Chasing the Green Man

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A run round Bristol

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Ashton Court the start line

The Green Man Ultra is efficiently organised by Ultra running Ltd and having completed it in 2014 and not clashing with Crufts this year, I wanted to give it another go. So, there I was stood on the start line for a second go fully knowing what was to come.

The 2014 version had a nice downhill start, from a country club, down the tracks Ashton Court Mansion and past the deer parks. This year the start was Ashton Court Mansion and uphill! They had also introduced two new elements: –

  • Chip timing
  • Time lords

My ultimate aim was to keep in front of the 12 hour time lord but try and keep up with the 11 hour time lord.

After checking in, coffee drunk we were ready for the race briefing then we were off. The Canicross runners held back, their dogs weren’t very impressed and were baying to set off. Canicross runners have the added advantage of 4 paw traction uphill, but the disadvantage of heaving or encourage their running companion to jump over the stiles and stopping their running companions from going full speed downhill!

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Four paw traction

The first section pottered down through the park, through the local woods and tracks eventually after passing through a local housing estate we hit the community forest path proper. The mud trail had started good and proper and was a local feature for the rest of the race.

A short word about mud – believe it or not mud has a very wide spectrum, from liquid which can come in a verity of colours, squelchy to clod hopper. It all sticks no matter what and in various depths. Being at the back of the mid to back pack it was nicely churned up all the way round. In some places, navigation in places consisted of following the mud trail!

However, back to the race, the hills round Bristol are to say the least, Yorkshire undulating in style and after several climbs the first aid station came into view. On offer was water and malt loaf. Toilets are always welcome and I needed them! The countryside we ran round is stunning with a nice mix of fields, tracks, woodland and a small amount of tarmac road.

Nice path

My strategy was to try and keep at least 1 runner in view at all times as the navigation could be tricky and I eventually hooked up with 3 local runners doing it for the first time. They were being very ably supported by their local club and families, with the welcome addition of pop-up aid stations on-route.

The weather was very pleasant for most of the day with the exception of a 10 minute rain and hail shower – this prompted a few choice words from my companions.

Aid station 2 eventually arrived and there was a good choice of sandwiches and cake, with the usual cold drinks etc.

A short word about stiles – normally these aren’t a problem and are an easy way of crossing a wall or fence. The stiles on the community path are different and very evil. Short they are not, high and vertical in many different styles, they become worse the longer the race with tired legs that refuse to lift any higher than 6 inches.

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Evil stiles

Onwards and upwards was the theme and we crossed and recrossed 3 motorways (M4, M32 and M5) along the way. You can always tell when a motorway is getting closer, the noise gradually increases. Several train tracks are also crossed.

With 3 miles to go before aid station 3 we had the fright of our lives – the 12 hour time lord had caught us up! However, his strategy was to keep the pace higher than the 12 hour pace to allow for tiredness at the latter stages. Game on, keep up or try and keep a small safety window ahead of him. So, on we pressed and the pace crept up. We were in a reasonable sized group, one person even had a go-pro camera. It did give us a chance to swap notes, what future ultras we were doing, as it turned out, the time lord was doing the SDW100 (snap so am I again), another was doing the TP100 and using the GMU as a training run.

The section from aid station 3 to 4 was a fairly lengthy stretch (approximately 11 miles) with uphill and down dale continuing. After crossing the M5 for the second time and a clear view of Bristol airport to the right I knew the final aid station wasn’t far to go.

However, whilst coming through this local town, some local lads were mucking about with an old video tape – stretching it across the road to slow cars down. I did comment to them that they could get hurt, surprise surprise, a car stopped with threats to pull them from limb from limb came out of open windows. Needless to say I didn’t hang around!

Aid station 4 was the last one and the legs were holding up rather well, protesting (to be expected) and the feet joined in during the last few miles. That’s ultras for you.

A quick coffee (with 3 sugars), 9 bar and cake consumed, head torch on and up through last section of woods and tracks to the Clifton Suspension bridge. As before it was brilliantly lit up and rather romantically a couple who were running with me had very fond memories of it. It had been their first date on one of the viewing platforms.

Once I’d crossed the bridge I had less than half a mile to go and then the 12 hour time lord caught me up again, moaning that had been a lonely 4 miles. There was nothing left but to trot down the path, through the deer park and the finish. Nicely under the 12 hour limit (just).

On reflection I messed around with the mud too much, trying to avoid the stuff and should have gone straight through. I packed my running poles and never used them – this would have saved 900 grams in weight. I didn’t drink as much as I should have, but I didn’t suffer the consequences. Perhaps having a dog to run with me might have helped with the hills. The phone tracker didn’t work, but I hadn’t finished registering it correctly, me and technology!

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Mission completed

All in all I enjoyed it and a might be back for a 3rd go next year.

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The other side of ultra running, crewing for a change

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The long weekend

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About 8 weeks ago Sam Boulton announced he was going to have a crack at doing a 100 mile race and Facebook banter commenced. That was it, I was going to crew and drag him round where possible.

Now Sam had done a sterling job earlier in the year, dragging me round the second half of the TP100, I realised that I had some big shoes to fill. As his race was only 2 weeks after my A100 success I said pacing probably wouldn’t be on the cards, but I’d get him to the start line. Then James Young (from Meltham AC) with 4 weeks before the race, announced he was going to have a crack. I then offered my services to him also. After having 2 failed and 2 successful attempts at this distance I knew exactly what both would be going through.

White Rose Ultra is a local race and for the last 2 years has had two options; 30 miles or 60 miles. Well they added an extra challenge of the magic 100 miles earlier this year. The 30 mile runners do 1 loop, 60 mile runners 2 loops and the 100 mile runners have a 10 mile loop and then 3 x 30 mile loops. Over 60% is on roads the rest off road. It also had the added pressure of starting at midnight on the Saturday with 30 hours to finish (6am Monday morning).

The start was at Team OA’s HQ very close to the Golcar Lilly pub and James and Sam were keen to register early and let the nerves settle, so pick up for James was 9:15pm and Sam shortly after. Arriving at the start there was the usual hustle and bustle of runners checking in, quiet but nervous chatter. I made myself comfortable with the all important coffee and chatted to a couple of runners. The plan was to be at every 5 miles right through the race. James had given me an emergency drop bag and Sam had boxes of clothes and food with an important plan of what, where and things. During Sam’s faffing he discovered he’d forgotten his mobiles!!! Back I went to collect them, just as well it was only few miles, not a couple of hundred.

They all soon were on the start line and off up the lane, it looked very impressive with 100 runners bunched together all lit up like Christmas trees and off they went, head lights bobbing, rear red lights flashing, a really wonderful sight.

The first point at 5 miles was an impromptu stop, there wasn’t an aid station on this first loop and as they came through all runners were fairly close together. Sam had a bag of mixup and carried on, James was only 5 mins in front at this point. At the end of the 10 mile loop, they returned back to race HQ and started on their first 30 mile loop. James came in about 15 mins in front of Sam. Both were looking very fresh, in and out. But only after I had to sort Sam’s feet out, there was a hint of blisters starting on one foot.

The night then went as follows; me to a water station, runners come through, then off to the next one and so on. I couldn’t find water station 2 (tunnel end at Marsden) so knowing where they would come out I parked up and waited for them to come through. James was first and pulling ahead of Sam. James had a grumble about the amount of road work and his batteries had failed, could I get a message through to his wife. Sam came through and needed his foot sorting, so blister surgery needed (they did make an impressive fountain) patched up and sent on his way.

The next water station at the head of Wesenden Head was a stunning sight a clear night and UFO’s in the distance – planes stacked waiting to land at Manchester. I also managed to grab an hour’s kip. The morning sunrise was stunning and whilst waiting for Sam to appear, Robin (a runner from our club, Meltham AC) and myself passed the time away discussing all and nothing about running, holidays and nothing in general. Robin was waiting to pace Sam for the next 10 miles. Sam pottered in with Lisa who’d paced him up from Marsden cricket club. A bite to eat and something to drink and they were sent on their way. The next water station was at The Wills O’Nats and was just opening up as a feed station. Sam and Robin appeared and it turned out that Sam was suffering with his feet and had walked most of the way from the last water station. In true Sam style he’d been pointing out various plants and had inspected the corpse of a young hare! It was at this aid station where I had to leave Sam on his own as I had to leave to do job number 2, marshaling on the club race – Cop Hill Fell race.

Struggling into 35 mile aid station
Struggling into 35 mile aid station

I managed to catch up with Sam on his second circuit at Tunnel End, Marsden, 6 hours later. His family turned up to say hello with reports of Sam suffering. I’d also had a phone call requesting a can of coke and a hat. The weather was more like July and according to my car it was 18 deg C in November!!!!!

He finally appeared to a wonderful sight of the posters his kids had made ‘we love you daddy’ making it uplifting for Sam. I soon had him organised, drinks, eating, bag of goodies to hand and kicked him out with stern words, 30 mins to the next aid station.

Pondering on what to grab
Pondering on what to grab

A Metham AC contingent gathered at the head of Wesenden valley and feeling like a stretch of the legs, Andy, Gill, myself and Dodger set off to find Sam, who soon appeared just before the first res, looking good, running and sounding positive. Onwards to the next aid station where he appeared much quicker than I thought. Things were looking up, time for me to grab some tea at home and fresh flasks of coffee for the long night ahead.

Sam got to the 70 mile aid station before me and I just caught him before he started out on the last circuit. At the 75 mile aid station the stress of attempting the race was beginning to tell in more than one way; feet playing up big style, tiredness and doubting if he could finish before 30 hours. This is where the crew have to be very focused and no sympathy. I force fed Sam coffee (strong and loads of sugar), food I could force him to eat and no nonsense words from myself, he was sent on his way. 80 miles the next aid station and he appeared sounding very down. Again more coffee, food I could find and on his way, it only lasted for a couple more miles when I got the dreaded phone call ‘I can’t continue and face going up the Wesenden valley’ again. Despite my insistence Sam had given up, physically and mentally. The only thing left to do was find him and take him home with words of reassurance about decisions and ultra running life in general.

So, life on the other side, crewing. It’s not the most glamorous part of ultra running as you spend hours waiting, trying to catch a few minutes sleep and remember what your runner needs. But it can be the most important and rewarding job on the planet. From my own experience, when the runner is tired and everything hurts, can babble, confused, can’t make decisions, feels ill and so on, the crew are there to sort you out and I did my best to do all that for Sam. It was a privilege to be with him on this journey of discovery. Completing 82 miles is a fantastic achievement especially when you consider it was Sam’s second Ultra. Well done sir.

Its easy finishing a 100 mile race isn’t it!

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All ready for the off
All ready for the off

As I sit in a nice warm pub wondering what to say about the weekend events, I still can’t believe I managed to finish quicker than my TP100 time after feeling like death warmed up as I staggered into the Reading aid station.

It all began last year when I grasped the challenge of the Centurion slam attempt. As events turned out; round 1 – success, round 2 – DNF, round 3 – pulled out, round 4 – success. Looking back I actually enjoyed the whole event and rather bizarrely I enjoy running 100 miles (with a little help from my family and friends).

The week before I had a fretting week, worrying about what tops to take and would I have enough time to get everything together etc. But in the end, everything was OK after I’d given myself a good talking to.

Ann my wonderful wife sent me off with these encouraging words – ‘when things start to hurt, it won’t be any worse than giving birth to a baby’. It was Viki’s (my youngest stepdaughters) birthday on race day and she had posted a good luck message on FB commenting that we’d both be staggering around at 4am, but for different reasons.

The usual pre race nerves kicked in and I was soon at my hotel in Reading and out for the traditional Italian meal. Andy and Laura were acting as crew for the weekend, ready to dish out; tough love, usual words of encouragement and stop me from being stupid. As if running 100 miles isn’t stupid enough! The weather was also very kind to us all, perfect weather for running 100 miles.

The race consisted of 4 legs; leg 1 up the Thames path, leg 2 up the Ridgway path, leg 3 down the Ridgeway path and leg 4 down the Thames path. Simples what possibly could go wrong.

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Trying to distract Allan Rumbles by chatting

201 idiots (yes I’m one too) passed kit check at Goring ready for the off. Andy and I passed the time chatting with fellow runners and trying out the local coffee shop. Then it was off up the Thames path on leg 1. I’d done a detailed plan for my crew and aid 1 soon popped up with Andy ready with the goodies to hand, which includes some very suspicious packages of white powder.  Now before anybody thinks otherwise, the powder is Tailwind for my water bladder, when mixed with water (half a bladder) it has 200 calories and worked an absolute treat for the entire event. As we meandered our way upwards we were soon passed by the lead runners on the return leg to Goring. Aid 2 soon arrived with a young lad with a high 5 for extra power, poster. The route was wonderful following the river, I was able to watch the geese and swans arguing, taking off and landing.

Now I wasn’t taking any notice of the plan (after all it’s a guide) and after arriving at aid 3, soon realised that Andy and Laura had got lost or, I was running faster than I thought. It was the latter! Fortunately they caught up with me at Goring, moaning I was going too fast for them and made sure I didn’t stay too long faffing in the aid station. I love to faff.

Goring is the hub for the race and as soon as you give your number they cheerfully welcome you by name and ask if you have a drop bag.

A good feed from the goodies on hand and then out onto leg 2. As I pottered up leg 2 I went under a railway bridge and thought, this is strange it’s the same as the bridge on leg 1. It was, the route went on the other side of the Thames path. Quite soon the path came away from the Thames and started on the Ridgway path properly. Aid 5 is in the very pleasant village of North Stoke manned by Richard Cranswick dressed in a chicken suite (as you would on a Saturday afternoon). From here on all it seemed to do was go up and up and up, tree roots at the ready to trip you up. Narrow paths which weren’t wide enough for 2 runners to pass, there was a steady stream of runners coming down. I was taken by surprise when the next crew station appeared which than followed by some down-hill (doing an aeroplane impression) action (see the Centurion FB page) and then more uphill aid station 6. Cake consumed etc and it was a quick return to the crew station to get my feet sorted. It was also head torch action from now on.

Back at Goring it was the halfway stage and time for a proper rest, food and a change of running clothes. Wearing running leggings felt strange as it had been 6 months since I’d worn them on the TP100. Better being warm than cold on a dark October night.

The long slog on leg 3 started with a long road section out of Goring to reach the Ridgeway track, which went up hill, very bizarre this running lark. I attempted to persuade a very tired lady runner not to drop out, but it was very clear from her posture and feelings, enough was enough. This leg eventually comes out onto the exposed Ridgway path and we were warned it could be cold. Far from it I was cooking, that is until the wind caught me on the exposed section. To say this went on is no exerderation, 8 miles of staring at a pool of light with runners coming on the return section. Aid station 8 was the best sight of the whole night, bright lights, welcome smiles and Andy’s words of encouragement.

Reluctantly I left this aid station, where to go but up and up to the turning point at aid station 9. I can’t remember much about the return leg, I know I came into aid 10. There was a notable point on this section where I started feeling incredibly tired and wanting to fall asleep. Fortunately I recognised the signs of needing food and drink so I slumped on the grass to eat a mini Mars bar and drink something. Getting up I noticed on the ground an arrow to go down a track to my left, this was a lucky break as I’d probably have missed it otherwise. Continuing onwards and downwards picking up the pace to Goring. I managed to pass several runners struggling down the final track one was in a bad way with stomach issues. The final road section from the track does go on, but I knew Goring was just round the next corner, but which corner?

Moaning like a trooper at 75 miles
Moaning like a trooper at 75 miles

The welcome in Goring was brilliant and more hot food, shoes off to relax the feet a little, Andy massaging my legs which made me squeal and he promptly told to shut up moaning. It was out onto the final leg and as I left a runner came in to finish in a fantastic 19 hour time (mad mad mad, why can’t I run that fast for so long?). It was back onto the Thames path going down stream, Reading bound. I was feeling very positive, feeling OK, tired but the legs and feet were holding out. Actually I was ignoring my protesting blistered feet. After a couple of miles the path leaves the Thames for another couple of miles and there is a nasty hill on this section and some nasty steps to boot. Note, you have to go down these on the return section. At aid station 12, I was met by my Green Man ultra buddy, Donna who pointed me in the direction of the aid station with a stern warning not to hang about. I did moan at her about the aid station being off the road saying it was her fault. I made an error at this stage and didn’t fill up my bladder which caused problems on the run in to Reading. Shortly after leaving the aid station it was the crew station where Andy was sleeping in his car.

Now I like a nice potter along a river and the dawn coming up was special, the dawn chorus wasn’t as spectacular as the TP but was nice to hear all the same. As dawn broke, I could hear voices, they weren’t runners but a couple of kayakers. That’s stupid I thought, why go kayaking at this stupid time.

Toll bridge at Pangbourne
Toll bridge at Pangbourne

I was also trying to conserve fluids too and not drinking as much as I’d been doing. This then caused me to worry, checking the time every 30 seconds, calculating how much time I had, would I finish in time. All added to the effect of slowing down and running out of energy on the final mile into the Reading aid station, but before I got to that point I came to the crew point at the railway crossing. Fortunately Andy had a bottle of water which immediately went into my bladder. The welcome to Reading sign was there too. Not long now I thought, you know this section well. In fact it went on and on. We had been warned about this little fact at the safety briefing. I was now convinced that I would not make the cut-off at Reading let alone the 28 hour limit at the finish

I staggered into the aid station in a very bad way and I was forced to walk up the stairs to the aid station by my sadistic crew. Andy commented afterwards I looked grey and then turned green.

Andy, Laura and the aid station crew did a fantastic job, getting me; fed, watered, organised, more squealing from leg massages and bullied into not even thinking about DNF’ing and pushed out of the aid station out on the return leg. Very strangely after a short distance I perked up and was moving easily, running some bits, speed walking the rest. Andy met me just before the evil steps to go over the railway line and commented that I was looking strong and moving very well. By aid 14 I’d caught up Fiona who was on pacing duties (she was 20+ mins in front of me when I left Reading) and was planning on getting her runner to the finish and then coming back for me. I had a moan as we met ‘you took some catching up’ much to her surprise.

Evil steps
Evil steps

I was on a mission, I had been mentally calculating that it was just possible I could beat my TP time, game on and had I the quickest pit stop of the race at aid station 14. I was bouncing up hills and jokingly said to one runner we should run up this hill! I can’t remember what he said but it was probably a colourful response.

With less than a couple of miles to go one of my favourite tracks started on my iPod, this I decided was going to be the track to listen to as ran the last 5 mins of the race. The path leading into the village soon appeared, I turned the music back on, wound up the volume then sprinted along the final river stretch, turned the corner up the hill to the finish and it was over. Note; I don’t run up hills let alone sprint them.

Andy commented afterwards I was looking stronger and stronger on the return leg, it certainly felt like I’d got new legs and feet on the return leg from Reading. Laura did moan afterwards that I didn’t stop to say hello at the finish, but I was on a mission to get my time and the all important buckle.

Now the thank you bit: –
– Ann my wonderful and understanding wife who puts up with my training and chattering about running.
– Crew comprising of; Andy and Laura (+1)
– The entire Centurion army, volunteers and organizing team who do a marvelous job and always have a positive word,
loads of smiles and dish out hugs no matter what time of day it is
– Meltham AC running club and other runners for their FB comments; before, during and post event

Well I didn’t complete the grand slam, but that’s for another year. I’m certainly wiser about 100 mile running and the return to SDW100 in June isn’t that far away, bring it on.

The only thing that matters is the buckle
The only thing that matters is the buckle

This time it got really tough, round 2, the mighty SDW100

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In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘I’ll be back’

6 short weeks ago I’d completed the TP100 and knowing it would be a tough call to get myself ready for the SDW100. So, I focused on getting my feet repaired, full resting and trying to get some training before the day.

Also I had a new crew – Emma Sheekey from Telford, a work colleague, friend and a runner. Emma was; excellent, organised and bossy.

We stayed at The Northbook Arms an excellent pub just 10 mins drive away from the start. I registered on the Friday and watched the event of the weekend – the kids mile race, some of them are future stars, putting us so called athletes to shame.

The alarm went off at stupid o’clock (4am) for a pot of instant porridge – the Sainsburys variety aren’t that good, plus a banana. It was then off to the start for the safety briefing, start horn blown and off we went.

The first hurdle was to do a lap of the sports field and the obligatory queue to get out of the field and onto the South Downs Path. I managed to snatch a quick hug from Nici Griffin and planed on getting a second hug on the finish line.

The first 9 miles was a lovely start to the race with the first aid station coming in nice and easy, spot on for a 23 hour finishing time. The weather was perfect, cool but humid and as the race progressed so did the temperature with the clouds clearing and the sun breaking through with the temperature rising nicely (or not as the case may be).

From aid station 1 to aid station 2 the hills started to grow in intensity and at around 15 miles my newly purchased running sticks came out for proper use. They are brilliant and were used for the rest of my race.

One of the first major hills at Butser Hill there was a steady stream of walkers struggling up whilst us runners ran down – first comment of the day from one of the walkers ‘we’re taking 9 days to do what you’re doing in a day’!

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Aid station 2 at 22 miles came into view with Emma waiting with goody bag in hand (wet wipes, gels, Beetit shots and foot care box) and gave me the news I was only 3 mins down on the 23 hour time. Hovering up a selection of goodies from the aid station and applying sun cream, it was off to the next aid station. From this point the wheels started to come off.

My legs also were protesting, but mind over matter and all that, I carried on, eventually I plugged myself into the iPod and marched on listening to the new collection from Meltham AC.

The pull up to Harting Downs aid station (27.2 miles) proved to be the starting point of going through major energy crashes and feeling sleepy. After what seemed an eternity, through some nice woods the aid station came into sight. Emma was waiting with the goody bag, words of encouragement. Fuelling up I pressed on. Each aid station had its own touches and this one had ginger bread men! One lady came in and in a very excited voice proclaimed ginger bread men…..

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Pressing on to the next aid station Cocking (35 miles) things started to get tough. The hills were getting nastier, my foot started to show signs of getting a hot spot and energy crashes getting worse. Sorting out the foot was easy. Stop, shoe and sock off, apply tape etc. Energy crash and feeling sleepy, that took some sorting. But, stopping for a few mins to get more fluids and food in seemed to sort things out was a wise strategy.

At Bignor Hill (42 miles) I had some good humoured banter with one of the volunteers. He originated from Hull, well what else was there to do. Onwards to a designated crew meeting point Amberley (47 miles). This is where I passed a runner being looked after by his crew. Not only had they set up a deck chair but were acting as his personal chef too. Very kindly they did offer me some food, but I knew Emma was just up the hill, where she was waiting with the goodies. As I left I was told to catch the runner in front, going up the hill, as if that was going to happen!!!

Once I’d struggled up this hill and onto the top, I started to feel better in myself and a resemblance of running returned, mixed in with walking. One piece of advice I’d been given was to take advantage of the views on the tops. It was stunning advice and the views were well worth the efforts getting there, no matter how bad I felt. Before I came into the crew stop at Chantry Post, came past a family that were watching a Kestral hunting very close to the track. A stunning sight.

Chantry Post crew stop was conveniently at 50 miles, this is where pacers could start the journey with their pacers. Emma was there with the bag of goodies and I took the opportunity to change into a long sleeved top. Jogging out of the car park I heard ‘show off’.

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This next section I was familiar with as I’d done a short training run here whilst visiting customers a few weeks ago and there was a vicious hill to go down before getting onto the road approaching the aid station. On the turn into the Washington aid station (54 miles) we were greeted by Elvis resplendent in a sequined white suite. Washington was themed as a rock aid station and was my chance to have a proper rest, eat hot food, drink, clean and patch up my feet, change socks and running tops. This aid station is cruel as you have to go back up the short hill to get onto the path, then more hills. I did ask for a lift, but got chased out of the aid station for my cheek.

Mountain bike riders are very much part of the Downs paths and two in particular caught my eye with fat boy tyres. I also managed to watch gliders being towed up from below and the sun gradually set with a fantastic sunset. All the time keeping up a decent run/walk pace, pushing it as hard as I could.

As it got darker so the hill got steeper, downhill this time. Its the first time I’ve seen signs telling walkers etc not to feed the pigs! On with the head torch and discovered the batteries weren’t full strength, never mind the aid station was only a mile or so away. It popped up, the crew meeting point first and then the aid station in a convenient layby, where I’d got a two hour cushion and according to the staff finishing was easy if I maintained a 19min/mile pace, mmm getting touch and go.

As usual there was a hill to climb and I picked up a lady runner who didn’t want to go through the night solo. So, there was another runner to suffer with.  Onwards and upwards we marched upwards, poles moving in unison to Devils Dyke crew meeting point, where unfortunately Emma had difficulty in finding the meeting point, but Sallescombe farm (mile 66.6) wasn’t that far away. It’s amazing what you find to chatter about, this was her second attempt at a Centurion 100 event with the NDW100 up next.

This aid station was very welcome as I desperately need a toilet!!! The food table – loads of cake on offer, the first slice didn’t touch the sides and then a couple more followed. We had an hour time bank at this stage with 16 runners still to come through. There was some runway lights leading us out of the aid station and guess what – they went up a hill!

This was a massive pull up and over a hill then up another massive hill on the side of a golf course. How they managed to play golf on this one made me wonder, up and up we climbed, getting slower and slower, taking the odd breather as it felt necessary. Looking back from which hill we’d come down there were the odd lights on what I thought was the path, which could have been the last few runners. Up front I spied a light and commented that could be the aid station, as it transpired it was. Onto the lane and it was a gentle hill down to the aid station where my companion mentioned that she didn’t think she could face doing another section. We had a 40 min time bank when we came in. It was going to be 7 miles to the next aid station and we both knew that we’d defiantly get timed out when we got there. So decision made we both decided to throw in the towel and DNF, ending my grand slam attempt, for this year at least.

On a positive note, it was 70 miles (well 69.9) but what a journey learning loads along the way. On the last hill I realised that I was paying the price for the TP100 success 6 short weeks ago and my body was saying enough is enough. I also made another tough decision, to pull out of the NDW100 so I can fully recover and get fully fit for the A100 in October.

As always this was a team event and my thanks go to Emma for putting up with me for the weekend, my wonderful wife Ann, everybody who sent me good luck messages, the entire Centurion Army for enthusiasm, patience, banter to get us through aid stations.

The SDW100 has beaten me on this occasion, but I’ll be back to finish the job. Next up the A100 in October, bring it on……..

It’s time to man up

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With the TP100 under my belt only 5 and a bit short weeks ago, I’ve been focusing on; recovery, repair and preparation for the SDW100. My main concern has been the state of my feet following the TP100, very blistered. But after profession and friends advice I’ve done three major things: –

  • Bought a book – Fixing Your Feet
  • Made myself a foot care box for ultras
  • Got some special socks – Injunju

Additionally I’ve purchased a pair of Black Diamond running poles or commonly know as cheating sticks. This was always in my game plan to help on the hills and save my knees from a battering. Plus I’d seen other runners with poles and they swear by them.

Worryingly I haven’t done serious training miles, but I think this is all in the mind.

I’ve done my last short taper run and then it’ll be round two of the Grand Slam attempt. Will I get the finishers buckle? Only time will tell.

Thames Path 100, following a river for 100 miles

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Second go at a 100 miler, round 2, this time I was determined to cross that finish line, Oxford, 100 hundred miles to go!

After leaving Ann and Laura in Reading (their base for the race) and ‘ you’d better finish this one’ ringing in my ears I was on the train to my hotel near the start. I met a couple of fellow runners and obviously we got chatting, both were attempting the TP100 for the first time, one even having a crack at the grand slam, like myself. We were both after that coveted fifth buckle. However, we had the small matter of finishing this one first! After a comfortable night, a full English for breakfast it was a short taxi ride to the start.

The check-in was run superbly by Nici Griffin and after passing kit check I got my number, this was now game on. I’d also met Alan Rumbles on kit check, famous for #boatsthattweet and had a quick chat as my kit was being inspected. Sam appeared who was doing a triple role of; working at aid station 2, crewing with Ann and Laura to halfway house and then pacing duties to the finish and caught me red handed packing and unpacking my race sack (for no apparent reason he said).

Because we’d got booted out of our comfy corridor by Nici we decided to find a coffee. There we met a couple of other runners, one of whom was Welsh who regaled us with a story about eating funny cakes in Amsterdam. We all then decided it was time to make an appearance at the start line.

After a short safety briefing by James (the race director), somebody blew a horn and we were off, Oxford bound. The first hurdle to cross was a kissing gate, being typically British we queued, some decided to shave a few seconds off the wait and hopped over the fence. There were a few locals that knew a short cut and missed the gate! It was then onwards to the first aid station at Walton, 11 miles gone, 89 to go!

It was here I met Donna an old friend from The Green Man ultra last year. After a brief hello, stuffing food into the pie hole I was pushed out with stern words she’d be very cross with me if she didn’t see me at Abingdon, 91 miles.

Wraysbury, 22 miles was my next aid station which came along nicely and to plan. Along the way I watched with amusement loads of budding Olympic rowers being shouted at by their trainers, who pottered on behind in a little boat, doing little exercise. It was at this point where I would meet Ann and Laura for the first time. However, I’d being going a tad quicker than the plan and they weren’t there to meet me, but they’d also had difficulty finding the aid station due to TomTom taking them to a dead end. Sam was working at this aid station doing a sterling job making hundreds of sandwiches etc. As soon as I got into the aid station, the staff took over; water bladder filled, feed, drink, top up with biscuits and jelly babies. Sam then pushed me out and on to the next aid station at Dorney.

I’d now settled into a nice little routine, run for 10 mins or so, walk for a minute, drink plenty and then every 30 mins stuff a handful of jelly babies into my gob and on the hour, more jelly babies and a gell. At each aid station it was my plan to have a BeetIt shot.

Passing Dorney Lake it reminded me of the Olympics, but sadly no cheering crowds today. By now it was fairly warm and the sun was out. Bother I hadn’t thought to bring any sun cream, oh well can’t do anything about it now.

In and out of Dorney aid station and onwards to Maidenhead where I finally met Ann, Laura and Sam. This was a great sight as my legs were starting to feel the strain and were protesting a little.

A quick chat, BeetIt, water and a welcome wipe down with wet wipes and I was off to the next agreed meeting point at Marlow, 42.5 miles. I was off again a short distance to Hurley 44 miles where crews weren’t allowed to meet me and the first coffee of the race, with 3 sugars thank you very much. There were designated points along the route where crews could meet their runners, some were aid stations, others not.

I was expecting to see was; swans, Canada geese, big posh houses and rowing boats, they were all in abundance. Surprising there was a hill between Hurley and Henley, cheeky thing, this was meant to be a flat course. However, it did take us past a spectacular hall with loads of Cowslips in the field, little things and all that! I also recognised the barking of a fox in the woods not far from the path.

I soon came into Henley, 51 miles, half way house. Rather than meeting me at the aid station, Ann, Laura and Sam were patiently waiting on the road leading into the aid station where they forced me to jog up the road. Didn’t they realise I’d just done 51 miles!!

It was at this aid station I planned to have a proper break, hot food was available, veg Bolognese and pasta, along with sandwiches, cake biscuits and more coffee (with 3 sugars). It was now dark and time to change into long leggings, and fresh tops. This is where Sam sprung the major surprise of the day. Unknown to me he’d e-mailed everyone in the club requesting some words of wisdom and music to keep me occupied, this set me off with the waterworks (I don’t get emotional).

Sam now took on the 3rd role of the weekend, pacing duties. With head torches on we went on our way to Reading 7 miles upriver. The pace as expected had slowed down and I was now doing more walking, but still running. It was on this section, the first of the blisters decided to make an appearance on the ball of my right foot.

Another interesting sight outside Reading was a very large hall (yet another) with blazing lights and loud music. There must be a noisy party in swing we commented, all from the other side of the river.

Coming into Reading, 58 miles was a very unwelcome sight, stairs. Under normal circumstances stairs, no problems, but ultras, especially at 58 miles, they are pure evil. However, the stairs were nicely decorated with balloons and paper streamers and motivational posters! Here I met Paul Ally (famous for his hat on Centurion ultras) a short chat, more food etc. Sensibly I decided to see what was going on with my foot and as expected a blister had formed. Sam decided that he would do the deed and pop it. After much squealing from myself it felt slightly better. Off we went to Tilehurst, 63 miles to meet Ann and Laura, their last meeting point before going to bed. Getting to this meeting point meant climbing more evil stairs to get up and over the railway line. We were now on our own until meeting up in 28 miles time.

On we plodded through the night, trotting where possible, with fast walking in-between with Sam chattering away me trying to join in the conversations when I felt up-to-it. I felt sorry for Sam chattering away as there were times I just felt I couldn’t join in as I was either immersed in a sea of pain with my feet or feeling downright sorry for myself.

However, coming into Whitchurch, 67 miles, I could feel my left foot now joining in the blister fun party, NOT. Whitchurch aid station was off the recognised path and at a like most of the aid stations were near houses, with large signs telling us to be quite and not to disturb the residents. As if we would be doing the conga now!

By now my stomach had decided that it didn’t want to be left out of let’s have a party with the feet and was decidedly feeling unsettled. Getting food and drink into me was the main priority. I now was in a routine of; dodgy stomach as we came into an aid station, getting fed and watered, still having  a dodgy stomach when we left and then feeling much better, brighter and perkier 20 mins later. Sam as always was in charge and kept forcing me to eat anything that he had to hand; biscuits, jelly babies, dried apricots even a honey based gel. On reflection I wasn’t eating anything like enough to get the calories into the system. Things got so bad just after Clifton Hampden, 85 miles, everything came back up (and this included a mug of soup)! I felt really bad about Sam having to witness all this.

Wallinford aid station, 77.8 miles was an interesting aid station, it resembled a casualty unit. On my right was a runner wrapped in a blanket fast asleep, on my left another looking extremely sorry for himself, also wrapped in a blanket. This is where I’d decided that the feet party need to get a grip and had my feet looked at. Whilst Sam said they were OK, I knew they weren’t after getting sight of a rather large flap of skin hanging off the ball of my foot. It has to be said that every step was like walking on burning coals, not that I’ve experience hot coals before, but in my mind it was. There was loads of squealing, moaning and swearing every time I hit a rough part of the path. We were now doing very little running and power walking where possible with the occasional death march thrown in for good measure.

Whilst coming up and over another cheeky hill, we stumbled across a runner who’d collapsed on the path. Fortunatly there was a pacer (for a different runner) looking after him and had wrapped him in a foil survival blanket. Sam decided that he would help where possible and forced the casualty to eat some honey, put his Meltham AC benie and spare top on him. This runner wasn’t having anything of it either, protesting all the time, but clearly in proper need of urgent medical help. After doing what Sam could we went on our way and I then nearly became the second casualty on the path by running into a very large overhanging branch, it didn’t knock any sense into me either!!

Before it got light, we experienced the full effects of the dawn chorus and as it was designated International Dawn Chorus Morning, this made it even more special. It was spectacular to say the least. Seeing the dawn come up actually made me feel slightly better.

After clearing Clifton Hampden, 85 miles, Sam got the phone out and rang Ann for an update for our ETA at Abingdon, 91 miles. A chat with Ann helped lift my spirits but this section proved to feel the longest going though huge fields. Sam was now doing mental maths working out the various options. Could we just make 24 hours or was it going to be just under 28? Only time would tell as all I wanted to do was get it over and done with.

Abingdon finally came into view with Ann and Laura cheering me in, the waterworks started for a second time!! Donna was also working at this aid station (she was at the first aid station) and told me in to avoid the death chair, which I duly sat in ‘bloody Yorkshire men’ I heard her say. We now had 4 miles to the last aid station so off we shot, well as fast as my legs could go with the paths deteriorating, the mud increasing making it difficult to make fast progress. Running was now out of the question because every time my feet hit the ground it was as if millions of needles were forcing their way through my feet, my feet were shot.

Lower Radley, 95 miles and Sam was looking forward to meeting an ultra runner he’d made friends with on the Oldham Ultra. We were greeted with strict instructions to eat before we left the aid station, not to disappoint I did, feeling my usual queasiness. One very helpful piece of advice I got was to eat mints to help the stomach. Being very sceptical I obliged and surprisingly it worked.

As we made our way to Lower Radley Sam had suggested and I reluctantly agreed if he wasn’t able to keep up I was to press on without him, finishing before the cut-off was the main priority. We both left the aid station together, but unfortunately Sam was struggling and slipped behind and I pressed ahead. I was now into clock watching mode, mentally calculating what pace I needed to finish and how fast I needed to go and what safety margin I should aim for. All the while I was worried about Sam and felt I shouldn’t have left him behind.

It was now hot and a relief to get onto hard tracks and paths with a sign that pronounced 2 miles to Oxford. Whilst walking was painful at least it was flat and solid and no mud. After what seemed like forever, which in reality wasn’t, I spotted loads of cars and a blue bouncy castle in a field to the left. Behold it wasn’t a bouncy castle it was the finish and just a short field to cross.

Cheering me in was Ann and Laura plus all the other runners that had finished. I even managed to break into a run (in reality a shuffle) for the last few yards across the finish line. Nici Griffin presented me with my buckle and t-shirt and official photographs. It was all over, the best feeling in the world. The waterworks started again for the final time, words rang out from Ann, stop it you’re a Yorkshire Man!

A concerned Ann went back up the path to find Sam who’d had the slowest 5 miles of the weekend. I hadn’t realised he’d been struggling to keep up in the last 15 miles. More waterworks, this time from Sam after hugs all round.

Sam was brilliant and stopped me from sliding into the deep pit of self pity and woe during the night and morning, we had a small celebration at 78 miles marking the completion of 3 consecutive marathon distance. It can be the smallest thing that can snap you out of dark thoughts, such as I’m never every going to do this again….

So I’d finished, not as quick as I’d originally hoped (24 hours) but ultras are difficult mistresses to satisfy and have to be managed aid station to aid station. Ultras for most are a team game, my team included; Ann, Laura and Sam. I can’t forget the whole Centurion family and finally Meltham AC for the words of encouragement and music tracks.

My grand slam attempt part 1 had finished, I was very uncertain if my feet would heal sufficiently in 6 weeks ready for the second one hundred  – The South Downs Way 100.