Wow, where can I start? This could potentially be a long race report but I don't think I can remember everything as my brain has not been able to assimilate all the sights, the emotions and difficulties that I had to overcome especially in the last 10 miles where the weather conditions were somewhat challenging. After the last aid station a fellow competitor said in exasperation "This last bit is a race inside a challenge inside an event" and indeed it was...more of that later.
The night before the race
As my regular readers will have seen (or commented to me in person) I had done quite a lot of planning and so with running bag packed with four drop bags and my already packed backpack it left me to have a small overnight bag. The Delightful Mrs S gave me a lift to the station to get the 8.00pm train to London but I was thwarted at the last moment when there was widespread delays due to a "Person Incident" so we hotfooted to an alternative line allowing me to get a later connection to Twickenham where I was to stay overnight at a Travelodge. On arrival at the hotel I dumped my bags and went about looking for food and drink suitable for pre-race carbing, so finding an off licence and a chip shop I spent the evening watching TV and eating.
The day of the race
I was up and about at 7.30am, packed and in the breakfast room for 7.55 to have a hot breakfast comprising 2x bacon, scrambled eggs, 4x toast, a sausage, 2 cups of coffee and orange juice. Stuffed to the nines I got my last bits together and walked 2 miles to the start and by the time I arrived was a sweaty heap.
Check-in was a breeze, liability waiver signed I was handed my race number, 121, a good number (a prime number squared) and I went about catching up with old and new faces. I was even seen panicking looking for my tri-belt realising I had attached it to my backpack so I wouldn't lose it the night before!
The weather was warm if a little windy but nothing you wouldn't expect by a river and the competitors were soon seen grouping together for mutual shelter, the conversation nervous, the runners steering clear of the subject of tactics race plans......on the stroke of 10.00 am we were off.
Race plans and tactics
The first rule about race plans and tactics is not to talk about race plans and tactics, this is a sticky subject with everyone having their own. I had my own and when prompted I kept it simply to "Keep going and get to the finish" which was sufficient for that moment.
In fact my race plan was basically aim first for the sub-24 hours but guarantee myself a sub-30 which was the cut off for the race. The second, probably more contraversial plan was to do it by myself, yes sure I was going to have people around me but I would give and expect no loyalty from anyone. I was happy to chat and joke but as soon as I felt an allegance grow I broke away, harsh to some but I had to deal with this challenge on my terms and not those of others.
The first few checkpoints
As always the camaraderie in the group was second to none with much laughter, joking, tall tale telling and enjoying the day. I had a printout with cut off times and the first 28 miles had to be done in 5:10 hours and yes, I did pace off a little fast and apparently I was through 28 in 4:44 hours. Mile 28 was where my first drop bag was and enjoyed the opportunity to sit down, change socks and put talcum powder on my feet. To me this was complete decadence, discarding socks after such a short time but my feet felt great. After this aid station I pulled off the pace from there on after as I had a little wobble believing the warm weather had paid its toll and realising my wee was a bit dark took on extra fluids and it was only after the 38 mile aid station was I happy that all was good, I joked with a runner that the Smarties I got from my drop bag got me though . Lessons learnt from other races was that eating doesn't just happen at aid stations but throughout the run so had a little plastic bag that I filled with goodies and gels.
The first 6 hours were a blast running through some famous places, Hampton Court, Windsor Castle (signs to) Legoland and some extraordinary affluent houses, oh how the others live. Along this stretch runners passed in the opposite direction at one point a man overtook me and I shouted "What is your pace? 9 minute miles?" He replied "Nope 7:50's" it was then I realised how slow my race pace was :-) Small rain showers came and went but nothing that caused any hardship and more importantly not getting our feet wet
At around the 40 mile mark just after another bad patch I decided to have a little walk to see some commotion ahead, it looked like a local youth shouting at another competitor, then run towards me shouting "Have you seen Jerry Smallwood?" to then realise it was my old friend Mike who had taken it upon himself to support me, I was amazed that he had even brought various bits of equipment in case I was in need of medical or physical assistance. An amazing morale booster and if I didn't say at he time Mike, THANK YOU. Mike ran with me for a mile so that he could get to his car and popped up again at the 44 mile aid station taking the picture of me above. All I had to now was run the equivalent of London to Brighton but now my immediate focus was to get hot food and that was 7 miles away and the promise of seeing some more friends, Emma and Warren who were manning the aid station who had a stash of jam sandwiches for me.
Henley, a milestone in the journey, it was half way, there were drop bags and HOT food. These are the checkpoints where the most people drop out, you have to remain focussed, positive and totally selfish. Get the food in, check your feet, check your kit, drink lots and ready for the long haul for here you will walk more. I did all this, powdered my feet, changed my socks, stuffed my face with jam sandwiches and hot dogs, refilled my bottle, put a sports drink from my drop bag with my kit and drank cola and sweet coffee.
Onwards and upwards
Even though it had been dark for some time I called this the night section and now there was no stimulus, the race pack had long gone and ever so often I would hear the clank or creak of a gate opening or closing telling me another runner was nearby. I was able to pass others but not due to me racing them but the fact they were limping no doubt leaving the race at the next aid station, checking they were OK I would continue. I was feeling strong still but my quads ached, a tell tale sign that I needed more carbs, and so I ate, I drank and continued to move forward a 24 hour race still in the bag but it was going to be tight and so I decided to shift my attention to just finishing in the fastest time I could manage.
Let us jump forward
It is now 3 O'Clock in the morning and I have been travelling on foot for 15 hours, the night time is glorious, one in a lifetime, the stars are out in abundancy, Jupiter and Venus holding hands in the bright moonlight, Orion hunting his prey. My focus now 15 to 20 feet ahead, I am alone and the mind wonders this is the time of the hallucination and came with a vengeance:
- A boa constrictor (a stick)
- Frogs (clump of grass)
- A chameleon (haven't a clue, maybe it was)
I even had auditory hallucination where I kept thinking there was a bird cheeping about 20 feet away and following me, it was in fact my waterproof rubbing against my backpack!
The weather closes in
I can still remember this moment, it was 4.11 am and it began to rain, I was in the middle of a field, an enormous, open field and I was hungry, I was going through a bad patch. The rain passed as quickly as it appeared but it was sufficient to get me damp not helping matters but at 4:38 am the dawn chorus started and the light began to improve. The birds lifted my mood but I kept trudging along, foootstep after footstep but saying this I was in my element, focussed and determined nothing was going to stop me, well almost nothing. There were weather reports stating that it would rain later on in the day with the hint of snow but due to the mild day before most of the unsupported runners were wearing light clothing as I was, a long-sleeved shirt and a light jacket.
Apparently the rain began at the finish line at 6am or just before first light on Sunday. During the morning, the temperature dropped to 1 degree celcius, it began to sleet and then snow and the wind speed raised significantly which gave a wind chill temperature of -4 degrees.
Nothing is going to stop me
If memory serves me right I arrived at Abingdon (91 miles) at around 10.00am, I was wet, cold and very hungry. I was going to do it, 91 miles is the furthest I have ever been and I was going to pass through but first HOT food comprising a big bowl of baked beans and sausages, bread rolls and handfuls of sweets. Last push meant running light so all unessentials were dumped. Now warmed up I left and was immediately shivering but was going to get through this hook or by crook but 1 hour into my journey I was miserable, I was in horrific pain from the cold which was bone deep now and I was shivering uncontrollably. By now there were four of us in a group, talking everso often, trying to stay positive, the conditions underfoot were horrendous, like a skating rink and the safest way to traverse puddles was to walk through them.
We dreaded the idea of entering a field where the wind would cut through you like a knife this was about guts and determination....then to make it worse it began to snow....great big blobs of snow, my jaw ached and was locked where I had been clenching it so tight.
There, ahead of us was a sign stating it was an aid station and as I went through the gate I saw someone run towards me, stop, stoop and stare, smiling and through my hypothermic, glucose starved brain I saw a sight for sore eyes, my friend Claire who walked with me to the station where I ate all I could manage....one Twix. I then had a "great idea" of using bin bag as an extra layer...llaughter ensued when we realised there were no arm holes and they were hastily made to find the blood supply was cut off, soon remedied I decamped for the hardest 5 miles of my athletic life
News behind me
It transpires that at 12.05 pm the race was cancelled and all runners were removed from the course after two competitors were hospitalised with severe hypothermia but we were so close I don't know if they could find us even if they looked but 48 runners were pulled in and the course cleared...a very good choice as I think I was lucky to get through unscathed.
At 1.00pm I arrived at the finish, I was neither elated or releaved, celebration would come later for all I wanted was to be warm and I was taken inside the Ice Rink to strip off my upper clothing, put my finisher's shirt on and wrap myself in a space blanket and coat....I was shivering uncontrollably not recovering for another 40 minutes once a hot drink and food was stuffed down my throat.
.....and there it is, 100 miles, a Race Buckle, a medal and one of the most epic foot journeys of my life, worth every penny, ache and pain