Sitting down and trying to write an informative and entertaining race report about the British 100km Championships, running around 32 laps on the road, is harder than running the race itself!
Over the last few years I have become known for racing on the trail, so I think some people were surprised to hear of me racing 100km on road, but for me it was returning back to where I feel my ultra running really began back in 2009, when I ran my first 100km.
Is racing a 100km (62miles) on the road any different to racing an ultra on the trail? Yes; the surface is very different, most 100km races tend to be on a loop course and you get the feeling of deja vu, you maybe don’t get such dramatic scenery as you would in a mountainous area, and you don’t get any long or big climbs giving you a reason to walk. However, racing on 100km still requires meticulous planning and preparation, getting the right nutrition and hydration, and pacing is imperative, I know it is in a trail ultra as well but in a road 100km pacing is the key to being successful over the distance; it is all too easy to go off too fast on the road as the pace feels incredibly easy over the first few miles and by the time the first marathon comes round the legs are beginning to feel it, and then it can go even worse as I have experienced in the past.
I had decided to do the British 100km Championships after I had been unsuccessful in being selected for Team GB to run at the World Trail Championship, I had planned 2014 around selection for the team and I had thought that five victories, of which four were course records, in trail ultras and finishing second at the British Trail Championship at the Montane Lakeland 50 would had demonstrated my fitness and strength on Trail Ultras, but it wasn’t enough and to my disappointment I wasn’t selected. I needed to catch the selectors eyes again! I didn’t have the England qualifying time for the 100km but hoped my trail performances would get me in the team, it was a joyous moment when I got the email confirming selection, my 7th England vest, though it meant my training needed some changes to get used to running on the road rather than the trail.
It was rather emotional returning to the Redwick 100km which was hosting the British Championships and Anglo-Celtic-Plate, the event had been held there 3 years ago in 2012, a year when a lot of big changes happened in my life. Whilst running can sometimes help us to escape the problems and issues in our life, we ultimately have to deal with them however hard and difficult they are, and as much as we move on from those changes and difficult times, sometimes circumstances and places bring back those memories. I couldn’t dwell on those memories, I focused on how great my life is now and how I have a wonderful, supportive partner who has helped me to over come so much.
The big day had finally arrived and Jen and I headed down to Wales to see if the 8 weeks of training would pay off and see how fast I could successfully run 100km. My plan was to run 7hrs 6mins as that was the GB individual selection time, I say ‘was’ as on the Friday evening when we met for an England Team meeting we were told that the selection time was now 7hrs 2min, and the team selection time was 7hr 16mins. A quick calculation and I’d worked out that 7:02 was 6:47min/mile – it was possible, but the only thing which could impact that sort of time was the weather which was forecast to be wet and very windy, not ideal on such a flat exposed course.
I can control so many factors in an ultramarathon; doing the right training and staying injury free, doing strength and flexibility work to help my muscles cope with the demands of the distance, plan and prepare a nutrition strategy and write pace strategy plans. All of these factors I can control, but the one factor I cannot control is the weather. I don’t mind the rain, and I don’t even mind a bit of sun, but the one element that can have a massive detrimental impact upon performance is the wind, a malevolent force that can push against you like a school bully, slowing you down, and making you use more of your precious energy levels to work against it.
The weather forecast wasn’t wrong, as I looked out of our hotel window at 6am the Welsh flag in the car park was billowing in the strong easterly wind, damn, not what I wanted.
The wind didn’t feel too bad once we were at Redwick, there was a light drizzle that kept coming and going, I wrapped up warm, wearing a Montane Featherlight windshirt under my England Vest. I love the build up before a big race, when I say big I mean in importance, as with only 20 athletes taking part in the 100km it felt like a small low key ultra and not the British 100km Championship with international athletes representing Wales, Scotland and England in the Anglo-Celtic-Plate.
I felt incredibly relaxed and we mingled outside the village hall waiting to walk up to the start line, I was nervous and excited to see if I could get my target time. I chatted with fellow team mates and friends from other teams. Some runners were complaining about the delay in the start…thankfully I kept my coat on trying to keep warm and not stress about the delay.
As was expected Ross Houston, who had represented Scotland at the marathon at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Phil Anthony, representing England, shot off as the gun went off, as I expected on their first attempt of running 100km. The only question was when would I be lapped by them.
I set off at a comfortable pace of 6:50min/mile in a small group with Andrew Murrey from Scotland, Daniel Weston from Wales, and Craig Holgate from England. The pace felt easy, until half way round the first mile the wind hit us head on coming across the open fields, thankfully once around the turn point it was then a tail wind back to the village. Daniel tried striking up a conversation with me, something I am not used to when running as I do so much of my running on my own, and when I’m racing I like to get into a rhythm and sit at it, in a mediative state. I must have come across as antisocial as I gave abrupt answers; sorry Daniel, I just don’t chat much when racing. Nerves had kicked in as well and I already needed a pee on the first lap! On a looped 100km courses in can at times looks like the Marathon for the Incontinent from Monty Python, as competitors dive off the side of the road to pee, unless you’re like some competitors (Craig) who can pee on the run!
I went round the first lap in…don’t worry I’m not going to give you a lap by lap race report, I’m not going to inflict that on anyone.
Slowly I increased my pace, going through the marathon in 2:55 with James Scott-Buccleuch next to me, spot on what I had wanted. James asked how I felt.
‘Great’ I replied ‘how are you feeling?’ I asked him.
‘Not good then’ I said as when you still have another marathon to run then another 10 miles, I knew James was going to pay for his early pace.
I went through 50km in 3:28, my right knee was hurting, my left hip was sore and I could feel my calves tightening up, I wished I had put calf guards on. I forgot how much pain you have endure on a road 100km, though I was still feeling strong. I had taken my windshirt off after a quick wardrobe change, with the help of James and Grant, years of changing kit on the trail without stopping came in useful.
My nutrition strategy of taking a bottle of OSMO hydration alternative laps with a Clif Shot or 3 Clif Bloks was working well, I wasn’t feeling sick. Though I discovered munching on our homemade tufty energy bars wasn’t very easy, even though I had tested them out on a steady 20 mile run. I always pack spare Shots and Bloks so just used the Bloks, leaving the tufty bars for my next trail ultra.
Around about 60km, I think it was 60km I wasn’t keeping an eye on laps or distance, just my pace, I passed Phil Anthony who had lapped me earlier on, he was struggling and eventually pulled out which is a real shame as he was flying. It did mean that I was now third as Craig had already pulled away from me.
Could I hold on to get third place, would my legs keep moving? After about 5 hours of running my legs felt numb, the pain in the knee had stopped and my left hip only hurt on the tight left hand turn at the top of the course. I wanted to tell Jen that I felt like ‘shit’ as ran past her on the support table, but knew that I didn’t want to admit it to her or say it out loud as I didn’t want to dwell on the negative. I also didn’t want the other WAGS and supporters know how I was feeling, as I didn’t want my opposition to know I was hurting and suffering. We can get such a boost off hearing that someone else is suffering, just like when Danny Kendall told Jen on the way to the Kentmere checkpoint at the Lakeland 50 that he ‘felt like shit’ – I was about 4 minutes behind Danny at the time but got a big boost when Jen told me this and it lifted me up and I chased him down.
I was ticking the laps off, my pace was slowing but I was still under 6:50min/mile average pace, I came up to the support table, Jen was standing there holding my drink and a Clif Espresso Shot, I grabbed the bottle and gel, you don’t have time to stop at the table. Yes! I was on the Espresso Shots, I remembered from my plan that it meant I only had 6 laps left to go! I was going to finish this 100km and I was on for a PB…I just had to keep my legs moving and not slow down.
Jen gave me my last Clif Shot and bottle as I started my penultimate lap, I was hurting then at 95km as the head wind hit me my left thigh cramped up, I hobbled as I tried to loosen up the cramp shooting down my Sartorius muscle. It soon cleared as I did the sharp left turn, ‘one more lap left’ I told myself.
As I came up to the support table I shouted for a bottle of coke (its watered down flat coke) as I didn’t want to cramp up again on the last lap, I looked at the clock as I started the last lap, I was on for PB.
The penultimate mile was my slowest, the road had turned to treacle, could I break 7:06? I was on for a PB… just don’t stop Scotney! I turned the sharp left turn for one last time, I was homeward bound even though I had already ran down the road 31 times. The pain in my legs dissipated and my pace picked up, why is it in a race you can hurt or ache for miles but as soon as you get a whiff of the finish line the body suddenly finds a renewed strength! My pace picked up to 6:30min/mile, I kept checking my watching would I break 7:08 yes…would I break 7:07…if you keep the legs you will! I came into the village for the last time, I was going to break 7:07!
I crossed the finish in 7:06:32 in third place and a new PB by 10mins. https://www.strava.com/activities/297820075#comments
Then the legs really ceased up and boy did they hurt!
Ross Houston ran an outstanding 100km debut winning the British Championships 6:43 placing him 6th on the all time 100km UK rankings. Craig had just got stronger and stronger finishing second in 7:01. Jon Sharkey ran a superb new PB of 7:16, and James dug deep after a few difficult laps and didn’t quit and finished his first 100km in an England vest, it was emotional watching him finish after such a tough race. Kate Simpson won the Ladies British Champs in the new PB of 8:38.
Thank you to Welsh Athletics for organizing a great race and to Walter Hill and Eleanor Robinson for looking after the England team. Thank you to all the WAG’s and WAG’s parents for supporting us during the race and picking our litter up.
And finally a huge thank you to my partner Jen, who did a brilliant job of standing next to a table in the drizzle for over 7 hours and handing me my drink and food and looking after me post race and for your support you will never know how much it means to me and helps me to achieve my goals.