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.


  1. Awesome!! We don't know each other but have mutual friends from when I did tri stuff with the serpies in London. Now live in Boulder, Colorado and as an ex ironman now newbie ish ultra runner I've enjoyed reading about your progress. Congrats again, Liz Harding.

    1. Thanks! It's always lovely to hear from friends of friends :o) How are you finding the transition from Ironman to Ultras?

  2. Really pleased to have been able to play a small part in your AWESOME 100 mile debut.

    1. Thank you again. And I'd say you played a rather large part in everyone's race that day. Knockholt was an oasis of calm, hot foodz/drinks and sarnies.

  3. Read it twice. Will read it again and still be wondering about the Zen.

    1. "The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference." That was pretty much the whole race - apart from the points where I chose to interact with thoughts rather than let them come and go; the tactical cry, problem solving momentarily around the torch issue and the odd conversation with folks.

  4. @abradypus has the power!

    But you obviously had plenty of back-up of your own too ;-)

    Well done.

    Most excellent use of the 'tactical cry' which should actually be included in the race plan, I believe.

    Nice one (hundred)!

    1. Thanks! Yep, I think you're right there - tactical crying definitely gets stuff out of your system before having to be vaguely presentable/polite to other people :oD

  5. Nice work Kat. Great report. Bit confused by this "enjoying yourself" notion though, that sounds a bit weird :-)