Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Just the tail left,we ate the donkey: The Rodopi Advendrun 100.

As I sit down to right this I feel a mixture of feelings, excitement about what a fantastic event this was and the adventure I had. A sense of achievement and pride in finishing this challenging 100 miler. I discovered this gem of a race a few years ago when looking for something different. I kept coming back to the Rodopi webpage over time looking at it. Watching youtube clips and really wanting to get there. It is easy to place restrictions on ones self.The logistics of getting to the start line held me back. Not speaking Greek the travel involved meant a fair bit of public transport and planning and the expense of getting there, where all restrictions I had placed on myself from moving forward and doing something I wanted to really do!

A brief description of the race from the webpage "Rodopi Advendurun" (ROUT) is an ultra-endurance trail race with elements of adventure, which is held every October at the Rodopi Mountain Range, in northern Greece.  Until 2012 the race was called "Rodopi Ultra Trail".  The course is 164 kilometers (100 miles) and has +8000 meters elevation gain (approx).  The area where the race is held is one of the most characteristic forests in Greece and is part of the Rodopi Mountain Range National Park, an area of rare natural beauty and biodiversity (habitat for bears, deer, wild goats, roe deer etc).  The time limit (cut-off) of the race is 40 hours.

I signed up for the race whilst I was on holiday in Greece in May. I planned my journey in advance and every now and again I would re-check my details.My training had gone well and on the 17th October I flew out to Greece with a big grin on my face. I stayed in Thessaloniki on my first night then traveled upto Xanthi by train which takes 5 hours and cost 9 euro's. I stayed there over night then got a taxi up in to the mountains which cost me 50 euro's. 

Once I arrived I met Christo's one of the race director's. I was made to feel really welcome. I collected my race number and was pretty pleased with the goodies in side, there were two Northface bags a holdall and rucksack with my race details on them so if I wanted they could be used as drop bags. The next person I met was Niko's and Manus. Niko's on asking how I had got here said not to worry about by return journey to Thessaloniki, they would arrange a lift. This was great news as I did not fancy negotiating the journey back tired and sore. I found a spot to put my tent up, It was very warm around 24 degrees. It felt surreal finding myself there, I had a walk around and spoke to some people and had something to eat. I then sorted out my two drop bags. When I went to leave my drop bags in the tent I felt like I was missing out on something. The majority of the bags where very large and there was even a couple of small suitcases! My drop bags consisted of gels and waffles and some warm gear for the night. 

The technical brief was at 7.30 pm. The temperature had dropped so it was nice to get into the warm. The brief was held in a big cabin with a log fire.As I sat down and looked at the banners hanging from each race held, I noticed Nikos had won this race 3 times! The race brief was first carried out in Greek then English. I met Kristian Morgan another UK runner, it was nice to no there was some one else from the UK. I picked up on a number of things, the race first 25 miles is also the last 25 miles and there is a 50 mile loop. Once out on the loop things get remote especially as we get up to the top of the loop near Bulgaria. Its very remote and this is where nature has been untouched for a long time, we were advised not to worry about the wildlife as they will tend to stay away. Christos put the emphasis on the decision we make dictate's the adventure we have and whether we finish. He said we do not check your kit, so if you have not brought what has been suggested this is down to you. He said that the last 25 miles are the toughest and you need to save something for this, honestly this will be the hardest part for you with the climbs!
Course profile.
After the brief I went back to my tent settled down and slept a good sleep, The custom is to wake us all with the ringing of cowbells. This happened at around 4.30 am. I got up and got ready and made my way to the start. It was warm to me, but to others it was cold, I looked at what some people where wearing and thought you will soon be overheating. I grabbed two cheese and ham rolls and had a coffee. The atmosphere was electric, we soon gathered at the start for the off!  A count down and ringing of bells and we were off. It was one of those moments as I crossed the line, I had gotten here and now it was time to realize the dream!The first 7.2 k is on a dusty old road through woods, it was dark as we started to go down, the first 25 miles there is a lot of down There are 20 check points where you are checked off to make sure you get through safely and to keep account of runners, there are no supply's of food or water at the CP's. Only at the 6 main aid stations supply water and food. Within the first few miles I toe punted a big rock with my big toe it bloddy hurt and I knew this would cause problems, the road down to the first CP Levaditis wound its way down. I was keeping a nice easy pace. And soon was met with someone shining a torch and pointing us down in to some woods, this was Theologos  the trail now got steeper with switch backs,this was heavy going and it was soft underfoot. It was humid now and I was chatting to an American guy for a while here. 

Once we got down we had to make are way through some over grown woods, we crossed are first small stream here then we started up an ascent, it was getting light now and I stowed my torch away, my plan for the race was to run all flat and downs and hike the ups. We came out of a clearing and was met by Cristos and others. CP 2 was around 10 miles in, the going was slow and the ground underfoot was quite technical. Rocky in places or tree roots meant you had to keep your focus or risked tripping and potentially a long fall down into some valley below. It was nice now the sun was up and it was getting really warm. I started to work a bit harder now and was soon caught in my first pole train! I have never used poles, but a lot of runners had them on this race. The path was quite narrow in places so it took a while to get past the train.

The views started to open up with some of the days first of many spectacular views. For the moment I resisted the temptation to get the phone out for a picture. Into more woods and we started a steady a climb again, I could here a waterfall  and see a stream down below, it was humid as we going up. There was the same group of runners at this stage of the race. I was feeling good and enjoying the experience. I remember coming over a bridge, these have been hand built and we had a few to cross, no handrails and cobbled together with odd bits of timber. And covered in old sacks to add some traction. I thought to myself these will be fun in the dark and when tired! I came up out of a gully to CP4 Mylos, I was checked off and we had about a 5 k flat to run alongside a river. After this was a long slow exposed hike up the side of a mountain, the temperature had risen and it was around 24 degrees. It felt hotter as there was no wind. Picture of guys going up hill?

We made are way to the first Aid Station called Prasinada, it was in a small village and the Aid Station was in like a school yard, there was plenty of food on offer soup and sandwiches. I filled my boots and ate as much s I could and drank and refilled my water bottles. I spent a matter of minutes here before heading out. From here we went up again into more of the forest and the next CP was a place called Silli. I was not really keeping track of time and was now pretty much on my own. I was just really enjoying the experience. 
The next main Aid station was Zakadia at 25 miles the ascent total when I arrived here would be 1660 metres. I had seen this aid station on a youtube clip so it was a real buzz getting here.I had a drop bag here so  changed my top. I had a wind proof jacket and this would see me through for some of the night till my next drop back 25 miles further. I ate and then checked my feet out. My big toe nail was lifting out of its bed from toe punting the rock in the first few miles, I was wearing a pair of Scott Kinbalu's suprtrac. They are quite generous around the heel and the skin around both heels had become blistered and macerated, on some of the trail there was sand which was now embedded into the skin. It was manageable although sore. I cleaned my feet as best I could and rubbed sudo cream into them. 

As I was leaving Cristo saw me, it was bloody hot and he told me I now have one of the biggest climbs. He offered me this caution. Take your time stop to rest and breath as you go up. I started the steady ascent luckily it was back into the forest so it was shaded. I was enjoying myself and with the heat I was drinking loads, as the streams where mostly dry water had been put out at extra check points. There was a group of us running at the same pace. That is when you could run. It started to get darker slowly I was watching where I was going there are plenty of places to drop off and have a nasty tumble. I came across a couple the lady was looking for her headtorch and could not find it. I gave them a spare I had and put mine on. We was coming up to Krusovo, this was an aid station with a drop bag, it had started to get cold as I ran to get here. I was looking forward to putting on some warmer gear. The ascent total to here was now 3390 metres. My legs felt ok, I think this down to a lot of hiking. I saw a fire blazing up ahead as I ran down what felt like a corridor of trees, as soon as my headlamp was spotted cow bells rangs and shouts of bravo. It was around 8.00 pm.

I was well taken care of here soup and coffee. I got some sandwiches in to.  It was cold by now and I was keen to get moving, I retrieved my spare headtorch from  the couple I had lent it too. I headed off up the trail and was soon into the woods and down hill for a bit. At some point I head a bear roar down in the valley below, this made me move a bit. The trail was so well marked. As it was mainly forrest all you had to do was shine your head torch on to the trunks of trees and you could see red fluorescent disks shining back at you. Every now and again I would turn my head torch and look up at the stars in the sky. It was amazingly clear.  I had been on the go for 14 hours and being out in the middle of know where I started to hear things, like some one was running up  behind. I knew this not to be true but it made me bit jumpy. 

Into the late night I saw a headlight walking towards me, I wondered what was going on, I had been careful  to keep track of where I was going. it was another runner who thought he had got lost saying there was no markings ahead,he looked tried and a  little distressed. I reassured him we were heading the right way. He was Greek and we spoke to pass the time, it was his first 100 miler. Every now and again he would head off ahead of me, he was taller and his running walking pace was quicker. Then at some point I would see a head torch coming back towards me. I showed him how to scan the tree's to look for the markers. I guessed he was just tired. At one point he was ahead and all I could see was the fluorescent stripes on his leggings caught in my head torch beam. In the dark he looked like he was just walking up into thin air. He stuck with me for the rest of the night. 

At one aid station I was so tired I need a couple of minutes for a power nap. I jumped in a car and had 5 minutes. That's all I needed. We got to Pryamida and had some food, I did not have much of a stomach for it so ate little, we had a lot of downhill now. The race really started for me here, we were getting to the point where we would be chasing the cut off at Check Points and aid stations,day light started to break. My  mind and body was fatigued, looking at my pace chart and where I thought we were was hard work. The next checkpoint we got to I believe was Mega Rema at 110 kilometres. We was told we need to get moving. Even with being told this I was to fatigued to retain this information. I kept looking at my pace chart and I got it wrong, I said to the greek guy we needed to run more as was not going to make the cut offs. 

I started to run more the morning was errie with tired eyes, my feet hurt and every lump and bump I felt, but I ran, what took over at this point was the importance of finishing the race I was not going home with out a medal. My companion from the night could not keep up. I ran hard and kept running I was running over terrain and up climbs I had talked myself out of earlier in the race.I came through some bushes to see the next CP. I was confused, this was not what I was expecting. I had expected to be at Zarkadia at 128 kilometers, not here at Tsataki, my fatigued mind had not been able to take in any information form previous CP and my pace chart was just some bit of blurred paper in my hand. I had 7.3 k to run with being on the up all the way, it was rocky underfoot and hard going. I had less than an hour, I really had to push and I was soon running what felt like a fairly hard pace.

They say the first 50 miles are ran with your legs in a 100 mile race then the next 50 is with your head, I had for most of the race given myself the message that a lot of this course was to hard to run, but now as I ran I got connected with what was important, and that was finishing and getting the medal at the end, I started to feel good and although my legs where fatigued I soon started to over take over runners who where depleted and where not going to make the cut off, I came to a road and rounded a corner I saw the Aid Station Zarkadia, they were packing up. I came storming up  the road and heard Bravo and people clapping me in. I had made the cut off with a minute to spare.I had been on my feet now for 27 hrs 59 minutes. I was quite overcome with emotion at this point and confused thinking I had 10 hours to cover the last gruelling 25 miles. The race Director said take your time you have 12 hours to finish. I was well attended here I ate and try to tend to my feet. 

I left with the safety team not far behind me, these guys where great and had to stay behind me as I was at the back. It started to get hot again and as I tried to run when I got some flat that was on exposed parts of the mountain, I did the best I could with moving as fast as I could. My guts where now playing up and food was not staying in for long. I kept getting in what I could and I was drinking a lot of water. I just kept going quite confident I would finish. I arrived at Prasinada for the second time, it was afternoon and scorching hot, my feet hurt as ran into town. Agis was waiting here for me, the race director Elias was also here and had spoken to Agis about getting me to the finish. He had done the race before. Agis was a really nice guy and great to spend sometime with, before we set off I ate some cous cous that was strong with garlic, I would regret this soon. 

Agis and I set off, he was thinking clearer than me and and we arrived at the next point on the time he said. There had been a flat 5 k but my stomach was on the go so not pleasant. Once we got past Mylos and we was heading towards Talia is started to feel really tired. My feet where sore any miss placed footing that knocked my heels reminded me of how sore my feet were. I felt a bit pissed off and knowing some of the bigger climbs where to come and this did not help. I was drinking so much water with sweating. We got into some woods and Agis had mentioned Theologos would be the hardest it was over 600 m up on tired legs and in the dark. The climb seemed like it would never end we had over taken one runner earlier, but he had caught us up, he had been shuffling with poles at one point. When he passed us he was running. Agis was up ahead moving well, I was tired and every now and again I just had to stop. I must of been on the go for 37 hours at this point, As we went up one of the safety team said to me. We have a greek saying. You have eaten the donkey, just the tail is left. I knew what he meant straight away. 

It was getting cold and every now and again with knowledge I was nearing the end I was running bits even the pain in my feet did not bother me, as we went up the switch backs I could see Agis's headlight and the guy before him. The switch backs seem to never end and it did not seem this far on the way down! As I neared Levaditis the last CP I could see headlamps and shouting, one of the safety team said, It is the race director he has come to get his photo with you. I could here him shouting I am here just to see you, I want to get my photo taken with you. It felt special, his daughter took a photo of us together. And I headed off on the last 7 k on a slight up hill, I had roughly an hour and 14 minutes. I think Elias and the other thought I would not make it. One of the safety team said to me can you run, you need to push. I tried and stopped after a short while. I caught up with Agis and the other runner, I said come on lets run together and finish. Agis said to go on his ankle was really sore and had been for a while. The other runner did not answer then started to run off on his own. 

All of sudden I knew I was not going to make it unless I started to run and keeping running. The guy from the safety team was running with me, I asked him if he still had the gel he offered me earlier he did and I necked it. I was buoyed up now and started to catch the runner in front of me. I stopped I was worried about etiquette now. I said to the guy from the safety team, do you think is ok for me to over take the other runner. Of course he said go for it. I went for it and somehow started to sprint, I ran past the other guy and kept I running. My stomach was churning and it was pretty uncomfortable, my headlight was on its way out and then it went. I pulled out my back up. I would turn it off so I could see if the last runner was catching me up. I did not want to get over taken. I kept thinking of the medal and every corner I rounded I kept saying please God let this be it! The end seem to be taking forever. Then out of the darkness stepped a figure and said 5 minutes to the end. 

I got to the end I could here voices as I rounded the corner saw Elias he had not been expecting me he was jubilant and shouting, I rang the cow bells and Cristos joined us. I ran to the finish line, Christos hugged me and said well done. Look at that time you are the real winner. I had 6 1/2 minutes sprare. Christos said I had made an Impression on Elias at Zarkadia, he said I to Christos I want the British guy to finish,  Christos said to him he will finish! I was truly humbled at the end, Christos took me back to HQ and took my shoes off for me. I had two big horseshoes of bulging white flesh around the heels with ingrained sand, I could see a couple of blood blisters deep under this skin. And I only lost one big toe nail, it was lifting out of its bed. The medic attend my feet, I ate what I could then had a cold shower. 

You think I would of slept well! Not so my sleeping pattern was shot for 10 days after I just kept waking up, wide awake. I loved this race and highly recommend it as an adventure to be had!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Sussex Trail Events Downslink Ultra.

St Martha's Hill North Downs Way.
The Downslink Ultra is a 38 mile Ultra point to point race from St Martha’s Hill, Surrey to Shoreham- by-Sea, West Sussex using the Downslink footpath and bridleway. The trail crosses the Low Weald and mostly follows two former railway lines. The course is mainly flat after the first section so can lead to some fast running. The Downslink Ultra is an ideal first Ultra for anyone wishing to step up a distance.
I first ran the Downslink 5 years ago and I believe it was Sussex Trail Events first race, The Race Directors are Jay, Chris and Danny all whom are runners themselves. The guys now put on a good number races over the course of the year. Which include the River Series which numbers in four races over the course of the year? There events are all good value for money with a great crew of regular volunteers and well stocked aid stations. There is normally hot food and a shower at the end of most of their races.
This year’s race was on Sunday 1st October. There is a shuttle bus for around 50 people from the start for £12.00 to the St Martha’s Hill. I had missed out on this but Sarah Sawyer kindly offered me her place. Race morning I was up at 5.30 am. My stomach was playing up and did toy with just getting back in to bed. It had been raining heavily during the night with more rain forecast. I got a taxi over from Brighton which cost an arm and a leg. It was raining when I arrived and I stood near the outdoor toilets trying to get some shelter. James Elson appeared and we had a chat it is always good to see him, James is Race Director for Centurion Running another great organisation for running events.
When the buses where loading Jay offered me a lift with him. So I drove up with him. Once there I said hello to Marina and a few other’s and got ready for the race. We started just after 9, the first couple of miles are downhill and the trail is quite sandy. The going underneath is easy but muddy and sticky in places. The first check point is 8.5 mile away. On the way you pass through woods and countryside. It is quite humid and I am soon sweating. My pace at this point is around 10/min pace. I am not planning to run to hard. I am coming to the end of peak training with my A race is in a little under 3 weeks.
I soon get to Cranleigh  Snoxhall Fields -  8.6 miles the first CP, I have over 9 miles on the clock. I had a little to eat top up my water and move on. My stomach is still a bit dodgy and I take a comfort break in a well-hidden location! The trail or path skirts the edge of Cranliegh and the path is smooth and easy to run on.
Heading onto Slinford. Picture courtesy J.Lavis
The next aid station is at Slinfold 15 miles in, we pass through quite a few old railways stations on this course and one is Slinford I believe. The trail also runs by or through little towns and villages. The trail on this section is mostly tree lined. I arrive at Slinford, Jon Lavis is on hand with his camera. And I say hello to Jay who is at the aid station. I get some food and water and head off walking while eating. I am not really feeling the love! The next CP is at Southwater Country Park another 5 miles away.
The trail is pretty much the same tree lined and muddy in places I feel a bit bored and plug into some music but this soon bothers me. It is getting overcast and it looks like the rain that was promised is coming. I look around trying to enjoy the view and take in the bird sound to tackle the boredom I am feeling. I have forgotten how hard it is running on the flat. I break it up now and again with some short walk breaks so my legs get to do something different.  I am in and out of the next aid station and I make my way to the next CP, The Cat & Canary Pub – Henfield - 27.5 miles. I am running slower now and I am aware I am not going to come in near my time 5 years ago. I just focus on ticking over and reset my goals accordingly. These are to have a good time and treat this as a longer endurance run. I get to the cat and canary and find myself repeating to Chris something I keep saying which not helpful. I hear myself and note I need to stop saying that!
Picture Courtesy jon Lavis
I head off with a lady saying you look really fresh well done. As my thinking changes I begin to get a bit hungry to finish, it is raining and I am in my element now, throw in some crap weather and it brings the best out in me. My pace starts to pick up. I put my waterproof minimus smock on and decided to get a wriggle on!  I round a corner and Jon is there again with his camera. I give him the thumbs up as I pass. I start to take places and I soon arrive at Bramber Castle around 33 miles on my watch. It is lovely to be greeted by Lisa and get a hug. I move on quickly and leave 3 other runners here. I am on it, I start running and intend to get to the finish as quick as I can, I get to the River Adur and at first I am confused by the signage, I soon figure out I do not go down the river bank. It is a shorter route and tempting for me to go down. Instead I follow the correct route I hit the hard packed trail and run, I am feeling good as I get around the path I notice other runner going down the river bank. They must have got confused by the route markings, it bothers me and I am not letting them overtake me. I get a spurt on as one of the 5 runners comes off the river bank; another runner has stopped to tell them they went wrong.

I get up on the path and I am now running strong, I am counting people off and this is my motivation to keep moving and get the job done. I am now past 8 runners, my legs feel a little stiff but I am having fun! I pass 9 and 10 surely I cannot pass anyone else. More runners come into my sight; I am running at decent pace not fast but running well. 11, 12 runners I have passed. I cross the toll bridge and I can see 3 runners ahead heading down the horrible uneven path that run along the river and airport. I don't think I will catch them. I have been sucking down on a gel and with the exertion of the last 4 miles I am feeling a bit sick. I know this path well, it was my playground as I child. I decide as hard and uneven as the concrete blocks are I am going to run it. I catch the last few runners up and pass them. I get the finish feeling good but a little out of sorts feeling sick. I was glad to finish, I did not stop for the lovely vegetable chilli on offer. I head home after asking a few people I know how it went for them. I was happy with the outcome and a few days later I have recovered well. I did a short recovery run last night and my legs where good. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Roseland August Trail Race. The Plague 64 Miles.

I had no race pencilled in for August and after completing the T60 night race and with nothing of a significant distance before October I was feeling a bit twitchy. I put my name on the wait list for the North Downs Way 100. But I was not really feeling it. I have found doing the same races don't really do it for me.

I saw on the Mudcrew Facebook page that there were places still going on The Rat or Rosleand August Trail. I gave their page a look. On offer are 4 difference races The Plague 64 miles, Black Rat 32 miles Red Rat 20 miles and White Rat 11 miles. After consulting with my coach Ronnie Staton and thinking of The A race in October it was decided the distance of 64 miles gave a better recovery time for October. I signed up with a mixture of excitement. I had run a little on the South West Coastal Path and knew it was not easy. I went with the thought of just go for the finish and enjoy the experience.

I had been training at high intensity for a while so a long time, so my training for this was of a very low volume  with no real long runs, my weekends consisted of hiking and  minimal running in the week.

The race started on the Friday 11th August at 12.05 past midnight. I had travelled over from Looe where I had spent a relaxing day before with my family. I started to feel anxious as I was due to leave,  but as soon as I got to race HQ at Porthpean outdoor centre I felt more at ease I was greeted by Fergie one of the race directors.  The outdoor centre was great, there were two shower blocks and plenty of toilets.
There was a barn with a bar and where the race brief etc.. would take place also there was another building where I registered and picked up my race number and The Green Plague vest that was required to be worn and seen at all times if you was running the plague and a glow stick for my back pack.

The field was full of tents already; I found a space and pitched my one man tent. I had just invested in a berghaus peak 3-1 tent. I pitched my tent as it started to rain I wanted to listen to Jo Meek who was giving a talk on her experience of ultra-running at 8.45. The talk was really great and Jo gave a bio about races she had run and she shared lots experience. A question and answer session after from Jo, Pat Robbins and Sharon followed. There was a good vibe going on and I felt relaxed and looking forward to getting started. It was still raining as I went back to my tent to get ready. One thing though, I did not know any of the runners here! Normally I can turn up at a race in the south of England and know many people.

I got ready and doubled checked I had everything; I did not want to get out on course and have something important left sitting in my tent. I made my way back to the barn for the race brief at 11.30 this was broken up into 3 parts. I had followed the build up to the race on The Plague on the FB page. It was built up to be tough race and those who ran it would be well looked after. The Plaguers have to wear a green vest so that they can be identified at all times by marshals and the medics on course. Also this gives you preferential treatment at aid stations. I felt like I was in safe hands at each aid
station were people volunteering who had multiple 100 miles finish in ultra running. We were advised to be mindful in the first mile of badger holes. Race brief over it was outside in the rain to start. It felt quite humid and the rain was not heavy. Fergie started us off.

The first ¼ of mile was on road after a while we turned left and started on the trail that would take us out on the South Wet Coastal Path. The rain and weather was strange, the rain was was light but it felt warm at this point I did not put my waterproof on as did no one else. The trail was quite enclosed and we had a nice steady pace going. I was fairly back in the field and you could not really overtake at any place. Other runners had to step aside to let you pass. I was enjoying myself and all of sudden half of me disappeared down a badger hole. I soon recovered, there were lots of midges about and I swallowed a few a couple as did the lady behind me, I could hear her gagging. I said fly and she said yes as she tried to spit it out!

We started the many of the climbs we would have, it was spectacular looking at the headlights ahead making their way up the hill, the wind was blowing and there was a mist coming in off the sea. I settled into the climbs being mindful not to work to hard but being efficient in my moving forward. The first checkpoint would be Pentewan which would be 5 miles in distance. This was I believe the heaviest part of the course with regards to accents and descents. I felt good on both; I had a slight pain in my right ankle that was bothering me. This had been bothering me on and off for some time. It was a tendon coming over the knuckle of the ankle and rubbing.

 I found running in the dark and not being able to see the up and downs were good. I tried to keep an eye out for trail signs and at each hill there was a big sign or board telling you where you where. It was not long before we arrived at Pentewan CP1. I topped up with water and pushed on up the road then on to trail. Then a significant climb Penare Point, I started to take a few places here. The next CP was Gorran Haven 6 miles away. It was still raining and even though I was wet I did not feel cold. Some of the Path was exposed and a little windy. As I was going on the ups I kept in mind at some point there would be a nice bit of down. On the way we would be heading to Mevagissey about 2 ½ miles away. Everyone seemed too wrapped up in the task at hand. You needed to keep your eye on the trail or risk injury due to the uneven nature of it. At points it was slippery and I had quite a few falls. Mesvagissey was like many of the small fishing ports in Cornwall I have seen, which is picture postcard, there were marshals on hand to guide us round the port. I kept going just enjoying myself. It was still raining but not a real problem. A short while later I felt the rumblings in my stomach of comfort break coming on! The trail was narrow in places so I was pleased to find a field where I could walk of the trail and do my business. I turned my light off and settled down on my haunches. The first runner catches sight of my reflective gear I am wearing and shouts to me asking if I am alright, I reply with fine thanks just need the loo. Well the next guy that comes along starts to freak out. He sees my reflective gear shining back at him and he starts shouting what’s that what’s down there! I shout I am going to the loo but he must have had head phones in as he continues to shout with him picking up the pace and shouting in a frightened tone what it is, what it is! It made me laugh.

After about 16 miles my right ankle is quite sore. It is nagging away and playing on my mind the terrain has aggravated it. The slanting and uneven trail is not helping. It begins to get in my head and I am starting to think what have I got myself into. It’s raining my ankle hurts this is not to easy and I have only done 16 miles. It became a bit of focus and bothers me. I turn it around and look at as a gift. The constant nagging is keeping me in the moment and not really thinking about too much else, even though it is sore I accept and keep moving. I find my focus shifts from this.  After Mesa we hit more undulating trail through Portmellon. Mindful not shine my head torch into any little old ladies bedrooms as we had been asked to be careful where we pointed our head torch here.

I make it to Gorran Haven in good time the CP was in a Church, I was well looked after here. I was soon out and back on the trail again, I remember descending a massive hill a short while later the descent seem to go on. It was still raining and I said to another runner do you think that was The Dodman! I had seen this in a few posts get a mention on FB. It is South Cornwall’s highest headland.

The next CP was at Portloe, I remember being ushered up some steps into a centre. I was close to the cut off now so did not have time to waste. I did not stay long and I was straight back out of the CP and up a sharp decent and over some rocks. Once at the top I took time to take in the view the sun was coming up and I felt light. It had been a long night. I was glad it was over and it had stopped raining! I remember there was couple running together and for the next few hours we had a game of cat and mouse. They were really helpful as at one point I ran out of water and they shared their's with me.

It was great to see the sun coming up; it always makes you feel invigorated and alive after a night on the trail. All to soon I found myself at Portscatho, there had been some good running in the last few miles with some fairly flat bits, I had a quick in and out here and thought I might get a bacon sandwich that was on offer on my return. 4 miles to St Anthony's head and I had hoped to get there sooner, but with my ankle and now my knee playing up I had to put that thought aside and just plod on. I arrived here at 8.20 am and again a quick turnaround. The Black Rat race 32 mile race back to Porthpean was due to start in 10 minutes.

As I got out along the headland the Black Ratters started to catch up with me so I started to step aside and in hindsight once the race leaders and speedy ones had passed I should of just kept pushing instead of letting them pass. It was an excuse to stop! It was great to see Marina and her sister Max who were who were running this. I said good morning ladies and I was greeted with a hug which lifted my spirits. I kept running as much as I could. I was not unduly tired and I was surprised that my legs where not that sore!

I was soon back at Portscatho, I did not fancy the bacon sandwich so I made do with a coffee copious amounts of sausage rolls and crisps. I took a little bag to go the next CP was Portloe around 8 miles. I was feeling good and resigned to the fact I was going to have to keep going with no faffing to make the cut offs! On this section there was two stretches on the beach. The path keeps zig zagging around so you are constantly coming around or over a hill to be greeted by a new view. There was very little road to traverse, however I got to one road section called Rocky Lane and met another plague runner who had been in the lead pack. Unfortunately his race was over he said that he had problem with his metatarsal and it was too painful and risky to carry on. He was waiting for someone to come and pick him up and did not need any help offered.

Across Pendower beach and back on to trail again, my knee was hurting on the descents so coupled with the ankle I was hiking the ups and running whatever was flat and runnable. I had no thoughts of dropping or any lows. I just wanted to get to finish and if it meant close to the cut off it did not matter. I was quite happy and enjoying myself. After Nare's Head a little more Road and then back on trail again, with cliffs dropping down one side of me and country side and fields the over. The day was getting hotter and points I just had my vest on. The sea was looking inviting. I could just do with a dip to refresh myself and feet. It was good to arrive at Portloe, the volunteers and marshals where excellent. One of the guys said I looked better than when he had seen me earlier. He asked how I was, I said all was good but my knee was playing up. I got offered a seat and had a coffee and ate as much as I could. I knew my pace was a lot slower and I wanted to have enough food in so I had no mental dips so ate what I could!
Walking Towards The Dodman. 
Out of Portloe and up a road before getting on the trail again, I got to  place called Portholland and I think it’s here I meet a couple dressed up as monk and a nun dishing out Redbull, I have some red bull and a bit of cake. It is nice a warm and the sun’s out. Before I get to the next CP at Gorran Haven I have The Dodman to contend with. My knee has become bothersome and this section I meet a lady waiting for husband, she offers to strap my knee up to offer it some support. I thank her for her kindness and head off to the Dodman, It’s the Southwest Paths highest Headland. It comes in at 374 feet and does not take me to long, I like the climbs and the steps I encounter I can power up. It’s the downs that are bothering me. I still try to run them pulling a funny face in the process, get over yourself I say. The support soon comes of my knee it did not stay in palce! On arrival at Gorran Haven a medic has look at and puts more tape on it to offer some support. It is hurting right under the knee cap. I eat while he does this and then head out. I start to run up the street getting well dones and hand claps, it lifts me and gives me some energy. My phone and watch have now run out of charge. I can no longer keep Donna my partner updated, I know she will worry I have fallen over a cliff.
The Dodman from Westside.
I try to slide down one of the descents to save my knee but the grass is to dry, I put it aside and run when I can and enjoy the view. The time passes I am happy and I am aware that I am at the back, the last man standing! I put this right in my head thinking to myself that at least it’s a first at coming last! I smile and feel right I just want that Green Rat Medal; I am ok with what I have done! Through Mesa and I know It won’t be long before I am at Pentewan, I know I can make it I just have to keep moving, it will be close to the cut off. I have chased the cut off’s before on NDW 100 it makes more exciting, not that I want to repeat this too often. There are still some of the rats out on course from the other races, we give each other encouragement As I come down a steep hill to Pentewan there is a gully I have to sit down to get into it. Jumping down is not going to happen.

I get onto a bit of Road and am running or should I say the old man shuffle is going on! And up ahead I see Donna, I feel all emotional and start to well up the southern softie I am. It is fantastic to see her, we have a hug and then run into Pentewen. The medic asks me if I want my knee strapped up again, the last one only lasted a few miles. I said no to leave it, but he asks me if I realize what is coming up in the next 5 miles! I ask him to do it. He shaves my leg so the tape will stick this time and he does a really good job, he writes on it “Finish or Bust” fuelled up with food and the love from my family I head out to take on the last miles I am aware I am last at this point. I head of up the hill buoyed by seeing Donna and eating sausage rolls. I follow the road and up a hill I am soon on the coastal path again and encounter more ups and downs. I start to overtake some Plaguer’s as I crest a hill I see the steps, steps that you do not want to see after 62 miles of being on your feet.
The last set of Steps!

 I can see other Plaguer’s looking behind. I love step’s I can power up them and this is a strong point for me. I get to them and they are massive I get up them, despite the niggly knee I run down a steep hill I keep running and have over taken a few people by now, up one last hill and Fergie is waiting to greet the runners in. I give him a hug and thank him for a great race, I am soon at the race finish. I feel good for the finish and chuffed to have my medal. I overtook 7 people in the last 5 miles it feels good not be last. I shower and eat then have to get in my tent and sleeping bag, the last 20 hours have taken their toll I am shivering and cold and just need to get warm, 

I Loved this race and will go back at some point to do it again, well organised and just an amazing route. I got my knee looked at once I got home. Bit of patella tendonitis in it. I have a good physio who has educated me over the years so had been doing some rehab before he looked at it. I am still working on it.

What next? Well I am  looking forward to returning to run The Downslink ultra on October 1st then 3 weeks later I will heading of Europe for a my main race of the year.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Tseries Night Race T60.

The T60 Challenge took place on 25/06/2016 at 8.00pm. It is a night adventure race that sees entrants having to navigate their way from Radley in Oxfordshire all the way to Kemble and the stone marker that denotes the Source of the River Thames. 3 Check Points with only water makes this a race of self-sufficiency. Water sources at locks along the way can be found. The race is organized and run under the name of T-Series with the race director being Shane Benzies. This is a good value event and well organized. At a £1.00 a mile and an all day work shop thrown in I really rate this event. 

I travelled up from Brighton and arrived 2 hours beforehand, as I got off the train I met Javed Bhatti and Tom Garrod. We had a short walk to the race start situated at The Bowyer Arms in Radley. It was conveniently situated right next to the railway station. We settled in had a coffee and chatted and prepared for the race. Registration was smooth and once I collected my race number and GPs tracker I had my mandatory kit checked. I had kept my kit light and purposeful for any eventuality. My food was Denver rice cakes, gels and shot blocks. Race brief was fairly straight forward. Shane said this race was as close as you could get to an Adventure race due to the self- sufficient nature of it. 

A small crowd had gathered as we set off. The weather was good.  I was not far behind the lead pack as we made our way to the first check point at 14.5 miles situated at Pinkhill lock. This part of the course was very runnable and with it still being light, quite nice. I was familiar with this section from the end of TP100 and it was a nice feeling to run past the field where the TP100  race ends. There was a little mud and stinging nettles on this section but not bad, we passed through Oxford and back onto the canal path. I arrived at Pinkhill Lock 5 minutes ahead of time at 22.20, I quickly topped up on my water and walked along the road and took some food on board. It was dark now so navigation became difficult. It was a cool night.
The next check point was situated at Swan Hotel Bampton 16.5 miles at mile 31. The course from here changed and I started to understand why when looking at previous results there were no super speedy times. With the time of the year and the recent rainfall we had been having the grass was long and the stinging nettles were abundant. There was lots of water and my feet soon became wet and stayed like it for the rest of the race. This made the going slower and harder as the grass was mainly knee high or had fallen over with the weight of the rain. I was enjoying this and moving as efficiently as possible. I was keeping up with a few guys that had gps devices to navigate. I had left it too late to load the GPX  onto my watch. This had been my downfall on this race, trying to use a Harveys map that has little detail was a mistake. I can work with the OS maps and navigate pretty well.
I settled into a steady rhythm for the night switching between running and walking when needed as dictated by the terrain. Night running is my thing. It became deeply meditative at one point. Focused on my pursuit to do well, the noise of people running through overgrown terrain drew me into a never place where the mild discomforts of the environment had no consequence. I was happy and enjoying myself and if I had more confidence in my navigation I would have been pushing ahead.
I turned my ankle a couple of times here, but I was not worried. I have found wearing compression socks will help with this and keep my ankles well supported. There were a few wrong turnings at some points and I did spend time on my own, navigation was fairly easy and well signposted at this point. I found myself around 30 miles starting to feel a little despondent and tired due to being off target, it was coming up for 2.25 am I had been running for nearly 6 1/2 hrs. I soon turned this around though and decided to just carry on enjoying myself. I arrived at CP 2 in good spirits. Time 2.27 am. I topped up with water and thanked the volunteers for sitting out in the cold. I walked over a bridge and found a nice easy pace to run at.

The next CP was 13 miles away at mile 44! I believe at some point on this part of the route is where we met the jungle! I am not sure as I was just oblivious to be honest. I was moving well and just focused, I was having a good race. I know at this point was when a game of cat and mouse developed as it can in the later stages of the race. I had this going on with 3 – 4 people. I caught up with Javed, he was doing well and we had a quick chat in passing, the sun was starting to rise and there were some beautiful sights. I kept moving and got lost at one point and got taken over, then I over took again once I had got more water on board from a tap at a lock. As the sun rose I started to find my strong and came running in to the 3rd and last check point mile 44, in 9.29 mins. It was 5.29 in the morning. I had not even thought about what position I was in. A marshall told me I was doing well and in 7th place. The next person in front of me had left 15 minutes ago. There was tea on the go here, but I just topped up with water and steamed out knowing I had 16 miles to go and that those in front would possibly be tiring and all I needed to do was keep pushing!

The terrain here was hard and uneven with reed beds and water. My feet were in good nick. I kept eating little and often, I was running out of food, I had kept it simple and little variety. At some point from here fatigue started to set in with my mind. The body was willing still. I was making simple mistakes of missing markers on gate posts showing which way to go. I was too befuddled at times to make sense of the map and without my glasses it was harder. I just stood at times, then remembered to run back to the last point where I was not lost. A lot of the time I was looking at the right path to go down but just did not trust that. At one point I found myself having run back on myself for half a mile, meeting Javed saying “what are you doing!“ I was getting low and this was wasting so much time. I tried not to feed in to the despondency this brought and kept running each time I was back on track. I was running out of water fast and had just less than 10 miles to go. 

Luckily I found a tap and filled my bottles again. I caught up with Javed and we laughed. As I passed I said “I will catch up with you later.“ The last major getting lost incident saw me lose the path completely. I came to a stream and the path looked like it was on the other side. I just thought this was a cruel trick right at the end!  I waded into the stream, waist deep in cold water, which in fact felt great. The path just led me into someone’s  back garden! I apologised. I was about ½ mile off course with the end in sight. I just trudged it out, with Javed finding me a mile from the finish in a field scratching my head! I was on the right path. I just followed behind at this point. The getting lost had taken its toll and I was worn out.

It was great to finish, it was a decent challenge with the undergrowth, reeds and navigating making it hard. I really enjoyed the race and am looking at having a go at one of the other races offered on the T-Series. I came in 11th with a time of 14.36, I had added just under 4 miles on my way. The last 16 miles took me just over 5 hours. Despite that it was a good race. We got fed and well looked after at the end. It was good to sit around at the end and just chat with the other runners.  


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Thames Trot 50. 2016/02/06

I have some good training in the bank and I am looking forward to running the Thames Trot for the second year running. The aim of the race will be to work on sustaining a consistent pace and seeing where my general level of fitness and endurance is. I had built this race into my plan working towards April's target race. The TT race is organised by Go Beyond Ultra and is a well organised event and a popular run. My pace for this time of year so far is quicker over mud and I am feeling fairly strong, I am going into the race with some anticipation about how I will do over a longer distance and with all the rain we have had there will be plenty of mud to look forward to. I have bought a pair of Mudclaws and so far I have enjoyed running in them. I have previously run in Salomon speed cross 3's.

I travelled up the afternoon before and bumped in to Lee Crane on the train. We are staying at different hotels and he offers to pick me up in the morning with his partner. I stay in a Travel Lodge and have a restful night. I slept well and woke early. I eat some natural yogurt and have a banana. Lee picks me up at 7 am and we get to Hawkswell Hotel nice and early.It is already busy so after a quick registration we find a seat and settle down for a while. A few other BOSH runners turn up, Janna who is running and will be supported by Marina and Helen.
Lee Janna and me before the start.
A quick race brief and we are off to the sound of the horn. Once on to the Thames path it is soon apparent it is going to be a mudfest. I aim to keep my pace at around 10 minute miles.
I am sticking to this but notice not far out from Abingdon I have no satellite signal on my garmin.This is frustrating to say the least! I decide if it does it again I will just run without it, which it does. I find it is much better not knowing what my pace is.It was raining now and the wind was driving in. On the other side of Abingdon it was exposed and I was hoping this would not carry on for too long. The combination of all 3 - mud wind and rain - made today a fairly decent challenge. I topped up with water at Check point 1, Culham Lock. 10 miles @ 1.34.10. Last year it was very muddy leading out of here but it did not seem too bad today. I eat some banana as I go. The field is spread out now, the wind is still gusting in and I enjoy the shelter of the trees. I am looking forward to getting on to  the course I am familiar with and is like home for me, part of the A100 and TP100. 
A dry spell!
Arriving at Clifton Hampden I can already feel some tiredness in my legs from running in the mud alsot he winds have been gusting at 40 mph! It is good to see Marina and Helen at this point. Always nice to see a friendly face. After a few miles I am at Little Wittenham over the lock gates and I am into some more fields. How many times have I been here! I walk for a  minute and eat then I start to run again through the fields till I get to A4074. It's grim running along here with the rain and the wind and traffic but it's not long before I am back on the path. I arrive at Benson waterfront, CP2 19 miles 3.16.45. I clear my shoes of debris that has got into them. I walk out of Benson CP eating till I get to Benson Lock then I run over the lock, the water is thundering under the lock.
Benson Lock.
Once on the other side the path soon becomes muddy but I am able to run with the Mudclaws. I notice runners in front of me slipping about. It's not long before I am at Wallingford crossing the road. I walk and eat and give my legs a rest. I know this part well so I feel at ease with running and mentally I work out I am off my pace and the target I had in mind. It's not a problem and I go for plan B. 

Arriving at CP 3, The Swan at Streatly, I feel good. 27 miles in 5 hrs. I top up with water, eat a few bits and walk out giving Donna a quick call to let her know how the day is going. Once over the bridges I start running, more mud once through the fields. Up through Hartslock Wood the only real elevation gain of the whole race. It's good to have an excuse to walk. Through Whitchurch at about 3.5 miles. I had broken this bit up and I knew  the next CP was about another 3.5 miles. To Mapledurham you pass through a number of fields some were sticky with mud and with it being open fields it was quite windy. I stopped for a much needed loo break at the lock here where there is a toilet. Arriving at Mapledurham, 34 miles at 6.44 I am in a good place and looking forward to the next section. I eat some cake and go through Purley on Thames and then back onto the Thames Path I walk and chat with another runner before he goes on. The constant mud and flat has drained my legs but I know I am still in time for plan B so keep going forward. The path here is mostly firm and is for a good few miles with some tarmac thrown in. 

Sonning at 44 miles seems to take an age to get to. I am taking more walk breaks but not long ones. I know I am still on for a PB, my feet are a little sore from lack of cushioning in the Mudclaws. I get to Sonning in 8.25, get my headtorch out and eat a fair bit for me. I feel I will need it. I thank the volunteers for being out all day and the support they have offered. Once over the bridge at Sonning and back on the path I am greeted with more mud. My ankles hurt and my feet are sore! To say I am not overjoyed with more mud is an understatement. I run bits and walk others. It is pitch dark and if you do not know the route it must be difficult, poor signage does not help. Once out of the fields we come onto Mill Lane. I meet a runner I have been following, I point him the right direction. As I get to the end of Mill Lane I see a group of people standing there. I do not realize it is Marina and Helen and Janna It was so nice of them to be there supporting us runners and great to see them. I eat some pineapple which tasted good. The ladies would now go to the finish and wait for me. The last couple of miles go quick. I was glad to finish it had been a good race to finish with no real negativity,some challenging  conditions on the day.  I had also managed a 28 minute PB with my time being 9.50.16.

I was really grateful that Marina Janna and Helen had stuck around to see me in  and  for driving me back. The day had gone well with no real issues. I felt fairly comfortable all day even in the poor weather. I woke up the next day and felt just a little jaded!  Now back to training and getting out with map and compass for April's adventure. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Autumn 100. A Grand Slam and a One Day buckle!

This will be my third year of turning up on the start line for Centurion Running’s last 100 mile foot race of the year. It will be the fourth annual 100 mile race of Autumn 100, formerly the Winter 100. It is hosted by Centurion Running at the village of Goring and Streatly. Originally hosted in November it was moved to October last year. I have a fond affection for this race as it was my first completed 100 mile race and is a firm favourite for the many people that run this. It is headed by James Elson, Race Director and his first class team. As with all events it has a very loyal band of volunteers and runners like me feel really looked after and supported.

This was to be the final big hurrah of the year for me! I had gotten myself into the Grand Slam sooner than I had planned. Funny how these things happen. I was down for the downs double having DNF'd ( Did Not finish ) on both the South Downs Way 2013 at 50 miles and North Downs Way 2014 at 75 miles. The North Downs Way DNF haunted me as it was my head that had stopped me from finishing. I do not like to leave things undone so this year I was coming back to unfinished business. I was sat in the kitchen with Donna my partner and we had just been talking about getting a balance between running and family life and having fun. I agreed I needed to make some changes and get out the door a bit earlier at the weekends for my long runs.

At the same time I noticed Centurion had released some places for the Thames Path 100! I don't know if it's the same for other runners, but if I see a race come up my head goes into a spin with a mantra in the background going 'enter, enter, enter!'.  "Donna," I said "they have some places come up for the Thames Path 100..." we spoke about this and agreed it was a goer. But then my head was soon on 'well 3 out of 4, why not go for all of them?!'  It was agreed it would work and I signed up for the Grand Slam. I love to have a focus and something to work towards, it keeps me happy.  I am not driven by my work and running is what gives my life that edge I need. Thank you Donna for being understanding and most supportive of me. 

Walking down the High Street in Streatly on Friday 16th October around 5.30pm felt pretty awesome. Seeing the hall that would be HQ made me feel good. James was there with some of the other Centurion guys waiting to set up. It was good to see James, we had a chat for a while. It was good to know he was running tomorrow and would see the race from the runner’s perspective. I was staying at the Swan hotel, a little treat that meant I could just saunter down to race HQ in the morning.

I had a restless night but never the less I woke up very excited! I ate some breakfast and met Hugh, another runner, who would be running his first 100 today. Glad to say I saw Hugh at the end and he came in just after 23hrs I believe. It was a nice day and not  cold, the weather had been good with little rain. I was expecting the conditions underfoot to be good. As I arrived at HQ it was buzzing. I checked my kit and made sure I had everything I needed. I saw Louise Ayling, another runner who is in the Grand Slam and someone I have come to know and admire. She gave me some instructions for today which where as follows 'I don’t want to overtake you today. I do not want to hear about blisters or you being sick, I only want to see you as you pass me on the switch backs!'  This was delivered with kindness and I took it on board.
I walked down to the Morrell Rooms where the race would start. I found myself a space and sat on the floor. I listened to the buzz of everyone talking. I take this time to compose myself and collect my thoughts and think about what is about to happen.
Before the Start on The bridge at Streatly. 

The start line 9.55 am. James delivers the race brief and tells us that the race is in the safe hands of Nici and James. 

At just after 10.00am we set off. I follow the crowd and we soon bottle neck at a kissing gate. My Garmin is playing up and not working. I turn it off and back on. It works after 10 minutes. I am going a little fast but feel comfortable. The field is bunched in, I want some space and look forward to when the field spreads out a bit. I talk to a few people. The course is familiar and I know what is ahead. I settle and am running comfortably, the going underfoot is good, the ground is soft with no mud sticking to my trainers.  We are making our way to Wallingford Check Point 1 at 6.5 miles.  To get here is mainly trail beside the river. The rowers are out and being instructed as they go up and down the river. After a while we come upon the Beetle House Boat House this will bring us onto some road for a while before we head back onto trail. 

As we run through Moulsford I think about the other times I have run this stretch of road. Back onto trail this is a section that if it is going to be muddy, it will be here. But it is all fine. The runner in front goes through a gate and gets his running vest caught on the latch, I help untangle him. I soon find myself at Oxford University Women’s Boat Club. I know that Wallingford is near. I am not going to stop. I have plenty of water and do not need to eat yet. I see Brigitte taking runner’s numbers. I shout mine out as I run through the CP. Across a busy road and back on the Thames path. Things are going well. Running to the next CP, 12.5 Little Wittenham, I see the race leaders coming down the road. Into the fields and James Elson appears and says 'hello' as he bombs past, it is great to see him out on course. At Little Wittenham I top up my water and grab some stuff to eat on the go. As I am running through the fields towards the A4074 I pass Louise and we high five each other. The field has now spread out, my pace is good and I make my way back to Goring for the first time. I stop at Wallingford briefly for water and food on the way back. I say hello to Brigitte who asks how the race is going, as does Lisa.  I then head off again and I arrive back in Goring in 4.10hrs, average pace 10.01min/mi. I am bang on target and had aimed for 4.10 for the first leg.  I do not hang about. I take on more water and food, get another layer of clothing plus my head torch and I am off for the second leg!

North Stoke will be the next CP and is at mile 29.  Graham Carter will be there.  We met on SDW 100 and it’s always good to know someone at an aid station that you know. I am glad I have put on an extra layer as it is getting a little cold now. There is a bit of road work and some fields before I arrive. I am making good time.  I need my first of many loo breaks, it will be the first time I sit down today. Graham looks taller than I remember but it’s good to see a friendly face. Everyone is most helpful, I do not hang about as I know what lays ahead and I want to get as much done as I can in the daylight. The next section is little more technical. I come out of some corn to see Grims Ditch before me, this will lead into part of the Ridgeway that is covered by trees either side.
Grimms Ditch 32+ Miles.
Stuart March is here and snaps a photograph and gives me encouragement. In the past I have lost toenails on the Ridgeway through lack concentration when running. The Ridgeway is a path than runs through trees that are either side and is narrow in places. This time of year tree roots are hidden by the leaf fall of autumn. I take care, my two big toe nails are just hanging in there after the NDW 100. I put some music on for this section as a treat. I am moving well and enjoying myself. I took a goody back from North Stoke and I feel a little sick so I eat half a peanut butter sandwich. This settles my tummy after a little while. The race leaders pass by then I do not see any others for a while. A game of the usual cat and mouse unfolds with me and a number of other runners. Soon I am out of the woods and running down a hill. Sywncombe is near. I hike a slight incline while I text Luke to let him know I am about to arrive at Sywncombe, 37.5 miles, and turn around. I arrive just before 5.00pm I have been running for 6.59 hrs. I get a cup of tea to go and nibble on a few bits. Two of the volunteers here were at Jevington CP on SDW100 this year and I will see them again later. I am told I am looking good.

I quickly drink my tea and am soon running again, then up a steep incline I hike. I see Dan Park running down and we say hello. On I go up the hill and back onto the Ridgeway. I am feeling good and loving that it is still daylight. I am aware the sun is due to go shortly and I am well ahead of my time last year. A little later I stop to take a picture of the sun setting from the Ridgeway. 
Sunsetting form The Ridgeway.

It looks glorious and fills me with gratitude. I soon find myself running back across the golf course. Daylight starts to fade so before I get back to North Stoke I put my head torch on. Luke  sends a text asking how it is going. The plan is he will pace me on the 3rd and possibly 4th spur. I let him know I am not far from North Stoke and things are going well. Luke lets me know he is already at Goring. I am soon back to North Stoke, the tables have moved in to the hall. Graham tells me I am making good time. I press on, my legs feel a little stiff when I start to run again and I have got cold from stopping. I keep going. I am on target pace, I had planned to be back to Goring for 50 miles in 10hrs. As I run long back by the river I can feel the chill of the air from being near the water. I cover the 4 odd miles easily and am buzzing to be back at HQ.

I see Jon and Natasha Fielden, regular volunteers from when Centurion started to put races on. It is great to see them sitting there. I spot Luke, it’s great to see him. I get my drop bag and tell Luke I do not want to be long here. I have in the past wasted so much time sitting down in aid stations. I have made a decision that I am only going to put a fresh top on. My feet are good and I want a quick turnaround. Luke is really good and gets what I need. It feels funny to have one of the elite guys looking after you. I have a quick wipe down with wet wipes and put a fresh top on while eating and drinking. I think we were out of HQ within 15 minutes. 

The 3rd leg takes in Bury Down and Chain Hill. I find this section slows me down. Apart from it being dark, the trail is rutted and pitted in places and once on your way to Bury Down and Chain Hill this part of the route is quite exposed. I also for some reason really get fatigued on the return leg and on the two previous occasions have really had to fight not falling asleep. So when Luke said he was free to pace, I took him up on his kind offer. We ran up through the village. As we came to the corner James came haring past with his pacer. The next couple of miles are on road, we ran and chatted until we came to the trail, this section is more uphill. I was feeling tired by now. We hiked up the hill. Luke was soon ahead of me. This is how we work, he gets ahead and this spurs me on. I like to keep him in sight, it is a good way of keeping me moving. Once up the hill we start to run again. The wind is blowing and it’s a little colder. I can see the headlamps of other runners ahead on the brow of a hill that we will soon be reaching, it’s an old tank track. I keep thinking Bury Down cannot be far now, it was 8.3 miles from Goring and we have been running for some time now. I am feeling hungry now too. After what seems an age we reach Bury Down, I sit down for the first time that day. Luke passes me sausage rolls that taste good and mini eggs and a volunteer fills my water bottles. Roz Glover appears. We have been passing each other and coming into aid stations after each  other for most of the afternoon/evening. We have nodded as we are familiar with each others face but we have not been introduced. Luke introduces us and we say hello. I ask Roz how she is doing.  Luke tells me as we leave I used 10 minutes at this Aid Station. Too much time! After a mile or so I feel sick, I want to be sick but it’s just dry heaving. I stick my fingers down my throat to try and get something up. Nothing comes up. I run through my head what is going on. I know I just have to keep running and hope it comes up. Luke later tells me it was not nice to have to continue to push me after seeing me like this. It is 4 miles to the next aid station Chain Hill, we soon find ourselves here. I cannot eat but I try. I am feeling a little reluctant to start moving again. It’s windy and I am feeling cold and sick.  
We leave and I start to run. I start to enjoy myself, it is more downhill now, I am not thinking about time. I have got to the point where it has become irrelevant. My focus is on getting this done. Again I sit at Bury Down but not for too long we have 8 miles in front of us. It seems a long way in my mind and I am struggling mentally and feeling despondent. I try to focus on the now and keep moving. I walk for quite a bit due to sickness and fatigue. Luke tells me how long we have been on this section. I am pissed off, he reminds we have walked quite a bit. This motivates me to move, I find my strength and we start to move forward. It feels easy and I run the hills, wanting to make up the time. We start to pass other runners, this spurs me on and keeps me going. I have to stop as nature calls - it wastes time! We hit the road, that means we are no more than 2 miles from HQ, it’s a slight incline but we run it we run level I am feeling good and looking forward to getting back to HQ. I arrive back and it's alive with a buzz. James Elson has broken the course record and greets me once back in the hall. I am absolutely chuffed for him. I congratulate him and then get ready for the final leg. I know what is coming so I change my trainers. James advises me for a quick turnaround in the aid stations for a sub 23 hr. 

We headed out into the dark and were soon back on the Thames Path into the fields. Luke was running ahead, I was feeling good and excited to be on the last leg. I was not really thinking of time, of a sub 24. At some point on this sort of distance after 50 miles, time and pace becomes meaningless because of the ability to comprehend and think straight. We were soon into the woods and we hiked some of the inclines. Luke was pushing through and I kept running as much as I could. We soon found ourselves at Whitchurch. It was really good to see John Fitzgerald at this point, a fellow runner. We did not stay long. I ate a little and had one of my copious cups of tea. John offered some words of encouragement which were well received and  motivated me for the next jaunt, which was 8 miles to Reading. 

We head off and through the fields. I have only been through in daylight before, feels strange to be on this part of the course in the dark! The bit I am not looking forward to is the housing estate that we have to cut through, Purley on Thames I believe. I try to eat before we get there but am sick again. Back on the path towards Reading  and I start to walk for longer bits now. My head is working against me and in the postmortem of the race I am aware that has been the case for a lot of the second half. I whine to Luke I cannot run anymore, I have nothing left. His response is short and just what I need to hear. "We are not walking back!" It puts a rocket up my arse. Luke is right and I decide I want this again and I commit myself to finishing this as quickly as I can.  We finally get to Reading and we go up the stairs to the boat house. We meet Alma and she is pleased to see Luke and I, as we are to see her. Such great support as always and Alma gets what I need. 10 Minutes later we are off, but not before negative self says 'I do not think we will get a sub 24 today!'

I run a bit more on this section following Luke. We power walk for some and are soon back into the fields again, I find my strong and start to run, Luke opens the gates and I run through, making my way to Whitchurch. I keep up a good pace and find it has been my head that has been working against me, telling me I am tired. 
About mile 93 and wanting it! Picture Luke Ashton.

I focus on my stride length. This is something I have been working on lengthening over the last couple of months. We arrive back to see John, he takes a picture of me and Luke at mile 95. We had done the same on TP100. Today I look fresh and strong!

Luke and I at Whitchurch 95 miles.
It is great to see John we have a quick turn around here, Luke is not aware that I have gone but soon catches me up, we have 4.5 miles to go. The day is starting to warm up. I am looking forward to seeing Donna. We run and I move as efficiently as I can through the woods and the ups and downs. I see Tom Farasides, another Grand Slammer. Like me he has found the last 24 hrs hard simply due to coming to the end of the Slam. Every now and then I feel my emotions come up. I hope Luke does not turn around and see my boo face! There are loads of fishermen out by the river as we get to within the last mile. I am feeling good and will run this easy. I see Louise in the distance. As we pass I ask to her finish with me, she tells me if I have a sprint in me to carry on. I see Donna ahead calling me on. 

Louise and And I nearing the end!

I normally get emotional and shed a tear as I get to the finish line on a 100 miler. But I did not this time. I think I was just glad to finish what I had set out to do, which was to become a Grand Slammer and at some point I will be back to do better. I am very happy after 9 attempts with 2 DNF's and 6 previously completed 100 mile runs that I have finally got a '100 miles in one day' buckle. That means so much to me. But it also leaves me knowing that I can do better. Luke's comment to Donna, "I think Shawn listens to his head too much" is so true. 

After the race I was buzzing and so was Donna, Luke and John. It was strange being at the finish so early! 

I want to thank my friends who have supported and those that have given their time freely to pace me over the past year Luke Ashton, Nick Jones and Gary McKivett. And the many others from BOSH run for thier support, Also thank you so much everyone who sponsored me to raise funds for Crohns and Colitis UK, we raised £732.00. Thank you.