Monday, 10 August 2015

North Downs Way 100 Race Report. 3 down 1 to go!

North Downs Way (NDW) 100 was leg three of the Centurion Grand Slam, the race starts in Farnham along the North Downs finishing in the village of Wye in Kent; the route is officially 102.6 miles with 3025m of elevation gain.

If you had the chance to read my blog post from the South Downs Way you are aware I have been suffering from a niggling calf injury. After finishing the South Downs Way 100-miler eight weeks ago I had to come up with a plan to get my calf in a much better shape and still have the fitness and health to cover 100-miles on foot once again.

One of the greatest advantages of calling myself a triathlete is that when I can’t run I can always swim and bike; with the type of injury I sustained cycling hard wasn’t a problem and I added some easy swim sessions to aid recovery. For a few weeks after the SDW100 I didn’t run at all, I had several physio sessions with the great Carmel Gosbee from The Sports Therapy Room in Leighton Buzzard and I cycled lots and lots, it was as if I was in the middle of Ironman triathlon training, I did long rides, aerobic intervals, hill reps, etc, with some weeks spending up to 10 hours in the saddle. Three weeks or so later and feeling much better I went out for a 20min test run and that was fine. A few days later I did 40min followed by 60min and eventually ran 8 miles without a hitch. Still cycling lots and swimming several times a week. 

Each time I visited Carmel for a physio session she’d say the calf felt better than the time before and had to spend less time treating it, I knew I was making progress but didn’t want to get too confident just yet.

After a few weeks I managed to run the last 27 miles of the North Downs without any problems (apart from getting lost!) and I now had the confidence I could finish the NDW 100 and keep my Grand Slam goal alive.

The Race

A nice early 6am start in Farnham and we were off. It’s so exciting to start a race like that, so many things going through your head,  wondering how my calf would behave during the race and how hot it was going to get (forecast was for lots of sunshine).

I quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm and my pace was effortless. It always surprises me to watch runners during the first few miles of a long ultra like the NDW breathing hard, what are they doing!? I made it to Aid Station 3 before Box Hill (25miles) in 4h13, not bad I thought, minimal effort and my calf was good and it wasn’t hot yet.  Box Hill was the first major hill we encountered on route but at that point it didn’t feel too bad, I still had fresh legs. 

It soon got hot though, but I made to Reigate Hill Aid station reasonably well, the highlight of that stop was volunteer David Ross dropping some ice cubes down my back, saucy! I carried on to Caterham Aid Station and in that section I encountered my first bad patch, whilst my legs were fine the heat was starting to take its toll, however I made it there in one piece and was greeted and photographed by my ultra friend Glyn who was also volunteering at that aid station and snapped my photo for FB. Pretty sure I look better in that picture than I felt inside. I quickly filled my water bottles, filled my hat with ice cubes and immersed my buff in icy water and I felt good to go again. 

I kept moving reasonably well and my thoughts focused on the halfway point at Knockholt Pound aid station, with experience I have gained with ultra running I know that you always get a boost at halfway, it must be psychological, but for me I can then start the countdown to the finish. A little less than 10hours and I made it to halfway. Again, fresh water, some more ice on top of my head, soaking my buff once again and I was off.  I can say I ran really well to Otford, sharing some of this time with fellow ultrarunner Ian Kittle (whom I would run with for several miles in the hours to come).

As I got to the top of hill past Otford I started to struggle, I was really hot, my legs were heavy and my tummy dodgy. At 60 miles, with no other option I had to suck it up and walk the next 4/5 miles to Wrotham Aid station, being overtaken by several runners during this time. I knew exactly what was going wrong though, because several different bodily systems require oxygen-rich blood at once (muscles to keep you moving, your digestive system and sweating to cool your body in the heat) my body had had enough. My number one piece of advice for anyone doing 100-miles for the first time is that bad patches come but they eventually go again; just keep putting one foot in front of the other until your luck turns!

As I made it to Wrotham at 60miles I started to feel better but couldn’t face any solid food. I mixed a bit of flat coke in my water bottles and keep taking my salt tablets and  repeated the ice in my hat trick and I was off and running well again. I had a really good spell of excellent running all the way to Rochester passing lots of people along the way. As I started the ascent towards Bluebell Hill it got dark and I decided to have a walking break, a sort of strategy to prevent another bad patch. I left that aid station at 76 miles feeling great again, I caught up with Ian Kittle and we shared most of those miles to Detling at 82 miles with good consistent running.

I treated each aid station like a transition zone of a triathlon, in and out as quickly as possible, not getting too comfortable and Detling was no different-I must have been there for a maximum of 2 minutes. For those that have covered those few miles after Detling, you will know how shite they are, lots and lots of really awkward steep stepped sections that go on forever, it was bad covering that section a few weeks ago in fresh legs, but you can imagine how bad it was after 82 miles. It was frustrating because you can’t even recoup the time you wasted going slow uphill, as the downhill section after was un-runnable. I just wanted to get to Hollingbourne as from there I knew  the rest of the course was gently undulating all the way to Wye.

By the time I arrived at the Lenham aid station, around 91 miles, with less than half a marathon to go, I forgotten about my calf and the cooler weather during the night was a nice relief from the heat we encountered during the day, still too warm to wear a jacket though. My watch battery had died a long time ago but I started trying to calculate what sort of finishing time I was in for using my normal watch… ‘if I can only walk near the end I can still get sub24’, ‘ but if I get a good spell I can do sub 23hrs’…It’s not easy doing maths after 20 hours+ on the feet!

From Lenham to the last aid station in Dunn Street was roughly 7.5 miles. I felt a bit like a wind-up toy car, I would run for 2mins then have to walk for 30sec to “wind-up” again. I was overtaking people only to be overtaken soon after by Ian Kittle, Gil Cramer and another runner. My competitive streak reappeared and all I thought about was the 3 places that were at stake then and I soon overtook them. With 2 miles to Dunn Street, their head torches got further and further behind me until I could no longer see them.

I reached Dunn Street aid station and I wanted to be out before those guys could catch me up again. With only 4 miles or so to the finish I didn’t bother to fill my bottles, I quickly downed some Coke and left. Another runner who was sitting down followed me out, (I think his name is David), we crossed a stile and flew down this farm field, it felt as if I had just started running, my legs and brain felt brand new.  We moved through some farmland and as we got to a road there was a small incline and he decided to walk, I seized the opportunity and gained a few metres advantage. 

I entered the village of Boughton Lees and saw two head torches ahead, another spur of speed and I passed them. Now I was looking at my watch and thinking I could even do sub22h30. A mile or so through a farm field and I would be home. To add a bit of excitement, I saw two head torches not too far in front and I gave it all I had left to pass them. I loved every second of it, and after all the shit I had been through this bit felt great. I entered the village of Wye going through the level crossing like a steam engine and I could see the village hall where the race finishes. What a relief, 22h28min, placing 24th overall.
Three races down, only one to go! Now I’m already looking forward to the Autumn 100 in nine weeks’ time. I’m still puzzled that I didn’t get one single blister this weekend but my groin area is a mess looks like my wife attacked my groin with a box grater, don’t worry I won’t post any pictures of that…

Celebrating another finish with Mark Haynes - The Grand Slam is on!

Big thanks to my wife and kids for putting up with my obsession for long distance running and training and the lush beetroot brownies I scoffed after the race. Thanks to Carmel Gosbee, my physio for looking after me these last few weeks. Thanks to Clare and Dan who were cheering us along the route, always great to see a face you know. And a massive thanks to all the volunteers who make these races possible and to everybody that has donated to Eaves which I’m fundraising for in 2015 - .  You’re all amazing!

One left to complete the Grand Slam puzzle

I’m an average runner but I feel incredibly lucky to be able to cover these silly distances. Whether you come first, last and even when you can’t finish, these experiences make you grow as person and appreciate the simpler things in life…. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world.

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