NDW100 report

TL;DR - I finally finished a 100 mile race!

OK apologies for the ridiculously long write up, but I ran 100 miles, I think I can be excused for rambling.

If you can learn from others mistakes, then I should be able to provide ample material for a degree level education in ultra running.

This was to be my sixth attempt at the 100 mile distance - completely ignoring the advice of WC Fields - I was trying more than just again and again.

Each time I'd failed I thought I'd figured out what I needed to do the next time. A brief whistle stop tour of my previous attempts and reasons for failure (not forgetting a random scattering of other endurance events, Ironman triathlons and injuries interspersed along the way) were:

2012 - NDW100 (50m)

This year there was a dual 50/100 run, so the temptation to stop at the halfway point was just too great, I simply decided I'd had enough and 50 was good enough for me.

2014 - NDW100 (66m)

Back and determined to crack it. Ground to a halt at 66 miles with pains down both legs, again decided I'd just had enough.

2015 - A100 (43m) 

Unsure of the ground conditions, made a shoe choice error with grippy, minimal shoes, and accidentally forgot to pack the 'comfy' shoes I was going to switch to if needed. Sent frantic messages to my 'support crew' but by the time we linked up I couldn't put weight on the soles of my feet. Cue sniffling sobbing wreck.

2016 - SDW100 (86m)

This was to be it, nutrition sorted, training sorted, head sorted, um, 200 mile bike ride the week before in Wales - just plain stupid. Hit 86 miles and simply couldn't lift my feet off the ground. Sat for a couple of hours at the aid station trying to work out if I could just shuffle to the finish. Saw sense. went home humbled.

Something needed to change. 

I got in touch with Centurion and organised some coaching with the amazing Edwina Sutton, way too much to go into here but we came up with a plan and a timetable, everything went well and I lined up for the A100 later that year feeling fitter and more prepared than I had ever before. I'd never been so organised before a race, I do have a habit of generally 'winging' things but this time I'd worked out my nutrition timings, drink amounts, pacing and everything else. What could possibly go wrong?

2016 - A100 (57m)

Best laid plans and all that. Unmitigated disaster! Felt unwell at the start, dodgy stomach, couldn't keep any food down/in. All of the nutrition timings, er, down the toilet as it were. Just got weaker and weaker as I went along, tried an industrial dose of Imodium, Gatorade and pretty much every other remedy available at the midway point, but 8 miles up the Ridgeway the lights just went out. I felt like hell, was completely drained and just demotivated.

More soul searching time..

Ok this time it was probably simply just bad luck and timing. But what did I really want, and how was I going to get it? I'd managed to hit several of my goals along the way but with a job, two kids and a very understanding wife I really needed to focus on just one thing. Up to now I'd been attempting Ironman races, marathons, ultras, cycling and off road races all at the same time mostly with pretty decent results.

So 2017 was to be a running year, give up on Ironman for a bit since my swimming was holding me back (I'd also been injured in 2015 in a hit-and-run and my shoulder now ached swimming, making it even less fun). The sole focus for the year was to hit a desired marathon PB, with two bites at the cherry in spring at Brighton then London two weeks later. The plan, try once - if it didn't work - try again. If it did work, then just try something different. Boy did it work. PB and target at Brighton, then pressure off and the same at London with the best (and easiest) marathon I've ever run. Now what?

As for ultra running the 'plan' in the year was to just do my own thing and take the pressure off. I'd still do distance running but just for fun, I'd go out on my own and run 50+ miles unsupported but with no pressure on a date or time. If I didn't feel up to it or not quite right, I'd skip it. If I felt good, I'd get up crazy early (3am) and get a long run in without taking out an entire day.

..and it felt awesome. I had some amazing and beautiful runs with many memorable moments that I wouldn't have had in an organised race. One highlight running through a whole family of Badgers at 4am, another the opportunity to run 26 miles off road with my 15 y/o son at the tail end of a long run.

I learnt a lot about my body and how it felt and responded simply by having no-one but myself to get
me through to the end... and often no specific 'end' anyway I just ran until I ran out of time or had something else to do or my wife located a road crossing the trail I was running down and intercepted me.

And then..

and then an email appeared in my inbox, Race To The King - entries still available for the following week. Ooooh pretty, running up the SDW in the 'wrong direction' and I knew I could do 50 miles. Why not? I do like racing after all.
So. the 'plan'. :) Just go for it. Run as fast as I thought I could manage and see what happened with the benefit of aid stations. Apart from getting to the mid point before the hot food was ready (I'd been looking forward to it and had been craving all morning) it went well and was interesting to experience and see how my legs responded and at what point I couldn't keep up the punishing pace (just a bit before the end as it turned out).
File that one away in the lessons learned memory bank. [Strava]

and then..

and then a space opened up on the NDW100 wait list. OK yes, I had put myself down just in case I changed my mind about trying an organised 100.... and then a space opened up on the A100. :) OK. new plan. Let's have another go at this 100 target. I was pretty sure I *would* have managed it at the ill-fated A100, and I had no other race distractions, I knew I could do 50+ miles with no trouble at all... so game on.

So here we are again..

So here we were again. August 5th 2017 in Farnham. Rested, hydrated, prepared and feeling good, and relaxed. Too relaxed? I didn't care, I ambled to the start and positioned myself towards the back. I didn't stress about the start, I didn't bother worrying about the pace, I just set off gently and settled into a nice steady slow trot. The goal for the day finish - secondary and less important goal try to go at a sub 24 pace.

Initially nutrition and hydration planned and organised, going well. Some minor aches and pains in one knee that seemed to be getting more impact with the slower running pace, but a minor style adjustment seemed to sort that out.

My support team, aka wife - Cara, and kids - Oliver and Hugo were supposed to be taking it easy and then meeting up with me at Reigate then Knockholt and at the crew points from then on. I was still knocking out my steady comfortable pace and feeling good. Minor trouble was peeing blood from about mile 10!!  but this just happens to me sometimes, I have had it checked out (very) thoroughly in the past and the conclusion was there's nothing to worry about and that "it looks worse than it is because only a little blood dilutes into a lot of water". The problem here though was I had no idea how hydrated I was, especially with the odd weather, so I just upped the fluids slightly just in-case, albeit now stopping more frequently to relieve myself and so also upping my salt intake slightly.

Apologies to the marshals crewing the water table at Newlands corner, but shouting at me to step away from the table; I'm going to do exactly that immediately, without checking whether I'm going to step backwards into a pile of coke bottles! I think just a miscommunication and it looked like they were getting a bit stressed at the time with the influx of runners, anyway no harm done and I apologised profusely.

Still feeling positive and trotting onward to the stepping stones with the most dispiriting diversion ever devised through the underpass. Perhaps for next year some cheerleaders or handfuls of Haribo to take your mind off the fact the aid station is so close, and yet so far away? (actually yes, forget the cheerleaders, just the Haribo please). Quick top-up and onward, looking forward to seeing the troops at Reigate. Just a little hill or two first. But I actually enjoy the box hill steps there's a mad cheering crowd at the top.

I noticed that some route marking had gone missing around Pebble Hill so started sending in the occasional tweet into the Centurion team when I noticed something like this, no idea if this was useful or they could do anything but it felt good and gave me something to do.

Before long it was the long climb up to Reigate (another one I actually enjoy) and time for some family time, the car boot was filled to the brim with a whole range of snacks and drinks, and a couple of bottles of beer (0%) as my arm went in their direction I was advised they were for the end. Oh well. Apparently I looked really good but I still had a moan about going so slowly and how it felt hard on my knees. I felt a bit bad that I simply didn't feel like any of the snacks available but had a hug switched shirts and pressed onwards.

Arriving at the church in Merstham, I ran directly into the middle of a wedding group just lining up for photos! The entire path and way out of the churchyard was filled and blocked with guests, bridesmaids and someone in a big white dress. Deciding this probably wasn't the time or place for a discussion about rights of way, backtracked down went out to the road, back up to the crossing and over again. Sending another quick note into the Centurion team.

All of this section is my "home turf" so I was sort of running on auto-pilot from Reigate on and just ticking off the miles.

Caterham next.

ICE CREAM! They had ICE CREAM! No spoons but who cares? ALL AID STATIONS NEED TO HAVE ICE CREAM! This was amazing. Thank you. Forgot to mention there had been a thunderstorm a few moments earlier and I was switching between wearing and removing my jacket every few miles, unsure whether it was actually keeping me dry or just slowly having a boil-in-the back effect on me. I think I was trying to explain this to someone who'd made a throw away comment about being dry and I realised that their eyes had glazed over and they were backing away from the raving nutter.

Next surprise, met ultra-runner Dave Stuart and his kids (sorry I've completely forgotten their names!) out supporting halfway down the 'staircase' from Gangers. By chance, taking an unusual route, I'd unexpectedly bumped into him as I commuted into work on Thursday morning and mentioned I was running. It's amazing how great a surprise sight of a friendly face can make you feel.

Botley Hill...

Roast potatoes and dipping salt! Awesome! ALL AID STATIONS NEED ROAST POTATOES AND SALT. :)

Feeling good still, Knockholt next on the itinerary.....

but then..

Running up through the narrow overgrown section before Park Wood I put my foot down into a hole, it slipped sideways and folded under, I buckled and crashed into the brambles. I'd joked about coming out here with my strimmer in the week - I really should have done. OK quick assessment, walk for a bit, minor scrapes, ankle hurts but still seem to be able to run. More annoyed than anything. Arrive in Knockholt decide to switch shoes, forget to collect running poles that I was planning on switching to at the mid-point. Never mind, will switch back later. Hoover up a random selection of food and drink and press on.

Now we have some evil evil nasty climbs, I can't recall the exact locations but I was cursing myself for not picking up those running poles.

Running through Otford I don't spot a doorstep protruding into the footpath and kick it full on. Oh. AAAArgh. Several swear words, but it's just a right toe and it now distracts me a bit from the steadily increasing pain in my left ankle.

More evil climbing and meet the team at Wrotham, have a good moan, pick up sticks, swap shoes back after deciding they were a mistake. Apparently I still look great. I'm not so sure, but I take their word for it. This is the last point I'll see the kids as they're off to bed so they get a hug and I press on.

Now my memory of the sections from here starts to get a little woolly, I'm getting tired and I've worked out I can shift my weight onto my toes to ease the pain in my ankle and start really working the running poles with my arms.

I must have been at the Holly Hill aid station but I can't remember, I just remember shouting at the runner in front of me a few times because he kept turning in the wrong direction, and then crossing the M20 bridge.
I was starting to have all sorts of weird thoughts at this point, reading the Samaritans signs and getting all a bit morose....

Some yoofs..

but then just on the other side, a hatchback car full of "yoofs" screeches to a halt, uh oh, lad shouts what are we all doing, I give a brief precis of our quest to which there are various unprintable, but complimentary and impressed replies! Car screeches away. Heh. Now I'm smiling.

Bluebell Hill finally closes in, again I shout out to a group of three some distance ahead that they've missed a turn, and more snacks - I start demolishing the provisions in the support car and get an update on my pace (apparently 24h is still possible at my current pace), but I'm not actually interested in the pace at all I just know I *am* going to finish and that I'm definitely not going to hit 24 hours. I know how much my ankle and now leg hurts and that I've had no choice but to walk several times and that I'm certain to need to do this more often from now on.

A pattern emerges as I moan that the last section was the worst so far. :)

Now I get thoroughly disheartened each time I need to slow to walk, although I'm still progressing forwards. The only times I'm really angry is when I find I need to stop completely and try stretching/rotating my leg to ease the pain.

It's horrible to say this but one one or two occasions I pass someone who's stopped and it gave me a boost that I was still managing to run... I console myself knowing that every time I always uttered some words of encouragement and I hope that anyone who passed by me when I was walking along got a boost.

Over the footbridge to Detling the marshal notices that I haven't crossed the timing mat (I wasn't going to go into the station) and makes absolutely sure I remember to do so before continuing on. Ta.

The short gaps between the aid and crew points now are really welcome and it's so easy to tick of the final sections mentally into manageable chunks, in my head I'm equating them to distances I run at lunchtimes. OK next it's just the Victoria park run etc.

At Hollingbourne, Cara assures me that the next section looks a lot easier now - clearly operating off a completely different elevation profile to reality.

The blue bus and the dog..

At this point I am starting to get really tired, weaving a bit and I realise I'm falling asleep a couple of times as I run along and jolt awake, I up the coke intake. Next I start seeing things as I run through the wooded sections, initially I see a military jeep, I think that's interesting.... but it disappears into twigs and leaves as I get nearer. very odd. then a blue bus.
OK I'm getting used to this now. The man wearing a blue jumper walking a Labrador also wasn't there but was a refreshing change from the army vehicles, although that one does freak me out slightly.


From now on. assume everything is a tree unless solid evidence otherwise.

More walk-running and before long the final aid station peeks out from behind a hedge. Quick mental check, that flag isn't a tree. Excellent.

I had planned on just breezing through here, but I can't. I have a sit down, leg now throbbing. Mentally I quickly work out it's just three miles to go. The marshal cheerily announces that there's just 4.5 miles left now. Oh. Basic subtraction clearly not my strong point at the time.

Whatever, I'm going to finish. I can walk in.

The final section is more walking than running, although occasionally I get a stretch where I seem to be able to get a rhythm going and tap away for a bit.

Once I'm into the final couple of miles I decide, that's it. No more walking. I'm running the finish of this 100, and I start to float in, up and over the bridge at some point I can't feel anything at all in my legs I hit the track and charge around.
There's Stuart with his camera! I pose. We high five. I fall into a chair.

Someone dashes over to offer food, drink, TEA! The pain starts to come back. After a shower and rest, further examination of my now discoloured and swollen lower leg suggests that running on a sprained ankle is highly unwise, but is possible. In fact I do have a whole list of "unwise but possible" facts I'm willing to share from my years of racing (how to complete a marathon with a broken rib is a particularly special one).

Finally a sincere apology to Stuart March, I've done all these events but right at the start I had decided that I would only ever buy my pictures once I finished one. I wasn't interested in pictures of my failures. So all these years you've been snapping away in all weathers at all times of day. It was brilliant to see you out and about on the course, I fondly recall the time you were out at the then 'Winter 100' in your Santa costume.
I'm filling my cart now. :)

Finally finally, a huge thanks and hug to everyone involved, all of the marshals, all the volunteers, all at Centurion and all supporters... and of course family Hewitt after all these years, at last completing a 100 mile run wouldn't have been possible without everyone.

Now just need that sub 24.  x.


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