10-11th August 2013
Farnham, Surrey – Wye, Kent via the North Downs Way
102.7 miles, approx 3025m elevation
Stats, kit and photo gallery below
The sun had just set and a strong red hue settled in the sky. There were no runners around us and just for a moment we turned off our headtorches to enjoy the absolute calm and quietness of the night. Lights back on, we ran towards the next checkpoint. We were greeted by cheery faces and what seemed to be a miniature festival with fairy lights and solar lighting leading to the holy grail of hot coffee. My knee and achilles were really starting to ache and I wondered silently whether I would be able to make it running through the night…
I’m sitting on my sofa now, feet up and with an ankle swollen to twice the size. I could do with a few more days to let it all sink in but I wanted to get my blog up so here goes.
My first 100 miler. It had loomed ominously closer in my diary for months and then weeks but I had refused to allow myself to get into the mindset that I was actually going to attempt this race. My whole ‘race season’ (if I can call it that) had been a bit off, culminating in the Mont Blanc 80km race which I had finished but with difficulty. I finally looked at the map and instructions the day before we left and laid out my kit. Checking in and picking up my number was a strange experience, it felt so much lower key than some of the big european races I have done but in turn I felt really relaxed. In retrospect this was possibly my body going into defence mode!
At 5.30am on Saturday morning, roughly 160 runners jostled into St Polycarps Primary in Farnham for the race brief. RD James Elson then led us down to the start of the North Downs Way just before 6am and then with the blow of a horn, we were off.
I stayed close to the back and was relieved to find that everyone set off at a very gentle pace. I know the boys at the front went hard from the outset but it was nice to see that the back pack had sensible pacing in mind already. There were 13 aid stations, with some open to crew. The plan was for Kris to meet me at the first few open to crew, then leave our car at the finish and somehow get to the 60 mile point where he would run with me to the end. It was great to see him at checkpoint 2, the 12.5 mile point. He’d made me some soy cheese sandwiches (which as a vegan was fab – although the aid stations were really well stocked, the savoury food was virtually all non vegan).
Soon after this point I met Poppy, a Kiwi who was over visiting her mum and had decided to throw in her first 100 miler for good measure. She was great company and we ended up staying together all the way to mile 60. I’ll apologise to her now because over 12 hours I’m sure she heard the same rubbish stories from me more than once. Together we coined the phrase of the day – having decided to walk anything with even the most minuscule incline – “is this a hill? Yes!”
I found the first 20 miles ok but after this point, both my left knee and right calf and achilles started to ache. I was worried as it was so early on in the race but I decided to try and ignore them and hope they would calm down a bit. Kris met me again at mile 31.8, Reigate Hill, with another sandwich and some tape for my shoulder as my pack was starting to rub. That was our last meeting as I knew I wouldn’t see him now for another 30 miles. Poppy and I settled into conversation and chatted to runners as they passed or we passed them. Names seemed a bit hard to remember so we just had nicknames for everyone, such as the recce boys, map man (I now know that was Christian) and pole man (I bet he loved that. He actually got nearly attacked by a dog for carrying them!)
Mile 50 at Knockholt Pound was a major checkpoint with the first proper toilet (as a girl, it’s something to look forward to), hot food and our drop bags. I could of easily sat here and relaxed a bit but Poppy had a friend, Bob, pacing her from this point and sensibly suggested we move on quickly before we got too comfortable. It was a good idea, although the next ten miles felt hard with my heavy legs.
As we finally emerged in Wrotham, mile 60, I was relieved to see Kris. After a big hug he announced he had brought me a whole veggie curry and sag aloo; to me this was romance personified 🙂 After eating and stocking up my pack I took a couple of ibuprofen’s to take the edge off my aches and pains. The next 10 miles went by fairly quickly. The sunset alluded to above was lovely. However as it got properly dark and we were faced with the climb up Bluebell Hill, I slipped into another bad patch. I was pretty grumpy although the amazing volunteers at the Bluebell and Detling checkpoints did help cheer me up. All of the checkpoints were amazing with supportive volunteers and plenty of food and water.
After some beans and a coffee at Detling, the 82 mile point, we set off into the night for what I think was probably the hardest section. It was quite hilly with steps and narrow paths through the woods. My crap headtorch just wasn’t sufficient but luckily Kris had his epic Hope motherbeam so we both used that to navigate the trail. This was also boosted by his disco ball pyrotechnic stick leant to us by James Adams – a great addition to any ultra race I think.
Kris willed me on and after a few more pain killers we were moving again. My knee and achilles were now really throbbing with any weight but 12ish miles to go I knew I had to keep moving forward. I started crying and whining but Kris just kept gently encouraging me on. Ok except for a few times where it felt like he was forcing me to run but I’m grateful in retrospect. He took a few photos of me crying but I like this one the best as I actually look like I’m praying for the race to stop!
The final checkpoint took a long time to arrive. When we finally found Dunn Street at mile 98, we refuelled in silence and then started to run. It was like I had entered the ‘zen’ zone. It sounds a bit crazy I realise but whilst my legs were aching and heavy, my brain just shut them off and kept me going.
Crossing the final stile with a 1 mile marker to Wye was incredible. Running through the final wheat field felt like this: This is actually me: We had a brief respite at the train crossing and then made our way to the modest finish line at Wye Village Hall. I finished in 26hr22, 5th women and 57 overall. I couldn’t quite believe it. Infact I think it only really started to sink in as we were driving home. In the end 83 runners either dropped out or were pulled out due to cut-off’s. I can see why – it was much more undulating and in some places rockier than I had thought it would be. Also due to the lack of rain, the trail was rock hard which really took its toll on your legs. When I took my trainers off I saw my unpleasantly swollen ankle which I’ll be keeping my eye on the for the next few days. I’m on crutches for now but I have to say it was totally, completely worth it. I’m not sure I’ll attempt the distance again, certainly not for a while at least, but right now I am proud to say that I have finished my first century 🙂
Brooks GTS 11 road shoes
Injinji toe socks
Compress Sport Calf Guards (good for the stinging nettles if nothing else!)
Under Armour compression shorts
Raidlight Olmo 5 pack
2 litre Camelbak bladder
Petzl Tikka 2 headtorch
Bananas, 9Bars, Soy Cheese Sandwiches (cheezly), dark choc covered marzipan bars, Crave vegan muffin, curry :), watermelon chunks, black coffee, coke, nuun tabs, plain table salt, baked beans, spacebar, salt and vinegar peanuts
More photos from the day…(thank you Kris)