Saturday 24 December 2016

Deadwater: A Goal in 2017

I like multi-days :o)  With a 50 runner limit, by submitting an application that doesn't guarantee entry I was pleased to be accepted into this race: "235 miles, over six stages. It starts in Deadwater on the Scottish border, and it ends at Flint Castle in Wales. Getting an entry today is not an automatic acceptance. We will take only runners that we believe have sufficient endurance experience to take on the challenge. We will notify you either way."  And the image above is what arrives in your email to let you know you've been accepted once your application has been assessed.

Monday 17 October 2016

Race report: Centurion A100 2016

I learned a lesson this weekend.

Having had the dream come true race at NDW100 a couple of months ago,  I should have been nicely set up for a solid second 100 miler at A100 this weekend.  With 10 weeks in between the two, there was time for a few weeks of recovery, then a couple of weeks of maintenance/re-building and a couple of weeks of taper.  This is what those 10 weeks looked like though:

  1.  Sitting on my backside, as planned, with a cheeky parkrun at the end.
  2. A few gentle jogs, as planned and a flight to California, little parkrun.
  3. Busy week at work in California, 3/6 planned runs, missing the long Sunday run, flight back to the UK.
  4. Flight out to Massachusetts, hot & humid, 5/6 runs, not too bad!
  5. Flight home to the UK/out to Michigan on Monday, really humid & hot, parkrun on Saturday and 2x 15 minute runs in the week.
  6. Flight back home to the UK, knackered, slept for 3 days. Short 3 mile jog and a half-assed attempt at CW50 (managed 25 miles of starting slow and getting slower).
  7. 2x 30 min jogs and a 10 mile obstacle race. Coming down with a cold.
  8. 3/5 planned runs, long run cut short. Getting sneezier and coughing.
  9. 3/6 planned runs, chesty cough really kicking in.
  10. 1x 30 min jog. Chesty cough. Declared "fine" by the doctor on Thursday morning.

Basically, well under 50% planned sessions started, some cut short, not well, 60+ hours of travel over 3 weeks.  This does *not* make for great preparation for a hundred mile race.

Having not really sat down and thought it through, I toed the line at A100 on Saturday morning.  Felt pretty OK, a bit more chesty coughing, but that cleared up after about 3 hours of running.  The first leg was actually lots prettier than I remember that part of the Thames being, but I got a warning shot over the bows.  A short set of steps and my legs felt super heavy going up them.  Drained.  OK, I'd done around 18 miles at the time, but they shouldn't feel like that after 18 miles on the flat and very gently (5-ish hours marathon pace).  Quick dark patch, but then I ignored it and carried on - no point getting wound up about something at this early stage, it only gives fuel to the demons when they arrive later.

I motored in to the end of the first leg in just under 5 hours (just less than 25 miles in to the race).  Feeling sluggish compared with how I expect to feel at this stage I was still pleased to be doing pretty well for a reasonable, not-death-marched finish in another 75 miles or so.  I declined my drop bag - 4, out and back legs to the same central check point gives access to your drop bag 3 times during the race - as I didn't need anything from it, I chugged some Pepsi, filled my water bottles and got out onto leg 2.

Leg 2 and the first of the Ridgeway ones - I expected a bit of climbing but it didn't come for a good while.  I didn't recognise this section for a while until I realised on the outward stretch to the turn-around point that I'd run it in the opposite direction at Druids last year.  This was one of the delightful, hugely runnable descents that I flew down at Druids, kicking through the leaves and not even noticing the tons of tree roots that lay beneath.  Hiking up in the dwindling light, the rain started bang on schedule at 5pm.  Still under the protection of the trees, I whipped out my waterproof and stuck it on before getting out and into the pretty torrential downpour.  Good move as it meant I was completely dry inside that jacket (one I bought in a massive tantrum in the Lake District last year after getting completely soaked to the skin in a different one).  The turnaround point eventually came and I hid from the rain in the gazebo to get out my head torch and chomp on some ham.  Leaving wasn't too hard (lovely though the volunteers were!), I lost my marbles a little as I asked on the way out of the aid station which way to go.  Hm.  It's an out and back.  This is the turnaround point.  Which way do you think you should go?  (that was my inner monologue after I'd been pointed in the right direction and stumped off for a bit drinking my slowly diluting Pepsi in the rain).

The second major warning shot was hitting the lovely runnable descent.  There was still daylight so it should have been still safely runnable.  But my legs weren't playing ball.  More my knees and hips were jarring painfully - my gait was all wrong and I couldn't run downhill comfortably at all.  Darkish moment again, but I had a chat with myself about being about 30 miles in and of course things were going to be not feeling great as I'd just run 30 miles - it's a long way!

Darkness fell and I switched on my head torch.  This was the bit I was looking forward to.  Solitude, at night, in the woods.  This was one of the big reasons for being here after enjoying the overnight so much at NDW100.  I started to enjoy the dark and the owls hooting and a super long stretch without seeing anyone at all.  Glorious!  This is why I run long!  But the visual contrast between tree roots and trail was too low.  Once; I kicked a root really hard, twisted and almost fell down a steep slope to the side but pulled up with the muscles in my back and midriff to save me from hitting the deck.  That really hurt my toe and my back.  Twice; same again a couple of miles later only on the other foot and this time so hard that 24 hours later my toenail is about to come off.  Again I saved myself from hitting the deck, but at the cost of really twisting my back.

Miles 23.5 to 25 - according to my watch 24-32.
I came in to the aid station 4 miles out from the central base point feeling pretty good.  Ready for a quick turnaround with a cup of Pepsi and a water refill, I chugged out again in less than a minute.  At this point I was fed up with my watch to the point of wanting to throw it into the river.  On the first 25ish miles out and back, there was a section of the return leg where it lost its tiny little mind and clocked in 9 miles over a mile and a half of actual distance, with times that started out at 06:59 and ended at 0:48/mile.  I'd seen a couple of miles earlier in the run with silly quick times and thought it was a one-off weirdness and I'd have to mentally allow an extra half mile or so to the end, but this was now beyond annoying.

Uhhh, OK Garmin *pat*pat*pat*
About half a mile beyond this aid station, the wheels catastrophically came off.  I was jogging along pretty slowly and realised my glutes and hamstrings had stopped playing.  My back was pretty sore and bending down, to clear some debris from the inside of my shoe, it was twingeing unpleasantly.  I couldn't actually run at all, there was no power in my legs, and not long after that a runner ahead of me took a walking break and I realised I wasn't catching them while I was jogging.  I tried some food to see if that helped - a delicious peanut butter filled Clif bar (oh *why* can't you buy these ones in the UK!?) - but it didn't seem to make much difference.  Thoughts came and went of being well over 80 miles into NDW before being anywhere near this slow (totally untrue actually, due to the elevation profile of NDW!) and it didn't feel great to realise that (bad brain - lying to me!).  Shortly after that, a couple of other runners actually walked past me while I was jogging.  Not good. Very not good.  My glutes felt congested/sore/weak, as did my hamstrings - not even half way in to this race and my legs were shot.  I had no idea what my pace was as my watch was in la-la land so I was ignoring it completely, but I knew it was less than 3mph and that would make for a touch and go finish in under 28 hours.

And that was that.  I called it.  At Goring, the central base, I came in and sat for a bit with some tea and a tub of cold rice pudding.  Chatted with MrTOTKat, James, Nici, Louise and Melissa, who were all very encouraging and made it super clear that I could get to the finish as I had 16 hours to cover 50 miles, which I could walk if I wanted to.  But when I stood up, my legs were like a baby deer's.  I was wobbly, unsteady and lacking in much control to go forwards.  I know I could have jog/walked it in to just about beat the 28 hour cut-off, but I didn't want to finish like that.  I didn't come to this race to walk for more than half of it (having hiked a few earlier sections, and the second 2 legs being slightly longer than the first).  I did really want to run into the dawn as that is a glorious experience, but I wasn't going to get that today.  I knew why I was in this position and I wasn't happy about it.  It was 100% my responsibility and I'd gotten over-excited about doing another 100 that I was simply not in a fit state to do.  I cried through sheer frustration and disappointment, and James was really good about that.  I was also angry that I'd let a few people down through my own ego drowning out the pragmatic part of me.  I was angry with myself for all the people who'd wanted to run this race and I'd gotten a place that they'd wanted and was throwing it away.  I could have marched on for some more miles, but there was no point in doing that for the heck of it.  I was pretty perky, awake, full of energy and enthusiasm for getting through the night without sleeping, but my legs were simply not on the same page.

Ya think?
Centurion Running races are super professionally organised, staffed by genuinely lovely people with runners needs front of mind at all times.  I can't praise the staff and volunteers enough - and I'm hoping to give back some by volunteering a couple of times in 2017 (I loved it at 2014 NDW!).  It's a great community and I'm glad to be a part of it!

I will be back though to the Autumn 100.  The first two legs are lovely and I know I'm capable of the distance, I "just" need to put in the smart work beforehand to give it the respect it's due.  Onwards and upwards!

Sunday 9 October 2016

Race report: Tough Mudder (full) South London 2016

This really isn't something I would have signed up for myself...

I’ve always viewed obstacle races as something that “people who don’t understand running” or “people with short attention spans” do.  Not my bag at all.  Having concentrated on running longer and longer and getting physical endurance and mental fortitude tested, stretched and grown, getting out of bed for a race shorter than 13.1 miles (a tough sprint!) doesn’t really work for me.  So when I was offered a place by Merrell to take part in the South London Tough Mudder I was on the fence quite a bit.

Spectator map
I looked it up and, in my haste, saw it was a 5 miler with some mud, some walls, an ice bath and some electrocution.  (Hm, attention to detail - 2/10.)  No worries for 1 week after managing 25 miles of CW50 and 3 weeks out from A100, shouldn’t be a problem at all, but I doubted I’d actually enjoy myself.  And the offer of a nice new pair of Merrell shoes to run it in with the rest of the Merrell team tipped it over the edge, I have to admit.  After a few days I was moseying around on the Internet, having a bit more of a look at Tough Mudder and I realised I’d been looking at the details for etc one on 17th Sept instead of 24th.  The one on 17th was indeed a 5 mile jaunt with some obstacles to negotiate.  The one on 24th was actually 10-12 miles with twice the number of obstacles.  Hm.  More of a thing but by then I’d agreed and my shiny shoes were on their way!

Merrell All Out Crush - Tough Mudder Edition
Cue 06:00 on 24th - my alarm goes off so I can get up and cram some tea in me, make a second one to drink on the way, feed kitties, haul on some shorts and a t-shirt and my lovely new shoes (which were really surprisingly light so I wasn’t expecting much out of them on the terrain) and my glorious Dry Robe.  A little amble to our nearby tram stop with a nice dry bag full of clean stuff (full change of clothes plus a  warm jacket - doesn’t matter how warm it is on a race day, I almost always need a warm thing to put on to put on afterwards) and a tiny towel to dry off after my shower (again thanks Merrell for the hospitality - a warm shower was very welcome vs the cold ones outside the corporate hospitality areas).  Changing at East Croydon onto the 0753 to Horsham (Crawley is quicker, but not for the time I wanted to be travelling) I had a nice sit and my tea while I wondered whether I’d actually find the other person who was running for Merrell and coming by public transport too.  We’d arranged to share a cab from the station to the event and I’d no idea what she looked like, so a quick message and I was identifiable by my huge Dry Robe when we got to Horsham.

The cab driver did the right thing as we got close to the event venue - one lane of coned off traffic being filtered into the venue with the right hand lane for the rest of the traffic, he took the right hand lane and dipped through a gap in the cones just after the venue entrance to chuck us out onto the grass verge.  At that point it was pretty clear that the reverse journey would be *interesting* but not worth worrying about until after the mud-based fun.

Me and some of the Merrell crew

Lightly foxed wrist bands post-event

Registered, liability waiver form handed in, and now covered in various wrist bands (participant, media and corporate hospitality) we headed to the Merrell tent to finish getting ready for our 10am wave.

120 Merrell runners!  Covered in fluorescent orange face paint, orange hair spray-dye, one huge guy in a dress and another in leopard print hot pants, we followed the team flags down to the start area for the pretty cheesy motivational speech, a little bit of safety stuff (don’t attempt the water obstacles if you can’t swim; if you see someone in difficulty, stop and make a sign with crossed forearms in front of you) and then reciting the Tough Mudder “pledge” (*eyeroll* - sorry but this was a step too far for me).  And we were off!

Pretty woodlands!
The team mainly trotted off ahead of me like any parkrun - cue internal monologue about the fact they’d not be able to keep that up and I’d see them again later.  The ethos of Tough Mudder is that it’s a team thing, it’s about team work and camaraderie, but having met none of this team before that morning I wasn’t really feeling it, especially as there were sub-groups within the team who already knew each other.  I felt like an outsider and didn’t really expect that to change during this event.

Kiss of Mud 2.0
The route wandered mainly through very pretty woodland with a few little sections out into fields.  I don’t really remember the first two obstacles; 1 - bale bonds (I assume something with hay bales?) and 2 - skid marked (nope, doesn’t ring a bell at all). Obstacle #3 was the first one that registers - Kiss Of Mud 2.0 - a mud pit with barbed wire suspended about 18” above it that you had to crawl under.  Thankfully I’ve watched a few races like this on TV before and the advice on those programmes was still clear in my head; don’t go down on your belly and elbows, but get as flat as you can on elbows and knees and crawl.  Oh boy was that effective!  I did catch my shorts on the barbed wire a couple of times but otherwise progress was easy and quick like that.  More jogging through woodland for a bit to get to the 4th obstacle and I’d caught up with the back markers from the team.  

Hero Walls
4 - Hero Walls; wooden walls with a ridge along the side facing away from the approach.  Even if you’re super tall, you can’t reach the top of the walls without a huge leap and then hauling yourself up, so I took the tactic of using the side support, which was angled, as well as proffered hands for a leg up, to get half way up and high enough to grab the top and haul over, yelling back to team mates who’d not gotten up yet about using the supports.  I hung around to help pull other folks over the wall and promptly lost the rest of the team.  Didn’t really see them again after this obstacle.  I had no idea if they were in front or behind me, but given the start of the race I assumed in front so kept trucking to try to catch up again.

Pyramid Scheme
Obstacle 5 - Pyramid Scheme - came after more lovely trotting through woodland and seeing various people in road shoes skating all over the place in the mud - those super light shoes I was wearing turned out to have impressive grip and I was trusting them pretty much like I trust my La Sportiva Helios SRs!  This obstacle was fairly easy in teams as it’s a hard neoprene slope - too steep and slippery to run up - with a ridge part way up.  Folks basically form a human ladder and help haul people up to the ridge and then to the top.  I found a couple of the Merrell team here, but nobody I recognised and again got split up straight after the obstacle.

Ice. Lots of it.
The 6th obstacle - Arctic Enema - I thought I’d be totally OK with.  It’s the first proper water obstacle and I’m not only a strong swimmer but I’ve done a fair few swims in pretty cold water so I wasn’t worried about it.  It’s basically a great big, deep tin bath full of water with a lot of ice cubes in, with a bar half way across that you have to swim under.  Watching race marshals dumping a few more industrial bags of ice into the tubs, I climbed up the steps to the chute area where as a group of 3, we were counted down to drop down the slide into the water.  Smug as all heck and full of bravado I was talking with the guy behind about what a relief the cold would be after getting a bit warm jogging about beforehand.

Muddy water full of ice - Artic Enema
I dropped into the water and OH BOY was it a real physical shock.  As I surfaced, I simply couldn’t breathe - the cold had knocked the breath out of me and it took a couple of minutes to get it back.  The race medic next to the tub was trying to be reassuring; I was fine, just needed to get my breath back!  He then counted me down and shoved me under the bar to the second half of the tub where it was quick and easy to get out.  I was pretty cooled down by that so upped the jogging pace to warm back up again and got yelled at, by a fellow participant that I passed, to slow down (um, OK, how about no and I’ll run my own race - yes it’s not a race, but you know what I mean).  It took a little while to warm up but I was actually starting to enjoy myself!

Muddy water full of ice - Artic Enema
The log carry - Hold Your Wood - was the next obstacle (#7) and that was a breeze.  The logs were totally manageable even though I’ve not done any upper body strength work for a year now.  Obstacle number 8, though fairly easy, proved the most damaging of the day.  

Mud Mile
The Mud Mile - a set of 3-4 mud and water filled trenches with steep sides up to mud hills that were slick with slimy mud.  There was no way to control your descent into the trench and no idea how deep they were.  I started to regret wearing shorts as sliding down the mud banks into the water meant moving fast over hidden sharp stones which raked the backs of my thighs.  I couldn’t see how bad it was at the time, due to the layers of mud over me, but it sure stung and a week on, the deep gouges are still sore and scabby!  If I ever did one of these again I’d likely sacrifice a pair of capri pants under my shorts, to protect my upper legs.  The fun was in the mud and shoving on other peoples’ bottoms to help them up the hill out of the trench :o)

Very very sore gouge on my thigh
Two tube crawls next - obstacles 9 and 10; Sewer Rat and Prairie Dog - big, slightly ridged plastic tubes to crawl through.  The first flat and into knee deep water, the second angled downwards a bit and onto firm, dryish mud.  Again, if I was going to do this kind of event again I’d think about a long sleeved top to protect my elbows from the burns I got crawling through these, but probably not bother with longer tights to cover my knees despite how scratched they got too.

Messed up, swollen, scraped knee
Lumberjacked - the 11th obstacle, was a bit weird.  A rotating wooden pole at about head height, supported at each end.  The aim simply to get over it.  OK, it’s pretty high so you need help, but fairly straightforward.  Again I was pleasantly surprised by random strangers offering to help out of nowhere - despite having lost my team and feeling quite like I wasn’t 100% with the spirit of this event, it was great to be a part of that sort of overall camaraderie and I ended up jogging with these guys who helped at this obstacle for a while before losing them as well.  The woodland trails were so pretty and great running that I was really enjoying that part too - I’d expected a lot less running, so I was pretty happy to trot through the trees and enjoy the moderate amount of trail specific experience I have paying dividends in making progress with joy rather than trepidation about falling over.

I skipped the 12th obstacle - Funky Monkey 2.0 - having had bad experiences with my plated collar-bone and previous similar gym work (pull ups etc.) I wasn’t about to have a really unpleasant experience with crunching, clicking, popping and horrible sensations that have made me feel pretty sick in the past.  I did, however, help pull someone out of the water when it was pointed out that they couldn’t swim and they’d fallen off the bars (almost everyone fell off the bars so it was inevitable to end up in the water).  

Cage Crawl
The Cage Crawl - obstacle 13 - was great fun.  Like the Kiss of Mud earlier, only a water-filled pit and a wire fence about 6” over it so you had to slide in on your back and pull yourself along in the water on your back.  Super super quick and easy, so I wasn’t sure how the folks ahead of me ended up being so slow that I had to tap the guy following me on the head to slow down so he wouldn’t end up head-first on my feet while I waited.  At least the water in this obstacle was a lot warmer than the ice bath so it wasn’t a horrible shock to the system getting into it, and it washed a lot of the mud off!

The alternate obstacle for experienced Tough Mudder participants was - Rain Man - I’m assuming something water related but that’s all I’ve got as I didn’t get a good view of it.

Glorious trails!
Coming into obstacle 14 - the Hero Carry - I’d been steaming through some lovely woodland trail. Lots of fast shallow descents, flat sections with pretty difficult ruts and roots underfoot and twisty switchbacks that were really slowing down folks more used to road running (or not running much at all).  I arrived at the obstacle in a bit of a gap; nobody ahead of me waiting so I turned to see behind.  Spotted a bloke who looked like a handy victim and invited him to get on my back for the first half of the piggy-back.  He was thankfully pretty small and light - about my height and 76kg (I asked!) and way stronger than me so at the half-way changeover point of the Hero Carry, he picked me up and we moved a lot faster!  Fun!  Really enjoyed that!

I pinned this bib back on after every obstacle - given it's state I'm not sure why...
The 15th obstacle was the most innovative - the Birth Canal - a long wooden frame with multiple chute entrances, over each tunnel a tarpaulin filled with water such that it hangs down into the tunnel.  Not a lot of clearance in the tunnel - you absolutely have to lie on your belly and get your head to one side to fit - the water is so heavy that you can’t push it up other than with your body existing so it’s really hard to make progress. The trick turned out to be to turn your head to one side, stay to one side of the tunnel where the tarp was a bit higher (not much though!) and use the batons of the frame, which were about 3 feet apart, to drag yourself along the ground with your hands and push on them with your feet.  Ideally, someone helps to pull you out at the other end, but being not with a team and the teams ahead having moved on, I had to sort myself out.  Not too bad really, but I did wait for the guy behind to be near enough the end to start pulling him out.  All part of the fun and sense of achievement to help others out!

Birth Canal
The most pointless obstacle of the event was the Devils Beard - obstacle 16.  A cargo net stretched over some hay bales.  It slowed you down a bit, but nothing to write home about.  The only obstacle that required no upper body strength, and had neither mud or water involved.  I guess it was there to up the numbers?  

The Liberator - obstacle 17 - was pretty hard.  A pretty much vertical wooden construction with parallel, vertical wooden poles, about 2 feet apart, with diagonal notches cut into them, and 1.5” holes drilled into the panels in between those poles into which you were supposed to insert wooden pegs.  The intention is to haul yourself up the wall using those wooden pegs and using the notches in the poles to perch your toes.  It was super, super hard to use the pegs and I’d got about 12 feet up before getting a bit wobbly and worrying about losing my grip and falling back down the wooden panel, filling myself with splinters and grazes.  So I ditched the pegs one by one and used those notches in the poles for my hands to climb up.  Waaaaay easier!  So I yelled across to a woman having the same trouble and advised her to ditch the pegs - to similar effect!  It’s all about ingenuity and team work, right?

The Block Ness Monster
My favourite obstacle of the day was number 18 - The Block Ness Monster.  Really something out of Takeshi’s Castle or It’s a Knockout; a big ditch full of water with pair of square-sectioned tubes that rotate barring the way.  They’re huge and rotate enough that you can’t simply climb over them to get by, you need to work as a group with some on one side pushing to rotate them, some already across that one to pull from the other side and one or two folks grab onto an edge and rotate with the tube to land head-first in the grubby water on the other side and then help to rotate the tube for the next people.  Great fun yelling at people to push together and get those really heavy tubes moving with people on them!

King of The Swingers
I skipped obstacle 19 - King of The Swingers.  With an iffy shoulder for that sort of activity I didn’t much fancy it.  It’s a very very high construction over a pit full of quite deep water.  You climb up one side and there’s a free-swinging pole with a t-bar at the bottom that you have to jump to grab and then swing forward with enough momentum to jump further at the end of the swing to hit a cow bell before dropping into the water and swimming to the exit.  Many many people didn’t make the jump for the bell, some even didn’t make the jump for the t-bar.  Hey, at least the water wasn’t full of ice cubes this time!

Everest 2.0
Everest 2.0 came up next and I’d found some of the Merrell team on the other side of obstacle 19, finally!  We reached the 20th obstacle together and was really going to need team work to get over it.  This one is a curved slope made again of that super hard and slippery plastic; you need to run up it as hard and as far as you can to reach the top and haul yourself over onto the ledge at the top of the obstacle.  It’s really very difficult to do that under your own steam, so what you really need to do is run at it really hard, aim for the bars behind the top ledge and reach out for your team mates’ arms to haul you over the top.  Which I failed to do at the first attempt and bounced and slid back down the slope - burning and bruising more bits of me.  I was pretty sore by this point and most of the mud had washed off in the water obstacles.  

Me, being hauled up Everest 2.0
My second attempt, on of the guys at the top managed to get enough of a grip on one of my hands that with some hauling and getting one leg high enough for someone else to grip, I was 100% man-handled over the ledge.  No mean feat for those guys at the top, I’m not exactly at fighting weight at the moment!  I turned around to help another guy up by grabbing him under the arms, but he was pretty strong and managed a lot of the work himself.  Still, it was nice to have helped a bit!

Somehow I missed obstacle 21 - Frequent Flyers Club - I think I thought it was an alternate obstacle for folks who’d done a few of these. And having seen a video of what it is, I’m a bit miffed that I missed it!

Frequent Flyers Club
The last obstacle came up pretty quickly and it was the one I was never planning to have anything to do with - number 22, Electroshock Therapy.  Having initially assumed the shocks would be like little jelly-fish stings, over the course of the event I was hearing more about it, that folks end up knocked to the floor with the shock and it’s not only not advised if you have a pace maker, but also if you have any metal implants.  I’ll take that, a titanium plate in my collar-bone is enough of a get out of jail card for me!  So I jogged around the side of it, only to see the finish line a couple of feet afterwards.  Bah!  I was hoping for a bit more of a run into the end, but there it was.  Anyway, over the line in 02:45, way quicker than it should have been because I’d spent most of the event thinking the whole Merrell team was ahead of me when it turned out that the majority were actually behind me!  Off to the hospitality tent for some hot coffee, hog roast and a quick shower to scrape off the worst of the mud.

Heading home was going to be tricky, I knew that from how the taxi had had to drop us off earlier.  I’d planned to walk to the station from the event site and get the train home.  But as the thought of the dual carriageway loomed I was contemplating hitching a ride.   There was no easy way to get a taxi to pick me up without them spending ages in thick traffic and probably charging loads due to that.  So by the time I got almost to the exit of the site, I was hailed by a marshal who said they were not allowing pedestrians to exit the gates.  I stuck out a thumb and the next car picked me up right away!  Thanks to those guys for dropping me off at the station (they turned out to not have done the event themselves, but one was in the middle of interviewing for a job with Tough Mudder and came to experience the event first hand - nice chaps and I’m grateful of the lift!)

Nice t-shirt; super light!
So. There we are, I really really enjoyed myself.  Tough Mudder was lots more fun than I’d expected it to be.  A lot of it was down to everyone helping everyone else regardless of which team you were part of or even by yourself.  A lot of it was down to enjoying being a not-totally-shit trail runner and having shoes that were super light and super grippy in the slidey mud.  I would suggest that it’s not particularly friendly if you don’t have a car, but I managed on the day.  I would heartily recommend an event like this out of season for trail runners - it’s super fun, no pressure about time, a bit of a fartlek and quite satisfying running with a pretty nice quality t-shirt at the end.  Bit expensive though unless you volunteer a bit as well.

[Merrell is the Global presenting partner for Tough Mudder. For more information go to]

Friday 12 August 2016

Race report: Centurion NDW100 2016

Since I read Confessions Of An All-Night Runner, I wanted to run ultra distance events.  Having winged the first few at London and Rotherham, I got a coach because I really wanted to run Land's End to John O'Groats (a multi-stage event with an average of 50 miles per day).

James, the ever wise coach, steered me away from 17 days of 50 miles average per day.  And we explored some other multi-day events as I wanted to see whether that suited me more than longer single-stage events.  And that went well and I enjoyed it.  But the time came when I really wanted to pop my 100 mile cherry and see how that might go.  So, originally we targeted SDW100, with SDW50 first as I kinda wanted to do the Centurion 50 mile Grand Slam in 2016 anyway.

To cut it short, the SDW50 didn't go well for me.  I did NDW50 and loved it. So, having DNFed on SDW50 and not being quite happy about the prospect of the 100 along the same route, James & I decided to cut losses and shift focus to NDW100 instead.

NDW100 (2016) route

Much better!  And MrTOTKat and I had decided to run the whole length of the North Downs Way National Trail (all 153 miles of it all the way to Dover and back to Ashford again) a couple of weeks before the 100 race as a 6 day multi-stage jog/hiking holiday.  (we loved it, might get around to posting about it later).

NDW (2016) elevation profile
I came into the weekend of the race a little unsure of how I'd fare with a week of taper (1x 3 mile run!) and my second biggest mileage week ever (167 miles with the holiday, including extra mileage to and from the route/accommodation each night/morning) the week before that.  But otherwise pretty relaxed and confident that whatever happened on the day, I deserved to finish with the work and preparation that I'd put in.

James, the RD, showing the (highly reflective!) marking tape at the race briefing
With an 05:30 race briefing on Saturday, before the 06:00 race start, we (MrTOTKat and I) decided to book a hotel nearby on Friday night to maximise sleep.  And that went pretty well apart from the fire alarm at god knows what time in the night.  I'd registered on Friday, dropped off my drop bags for the 50 (head torches and foot care kit) and 82 (extra snacks in case, plus foot care) mile aid stations, finish bag (warm, clean clothes and shoes for afterwards) and picked up my race number.

After the briefing, which included some sage advice about keeping things sensible during the coming heat of the day and enjoying the cool of the evening, we all ambled down to the head of the trail for the start.

It's pretty narrow at that point and, given the distance of the day ahead, I was happy to not rush to the front to sprint off from the start.  I was also happy that the first 25 miles or so I knew pretty well having run it 4 times already as far as Merstham, so while I had little idea of exactly where the aid stations were or what some of them were called it was no bother.

Of course, being a bit blase about the first 25 miles routing meant that I was daydreaming a bit and within the first 4 miles I'd gone over, tripping on a tree root, and smacked my elbow so hard it immediately came up with a bump the size of half a boiled egg.  Yay!

Around 6 miles in I rescued a couple of guys from going completely the wrong way as we came up to a t-junction they blissfully turned left ahead of me and I knew it was right so yelled "THE OTHER WAY!  TURN RIGHT!" at them as I approached the junction and managed to set them right.  They had been pretty much daydreaming too, there was a lot of it about.  Enough of it about that a few other folks around within the first 10 miles managed to trip over, bang things and twist things but everyone was OK in the end.

The day was going to be hot, so I was keeping an eye on water consumption so I didn't actually end up drinking too much rather than not enough.  As I came to the first aid station at Puttenham, just under 7 miles in, I'd barely touched my water bottles so I made sure my number was checked and sailed straight through without stopping and trucked on through towards the next one.

Aid station locations along the course
20 miles in, I remembered James' words about people feeling mentally bad at around 20 miles because they're tired and they get into a spiral about it so the other 80 miles seem insurmountable, but you're going to be tired at 20 miles because YOU JUST RAN 20 MILES AND THAT'S A LONG WAY!  And I smiled.  I was feeling like I'd run 20 miles, but that was OK.  Everything was as it should be.

Except for one thing.

About 6 miles in, I'd needed to step into the bushes for a "wild poo".  And I'd sat down pretty much right on some nettles I'd not seen and stung my bum.  Which was not the most fun experience I've ever had, I must say.  And though it was the first wild poo of the day, it was certainly not going to be the last.

It is said that the way to get through an ultra, particularly the longer ones, is to break it up into getting from one aid station to the next.  I didn't really do that until the last aid station and the finish, it just didn't turn out to be necessary and I wasn't craving them or getting whiney with myself about "where's the next aid statiooooon!?" like I have in the past.  Today was really Zen and there was none of that going on at all.

The AllezNutrition van at West Hanger car park was back!
The next *mumblety* miles went pretty uneventfully for me.  I kept a lid on things as it was getting warm and for a while when it was pretty warm for me, I felt a bit ill so slowed things down a bit to reduce my core temperature and that really helped.  I sailed through the miles and the aid stations, up and down the hills and steps, not stopping any longer than it took to fill up bottles and drinking increasing amounts of Pepsi/Coke each time as well as the odd 1/4 ham sandwich and handfuls of cherry tomatoes and orange segments; each time taking most of the food I wanted and a last cup of Pepsi with me so I kept moving while eating/drinking.

Trotting through Newlands Corner aid station
This was the formula all the way to Botley Hill (with a couple more wild poos thrown in - ow, nettle sting!) where the first of the familiar faces was going to be in the form of Stephanie(theMagpie) and Cat Simpson (who I'd not yet met).  Cat fed me some awesome fruit and made sure my bottles were refilled, but no sign of Stephanie!   I trotted out to the road crossing outside the aid station and there she was - making sure folks got safely across the junction.  She gave a quick passing hug and said that MrTOTKat sent his love and she'd let him know I was safely through.  Thanks Stephanie!

About 2 miles out from Knockholt, I and a couple of other runners came across a poor chap who had extreme chafing in his nethers and his race was pretty much over whether he took up my offer of additional lube I was carrying or not.  I felt bad for him as he was doing really fine otherwise.

Coming into Knockholt aid station - perky perky!
Time came for the mid-way checkpoint at Knockholt and a very familiar and reassuring face in the form of the aid station manager @abradypus (Centurion 100 mile Grand Slammer in 2015 - we both ran our first ultra at the same time in February 2013), and MrTOTKat, as well as my first drop bag with the essential lighting for the overnight section.  This time I stopped for a little while - around 14 minutes in all - as I wanted some tea and chicken soup as well as the gallons of Pepsi I'd started to really look forward to.  I felt a bit sick, so decided to give in and sit down for a few minutes for the first time in 51 miles.  That and the Marmite sandwiches @abradypus had saved for me really really helped!  The sick feeling subsided and I trotted out with a handful of Marmite sandwiches, a cup of tea and a fist full of orange segments which I stuffed into my mouth as I stumped out purposefully.

In my happy place with a plate of Marmite sandwiches!
Everything felt fine and as it should do at this stage.  Yep, I'd run 51 miles so there were some sore bits but even then they weren't as sore as I'd expect for this stage.  MrTOTKat helped out by stuffing my lights into my pack and taking out the collection of paper cups I'd amassed over the previous aid stations.

As dusk was falling a little, I came across some red glow sticks in the trees which I thought someone was putting out as way marking a bit early and saw ahead a couple of guys one of whom looked really handy, fit, tallish, covered in tattoos but moving pretty slowly so I thought he was route marking for the night.  Until I, and the other guy, got closer at which point the tattooed chap bent over and vomited profusely.  We stopped and asked if he was OK and the chap behind did too - he had lots of stuff in his pack and offered bitter things, tangy things, salty things to help so the other two of us carried on trotting onwards knowing this guy was better equipped to help than we were.  As we went onwards we could hear pretty horrific vomiting for another 15 minutes or so - I felt so sorry for him; that was violent and unrelenting vomiting and he was about 4-5 miles away from the next aid station.  The guy who was helping him caught up with us pretty quickly and said he'd left him with some anti-sickness pills and that was that.

Dusk was well and truly happening, the next aid station would be Wrotham and time to get the head torch on.  MrTOTKat said he'd see me there and then head to bed for the night to see me again in the morning.  And it turned out that was really very very lucky.

I fished out my head torch and stuck it on my head while I drank even more Pepsi and had a quick chat with MrTOTKat.  I tried not to waste too much time at the aid station and made to leave, gave MrTOTKat a hug and started to head out, then paused to turn on my head torch so I could see where I was going.

Hah.  Nothing happened.  Torch no turny on.  So I called at MrTOTKat that something wasn't right.  The next 20 minutes were spent fiddling, trying stuff out and coming to the conclusion that the battery was totally dead.  We tried to charge it from the battery pack but the drain was so low it kept turning off the charging.  I put on my backup light - which is pretty bloody good really - and we agreed that MrTOTKat would take the battery and find somewhere with mains power to charge it and bring it to me at the next allowed crew point (16.2 miles away at Bluebell Hill) and that was that.   There were no worries really as the night was pretty short and I had my backup light (which is awesome and I'd happily use it as a main light), my phone with a torch in it and a portable battery pack I'd been using to recharge my GPS watch on the go with a ton of charge left in it.  Worst case we'd not get the main battery charged and I'd run out of light going into the dawn or earlier and I'd have to pull out at a coming check point.  Not ideal but not the end of the world.

The next section was a mix of a small amount of street-lit road, moonlit/twilit fields and totally dark bits so I turned off my backup light to conserve that battery when I really didn't need it and when I was running with other folks who had super bright torches on.  It was incredibly beautiful crossing fields under the clear skies with so much ambient light I could see where my feet were going and being able to look up at the stars without my light getting in the way.  Absolutely stunning!

@abradypus came to the rescue at Holly Hill - I pitched into the aid station which was covered in lovely pink glow sticks and went to get my bottles refilled and heard a "Mrs Driskell!" from the darkness to one side of the aid station.  It was @abradypus with her own head torches, one of which was the exact same model as mine so she lent me her battery which had plenty enough charge in it and I swapped my backup light back into my pack and went onwards, at around 11pm at this stage, with my intended main light on which was utterly awesome on the lowest intensity and adaptive lighting mode.

"Sickening.....!!!! Ly brilliant!!!" - thanks James!
Bluebell Hill was the next aid station and a super speedy tactical hit on water, Pepsi and some orange segments.  The exit was marked with a line of glow bracelets that looked like a fairy landing strip - so cute - and the comment "that was the fastest in and out of this aid station today!".  Yep, no time to be wasted now, onwards to Detling!  ...where I came across @abradypus again (thanks for the great photo)!  Feeling still pretty good, but feet getting more sore than I would have liked, my spirits were still high and I'd had not one single dark moment in 82 miles!  (Not mentioning the growing number of wild poos that were going on, likely due to a combination of heat, running and Pepsi - my bum was getting quite sore!)

Two more aid stations to go and I finally started to mark progress by aid stations and getting to the next one.  The trail surface was pretty harsh on my feet, with rare and only short sections that were not covered in rocks and stones for a good number of miles so far and continuing that way to the end.

The dawn came and Lenham aid station - I checked in with the volunteers "theoretically how many miles are we at here?" being told 91, my watch said 90.45 - I needed to know where we were in relation to the end rather than where my watch *thought* we were.  So. With about 12 miles to go I decided to have a tactical cry about the soreness of my feet on the stones and the fact the stones were not letting up in the slightest.  I kinda didn't want to have ugly happy/crying face when I got over the line and there was a build up of annoyance at the stones being *everywhere*.

This was a great idea.  There was nobody around so I could really let rip with some swearing and snotting, singing loudly a made-up song about hating rocks, and sobbing, and felt loads better after about 15 minutes of that.  OK, my feet were still sore but the only way that was going to stop was if I got myself to the end.  It also helped if I trotted rather than walking - hah! It hurt *less* to "run" than walk!

This was where I was aiming for - hot dogs and tea!
The guys at Dunn Street aid station were great.  As runners approached, they'd take the number check and ask if we needed any food or drink and if we didn't they'd wave us onwards rather than into the aid station.  Good work!  I didn't even see what the aid station looked like and trucked onwards with two almost full water bottles still and only 6.5 miles left to cover.

The awesome sight of the finish arch
It's amazing how long it can take to cover 6.5 miles.  When I ran the Rowbotham's Rotherham Round back in 2013 I was stunned that it took around an hour to cover the last 3.1 miles, so since then I've been well prepared for distances to take shockingly longer than you'd expect.  Today was no exception.

Despite the fact I was jogging everything but the steeper inclines, it took an hour and 40 minutes to cover that last 6.5 miles.  The last 3 miles of it being a deviation from the North Downs National Trail to the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford, and so on road mostly which was a blessed relief for my poor feet.

Rounding the final corner, I could see the running track and expecting to run a whole lap to finish, I was pleasantly surprised by there being only a segment to do.  There was cheering and clapping and shouting encouragement.  I could see MrTOTKat and it was good.  Then I spotted James just beyond the finish line and a huge grin spread across my face.  I'd only gone and actually done it.  And it already started to feel like the whole thing was a dream.

James and (the awesome) Nici dished out the hugs, braving the distinct hum of stink rising off me and I don't even remember which of them gave me the buckle I had been coveting for quite some time.  But I do remember the first thing that came out of my mouth to James was "stuff Ironman!" which I won't retract even now.  28 and a half hours of actually enjoying what I was doing, and though it was tough and stuff hurt, I'd had a tactical cry, and there was a brief period of feeling a bit sick, there was not a single dark moment in the entire race.

Honest guv', this is my happy face!
@abradypus brought fabulous tea; MrTOTKat brought me shoes and warm clothes to put on; and a long time old friend turned up utterly delightfully unexpectedly and found me a hotdog!  I had many happy, stinky hugs, many cups of tea and worked my way through the rather unexpectedly tasty hotdog (proper sausage, not a frankfurter!).  We clapped and cheered the final runners over the line and waited with bated breath for the last 20 who'd made the cutoff at Lenham to get themselves across the line under the 30 hour limit. And they all did!  Wonderful stuff!

Thank you Nici!

Overall I think I'd say there were two things I could have done better in this race.  1 - made sure I had the correct and fully charged torch battery the night before and if not, charge the damned thing.  2 - shoes with a rock plate.  I'd deliberately worn my trusty Asics Gel Fuji Attack rather than the lovely La Sportiva Helios SR as the Asics had a lot more protection for the soles of my feet and having covered the whole of the North Downs National Trail a couple of weeks before, I was aware of the harshness of the surface over the 100 mile route.  But 100 miles in one go is apparently a bit much for me in those shoes; they don't have a rock plate.

Still.  I genuinely think the race could not have gone any better than it did given the main mistake I'd made.  I am really pleased with the result and still can't really articulate what happened, but I did it.  My first 100 mile race.  And I'm wearing that buckle with pride.