I had been waiting a long time for this challenge, and my first attempt at a 100 miler. This race was the 'replacement' for the Devon100 which was due to take place back in March but never was when the race director got cold feet about staging such an event. Having now seen the organisation and effort required to put on an event like this I for one don't blame him.
The TR race format is as follows: Run around a 10km off road loop for 24 hours completing as many laps as you can within that time from soloists to relay teams of 8. There were 35 male solo runners on the entry list, 15 female soloists, and many other male/female/mixed pairs, 5's and 8's. You were therefore competing against those in your category. People were therefore running at very different speeds, which you don't find in other ultras. There's nothing quite like seeing someone fly past you at a sub 7 min pace (which they did frequently) to make you feel ever so slow! However trying to run 100 miles in 24hrs was certainly never going to be about speed! It was going to be about how slow I could run, as opposed to how fast, and keep this going, and going, and going all day, through the night, and into the early part of the next afternoon.
Pacing wise I decided to chuck some numbers into an excel spreadsheet and create myself a pacing band. The garmin wasn't going to survive 24hrs so wasn't any use. The band actually proved very useful throughout the race. And without giving the end away I actually managed to get within 8 minutes (under) of my predicted time over a given distance over a 24hr period which is pretty good going.
So what of the race... The actual course itself didn't have too many highs or lows (unlike my mental state). Relatively flat with 149m of climb per lap but multiplied over the race distance and the total ascent does add up. To over 8000ft in fact. It was a varied course which divided into two parts - the first 5km consisted of running over grassland, along farm tracks besides open crop fields with also the occasional short sharp woodland track. Most of the climbing was in the first half of the lap. The second 5km was a far more twisty affair. Evidently the course designer had gone a bit mad with the Adidas 'three stripe' branded tape and decided to tie it to every conceivable tree in the woods which more resembled an airport security waiting area.
Different parts of the course were also named (I think to try and sell you Adidas products with their not-so-subliminal advertising). So this included the 'Kandida Climb' (which was a walker), the 'Adistar Descent' (a particular favourite part of the course to gather some downhill speed), 'Supernova Stretch' (which was a tough slog around grass fields for about 1.5km before the finish), and 'The Last Salvation' which as name suggests was just before the finish.
Anyway five paragraphs into this race report and haven't even mentioned the actual race. So if you are still with me lets begin... Things all kicked off at 2pm Saturday afternoon with a 10 second count down, the blast of the horn and a dash off the line. It became quickly apparent who the soloists and the team runners were as 'we' were left behind to plod along at a 'sustainable' pace, and the speed merchants blasted around treating it as if it were just a 10km race (of course it was for them). To give you some idea of their speed - the winners of the mixed 8 category (Plymouth Harriers) completed 35 laps which translates to around a 42 minute 10km lap! How the heck they kept that going is pretty amazing.
My pace of course was nothing of the sort. In the early laps it was hovering around a 10 minute per mile pace. Still one minute quicker than I had intended but I honestly didn't think I could run any slower. I did inject some short walk breaks on anything that resembled a hill to help preserve my energy for longer. I consciously decided to try and maintain a similar pace for the first 4 laps, and this worked well with lap times of 0.59; 1.01; 1.00; 1.09. The 4th lap involving my first major refuelling stop, which accounts for the extra minutes as I tucked into some pizza. yum.
The plan was to knock off another minute per mile from my pace and maintain this for another 4 laps. Laps 5-8 were 1.04; 1.08; 1.14; 1.20. Things were going well and tackling it in this manner really helped to break things up a little so I never thought 'oh my god I'm gonna be running for 24 hrs'. I just focused on the next 4 laps trying to maintain the set pace. The first 8 laps really did fly by with little if any incident. Oh apart from being stung by a bloody wasp in the first km of the race. The girl beside me also got stung at exactly the same time. Apparently 9 other runners were also stung at the same point on the course. The nest was duly removed.
My family had travelled up with me also and were proving an excellent support crew with mum, wife and 2 yr daughter handing me my refilled bottles! We had pitched our tents right next to the track on the back straight of the 'Supernova Stretch' just before the course climbed steeply, and then went down again and around to the start/finish area. My dad was running having secured a place in a team of five who lost a member having fell off a horse the day before. He only found out on the morning of the race that he was running. Way to go Dad!!! And he completed 5 laps (50km) for his team and was the fastest member.
So back to the race… 8 laps down and we were now well into the night stage. The rules stated that you needed your head torch on from 8:30 onwards which seemed very early however the woodland sections with deep tree cover were much darker than the open. However I managed to navigate myself safely through the root infested woodlands until around 9:30 having gone out on lap 6 at 8:15pm so wasn't breaking any rules.
I set myself the target of completing laps 8 -12 in 6 hours. So 1.5 hrs per lap including refuelling breaks. I know that to most this will seem very slow (just 15 minute miling) including myself, but having already completed 2 marathons, and being able to see only 10ft ahead, things do inevitably slow down. These laps were without doubt the toughest part of the race. My energy levels were low, and there seemed to be no end in sight with my 100 mile distance target still way off. So I focused on just one lap at a time, and pulled on through. Looking back now there is very little that stands out during this period. Its almost as if I had pressed the auto-pilot button and let the rest take care of itself. I had brought my ipod along with me for the night section but I didn't use it as I was too focused on the task at hand, and in a way enjoyed the peacefulness of running/plodding through the night with the moon occasionally peering out between the clouds.
At the end of every lap I would come back to the tent where my family were curled up in their sleeping bags, and my mum would hear me, and enquire how I was doing and if I was ok. It was nice to exchange a few words. My night time menu consisted of pizza (note to self - a bit more topping wouldn't have gone amiss) minestrone soup (which really hit the spot!) and rice pudding. All washed down with hot tea and coke. I definitely felt better as I started out on every lap after taking on food and drink.
I kept an eye on the time and thought I was a little behind the 6 hr target for these laps, however looking back at the lap splits now it appears I was actually within the 6 hrs. Maths was never my strong subject especially when out running for 24hrs. I was giving it everything I could, running when I could and walking in parts to save what was left of my legs and limiting the increasing discomfort in my left ankle. I was sure that when the sun rose I would spark into life once again and see this thing through. So that was laps 9-12 done (splits 1.19; 1.17; 1.32; 1.39).
It was almost time for breakfast but I squeezed in one more lap (apparently). My memory of this period is a little jumbled as I thought I had breakfast after lap 12 but the splits suggest otherwise. So lap 13 including a major refuel, toilet stop and change of clothes back into day running wear was 1:48. The warm porridge and tea really hit the spot and I polished off a whole bowl and felt much better for it. The sun was up and for the first time the end of the race was in site. Whilst I still had a marathon to go to reach my 100 mile target it was during lap 14 that I knew for the first time that I WOULD finish. It really was this clear in my mind as I continued on my way laughing to myself with joy.
Lap 14 was a blast and the best I had felt for ages posting a lap time of 1:08! (Note to self – porridge works!!!). I hoped this feeling and the energy that returned to my legs would last, but of course it didn't. However I did start doing the sums to work out how many laps I could do within the remaining time. I figured 17 was a fair bet (my original target), but if I could hold it together then 18 or even 19 was possible. From this point on it really was a case of one lap at a time. My family were up and about and the encouragement from them, other spectators and runners was much appreciated. My splits for laps 13-16 were 1.48; 1.08; 1.33; 1.26.
Lap 17 officially saw me pass the 100 mile mark. There was no celebration as the race was not over but I do remember thinking wow I've just run a hundred miles, how cool is that. And then I carried on as I still had 2hrs of running left. I decided that lap 18 would be my last, unless events unfolded which meant that the guy behind me could conceivably carry on and overtake my lap total pushing me back one position.
Dad had been keeping me informed in the latter stages of the race as to my position in the solo male category. In the early hours of the morning I was 8th, this then rose to 5th as I pushed on, and by mid morning I was in 3rd place with the 4th place guy just 10 minutes behind me. The gap increased to 27 minutes by the next lap. Little did I know that I then actually lapped the 4th place guy on my final lap to secure 3rd place in the solo male category. If I carried on and ran a 19th lap I would of secured 2nd place, but after 111 miles my work here was well and truly done. Having achieved exactly what I set out to do I had no desire to run another lap (the ibuprofen was also wearing off and the chaffing down below more than a little uncomfortable!). Lap 17 and 18 splits were 1:21 and 1:23.
After a sprint finish to the finish line it was all over!
Running a 100 miles was never going to be pretty, and I knew it would be difficult but I had never imagined quite what I would have to put my body through to achieve it. What they say about ultras is so true - that you run the first half with your legs and the second with your mind. I had ran 18 laps totalling 111 miles in a time of 23hrs30mins. My pace band had written on it: Lap 18 - 111 miles - 23:38. Now that's what I call pacing! There was even time for a cup of tea :-)