 945; I chose this because it has all the features of the Fenix 6 without the price tag. All the features that is except the battery life of the 6X Pro. I turned off Bluetooth, left the chest strap at home, turned off heart rate tracking after half an hour because it’s not reliable enough to be useful and didn’t use maps (although it was there ready to load if needed). I finished with 13% battery after 23 hours so seems unlikely it would have lasted the 30 hours advertised. Still I love my watch and the stats it gives me, but to be honest I barely looked at it for this run. Just to tick off the kilometres to the next aid station or crew stop.

One of the things that I noticed was virtually no one I spoke to on the way round was enjoying themselves, not that they were all miserable, quite the opposite, we were just all questioning the sense of running so far. One of my reasons for doing an ultra was to see how I coped when things got really hard and I can’t decide if that happened or not. In the heat of the day I was broken, a lot of the time I just pushed forward in a daze, should I be proud that despite all that I managed my problems and kept going or slightly disappointed that it wasn’t quite as hard as I’d expected? I did learn that I don’t really enjoy being broken, funny that eh? I think that’s one of the main reasons I’m not rushing out to book another 100 miler.

Another consideration for doing another race this long is the cost and the logistics. I think it was in the region of £500 to do this race, with entry fees, travel costs and accommodation. My 3 kids all got up at 4am two days running and my wife barely got any sleep over night. I also dragged my in-laws over to help out with childcare and supporting my wife. That’s a big impact on a lot of people just so that I could go on a bimble. And yet one of the nicest things about it was that they all seemed quite keen to help out and that the family almost seemed proud of me. On Monday the 6yo took in photos from the weekend for show and tell at school, probably just because it was a fun weekend but I like to think part of it was that she was proud of what I’d done.

It’s Wednesday morning now, over 72 hours since I finished. I did some yoga a minute ago and that’s the first exercise I’ve done so far other than walking. I’ve had no major post race issues, although I’m not ruling anything out until I’ve been for a couple of runs. My left big toe has that tingling, numb sensation and my shoulders hurt, plus my right achilles aches but that’s a recurrent on and off issue. Foot oedema is slowly resolving and the general post run aches have eased significantly. My appetite didn’t come back straight away, although I’m very glad I finished early enough to catch a couple of hours sleep in our AirBnB on Sunday morning as that helped settle my stomach a lot. I was completely plant based in the few days before and after the race, which I think helps, I’m normally mostly plant based just having dairy once a day so not a big shift. I’ve avoided alcohol for the week before and after as well, I don’t always avoid it after a race but with hydration like it was I didn’t want to push my luck. All in all fingers crossed to be recovered and fighting for again for my 100km race in four weeks!

As always Strava link is here for anyone interested.

South Downs Way 100: My Race

4am and the alarm goes off in our Premier Inn room. All five of us have been asleep since 8pm as it was the only way to get the kids to sleep. I get dressed and we bundle sleeping children into the car and head off. I love an early run but this feels like a bad way to start a run so long you’re pretty sure you won’t sleep that night…

In the car park and we end up parked next to another couple of runners from the Isle of Wight. I knew them via Strava and Facebook so said hello, then headed off to start as the kids were awake and keen to see me off. I knew I’d see them again when they would inevitably overtake me later on.

Number collected and pinned on (tough job on a nervous start line with hands that have just applied sun cream), tracker attached and off I went. The first bit of the race is a double loop so a nice opportunity to get going and run past the family, although I spent most of the time grumbling at my watch for not telling me the right heart rate. I rage quit wrist based heart rate tracking and chose to run by feel; I knew this would probably be the case as I normally run with a chest strap but still risky changing something on race day.

My plan was to go out fast (relatively speaking); the forecast was for highs of 23 degrees so I wanted some distance behind me before it heated up. Really enjoyed that first bit, I was overtaking people (knowing that I would see many of them come back past later on) and feeling good. First 10 miles averaging sub 6min/km and barely stopped at the aid station (sorry Jon!), second 13 miles averaging just over 6min/km and again just stopped to fill up on tailwind. I’d planned at least 200 calories per hour, mix of liquid and solid, and so far so good.

The next few miles and I slowed a bit and had a little dip. No biggy, I always have a mini bonk around 20 miles so I’d held on better than expected and it was mainly due to some hills and the aid station being a kilometre or two further than expected. Not that I stopped for anything other than more tailwind as Sally was a mile up the hill waiting at the first crew point. I was walking but when I realised the crew point was there I started a slow jog so as not to look lazy. Can of Coke, few bits of fruit, hello to the kids and on I went. With a telling off for arriving far too early.

It wasn’t long after that Ian and Dan (fellow islanders from the start) caught up with me. Ian was looking really strong but Dan was struggling with an injury, they caught me walking up a hill where Dan could still keep up but we left him behind not long after we started running again. I ran with Ian for a while from there and we were joined by another couple of runners I didn’t know (Andy and Gavin), I’d run briefly with Gavin earlier on but left him to take a picture while I enjoyed racing off downhill. We ran together down into Cocking where I unexpectedly saw my aunt and her partner, which was a nice boost. I ran out again with Ian who had been told by his crew that Dan was struggling and planning to DNF (he recovered really well and powered past me later on, only to have to DNF later on with GI issues). We ran together for a bit from here, Ian keeping me very honest until I just couldn’t keep up any more. Andy stayed with him and I think they ended up finishing together, but by now it was hot and I was starting to struggle. I was getting cramps in my calves and groin when I was running, Gavin was kind enough to lend me a salt tablet and I increased my electrolyte intake but I would struggle with this for hours.

I think it’s about 12:30pm now, I’ve been going for 7 hours and I’m melting. The next big hill saw me walking with Vladimir, a very experienced ultra runner frustrated by a knee injury (he would DNF at Washington). I made it to Kithurst Hill more or less on time with my ambitious schedule (I was half an hour up at the first crew point) and was very happy to see the 4yo had a Calippo for me. A cup of strong electrolyte mix, bottles refilled with stronger Tailwind and a little bit of fruit again saw me on my way. By now my groin was cramping when I was walking up hill and when I ran. I’d given up any hope of a sub 24 hour finish, but was still weirdly confident of a finish. It just became about managing the heat as best I could and moving forwards until it cooled down a bit and I could recover. I’d given up trying to get rid of the cramps in the heat, but as long as I kept moving I hoped I would recover later on. I was barely eating anything but I was still taking onboard tailwind, although I’d completely lost track of how much I was pretty sure I was behind on calorie intake.

I didn’t stop at Washington but immediately about turned and went back up the hill to meet Sally again at the crew point. Again I could only stomach fruit and got extremely jealous of another runners mango. It was 4:25pm now and hopefully starting to cool down but not enough for me. At Botolphs I had my one and only sit down, just for a minute or two, I was so fed up of the sun and the seat was in a tiny bit of shade. Into Saddlescombe and they had blackcurrant squash on offer! I had a cup and it was easily the nicest thing I’d ever drunk, so I had a second cup and it tasted naff. I’d given up on food for now so more tailwind and off I went. Not far up the hill and I came across Fraser (mango man) really struggling for energy, he rallied and got up but I left him sitting down again not long later. By the time I got to Clayton Windmills, 70 miles in and 8:30pm at night I was done in. I stopped for quite awhile, had a little cry hug with Sally, changed into a dry t-shirt and finally headed out. I was pleased to see Fraser arrive not far behind me and leave before me, I would later learn that orange juice had been his saviour.

Foolishly I asked Sally how I was doing for time and she pointed out I was pretty much bang on schedule and I worked out if I maintained my cramping slow pace til the end I would just break 24 hours…

From here there was a lot of walking uphill and slow jogging down hill. It was cooling and I was slowly getting less cramp, there were some spectacular views and an amazing sunset. I was running with a few different people at this point, some as they came past me and some as I went past them. One particularly chipper chap skipped past me and when I caught them back up I realised it was Dan Lawson. I followed him for a bit and as it started to get dark I ended up running behind Alison who had her torch out already (much better prepared than me). I felt bad following her down the hills but she was pulling me along at a pace that felt faster than I’d run in hours (sub 7min/km) and I did ask if it was ok. We briefly stopped together at Housedean and headed out and walked the following hills together. I was feeling a lot better now and had shrugged the cramping horror of the day off and was feeling good. By the time I’d reached the next decent downhill I’d left Alison behind and run past a few others as well.

At Southease I was still feeling alright and walked up hill to Firle Beacon with Karen. It was gone 1am by the time I met Sally at the last crew point and I was feeling good. I’d managed to eat a little bit since I last saw her and I was feeling positive, still running pretty much bang on target time but wasn’t confident of the sub 24 hour finish. My timidness about pushing for my ambitious target time turned out to be a mistake.

From here on out I was running solo til the finish. It was dark and occasionally foggy but credit to Centurion for course markings as I didn’t feel lost once. There was 20km and two aid stations left, two decent hills but some very runnable sections too. I wasn’t fast running but I didn’t need to be, I’d done that at the start, now I just needed to keep running and I was looking good. The hill out of Alfriston felt like it went on forever but whenever it was runnable I made sure to get my ultra shuffle on. Alfriston appeared earlier than I expected so I checked with the volunteers how far it was to the end and realised my Strava was very likely to show just shy of 100 miles. Sub 24 hours was very much on.

Those last 14km or so took me just over two hours. On the way up to the trig point I tried to call or text Sally to tell her I was nearly there but my phone wasn’t working properly and my muddled brain tried to send a text via Siri (but I couldn’t get it to make sense) but didn’t think to just use Siri to call her. Wouldn’t have mattered, she was 40 mins away and I was slightly closer. I’d heard the gully down from the trig point was slippery and tough but it was fine, it’s not like I was up to powering downhill at this point so taking it easy didn’t matter much, I still ultra shuffled more than I walked.

I made a determined effort to run the last couple of kilometres on the roads to the finish, they felt like they went on forever but that’s probably because my running pace was only just under 9min/km! I knew I had sub 24 hours in the bag by now but I wanted to run it home. Last time I’d seen Sally I’d said I’d be lucky to finish around 5am… here I was running round the track at 4:24am, so I was not at all surprised to find I’d got here before my family. Sally had woken to her alarm at 3:45am as planned and rushed 3 children and her dad into the car to try and get to the finish on time but it was an impossible task. Everyone was so tired that we didn’t really mind, I can’t imagine the kids would have had the energy to run the finish with me anyway.

I finished in 23 hours 9 minutes and 3 seconds and collected my “100 miles – One Day” buckle as a reward.

P.S. Sorry but I couldn’t remember everyone’s names or really what you all looked like, names are my best guesses after looking at some of the official race photos.

Big Way Round 50km(+)

Racing in 2021 got off to a delayed start for me today. I’d been hopeful some local races might go ahead after the March lockdown relaxation, but every event has now been rescheduled for one weekend in June. Ok, a slight exaggeration, but a four week period now contains 6 races I had entered/planned to do. The first one is my first 100 miler so the rest are very much dependant on how that goes.

This weekend should have seen me running around the Isle of Wight for my 100km target race for the year. It could have run but they opted to delay until July; they’re priority is to put on a good, full event that all can attend. I see their point but being selfish I’d have much preferred the original date! I hunted around for other similar distances I could do, there was one in Devon but the logistics weren’t manageable (yes I’m aware of the irony 😜). Hence I ended up in Winchester, running a “50km” race.

One of the things I haven’t got my head around with trail races yet is their loose relationship with distances. If a road race says it’s 50km, then it’ll usually be 50km precisely, trail races are happy as long as they’re close. It doesn’t matter much, times between races aren’t really comparable anyway as so much depends on terrain and conditions, just catches me out. This will become more relevant soon…

Race day (Early May bank holiday Monday) arrives and I’m up at 3:45am for the 4:30am ferry. It makes me over an hour early but the alternative was to risk being late and my pre race nerves would not tolerate that. I’d agreed to meet up with a fellow runner from twitter before hand, we had a chat and ambled to the start line. I wished him luck running on his probably hairline fractured toe and set off fastish, making the most of the flat even terrain through town.

I had a plan you see. I’d studied the course on Garmin and the elevation plot suggested I was going to struggle around the 30km mark as the course got very lumpy (yes I’m reading Damian Hall’s new book too). This is my usual mini-bonk territory anyway so I figured I’d go out hard and try to make up the time I would lose in the hilly section. The last 10km looked fairly downhill so I’d try and regain some time there if my legs were willing. There was some twitter debate in just how lumpy the course was; Garmin had it at 500m gain but OS had it nearer 900m. I’m quite relieved I had a bit of foresight that Garmin might be wrong, otherwise the 910m gains might have been too much of a shock to the system!

The first 20km went perfectly, I worked through the fleet with a steady 5min/km average for the first 10km then flew through the next 10km at nearer 4:30min/km. At one point I think I was running in a small group with only one or two runners in front of us. One of the runners with me was doing the marathon, but had accidentally taken the turning for the 10km additional loop that made it an ultra. He was absolutely flying and decided to just crack on with the ultra distance instead. I thought the split was relatively well signposted but people in glass houses and all that…

After 20km the course flattened out and I couldn’t keep up so I let them go (I would later pass one of them). I managed to hold my pace and my place until 30km and the hills arrived. At this point I started running with a chap called Simon and we ran fairly close to each other to the finish. Predictably I struggled with the hills, I ran what I could and walked the rest; no shame in an ultra I know but I was hoping for a decent time (for me). When the incline switched to a decline I couldn’t find my previous downhill pace but I was happy with how it was going. I didn’t push too hard, saving something for the last 5km.

Piece of advice here, if you put the course on your watch to follow pay attention to those bings it makes. One of them could be to tell you that following the group in front isn’t the right way to go… The course route was already over 50km at 51.8km, after my detour around a golf course (much to the disgust of the golfers) I managed to make it 53.7km. The wrong turn occurred with about 7km to go, just as I was preparing to wind up a bit for a quick finish. I still pushed into an uncomfortable pace for the last few km but my legs had wasted that little reserve I’d been saving. Who knows how many people went past while I was playing golf (looking at the results probably two people), it doesn’t really matter, just means I can’t gauge how my run was compared to others.

Cheered through an inflated arch. Bliss.

Still, I’m not disappointed, all part of ultra running fun right? I crossed the finish line in 4:46:04, 10th place overall and 4th senior male. I’ve never raced 50km before so my Strava PB is from the first 50km of my 47 mile race along the Thames last year (4:56) and this smashed that. My 50km Strava PB is now 4:26:55 which I’m very happy with.

As always; Strava link if you’re interested.