Well, this race was so much fun it has inspired me to write my first race report!
In the run up (no pun intended) to race day I had completed significantly more mileage in training (1400 km in 2017 compared to 400 km in 2016) than my previous 100 km (Race to the Stones 2016 – 15:30). I was almost not worried by the prospect of running 100 km after and perhaps overlooked just how challenging running 100 km is. The last couple of weeks before the race were the start of the summer holidays (I’m a teacher), this was perfect for tapering and making sure I was eating plenty of food.
Race day arrived and my friends Greg (who was also running) and Emilie provided excellent hospitality the night before with an amazing pasta party. Carbo loaded and well hydrated I was able to go to bed feeling sleepy. Four hours later, I woke up at 2 am. Damn. Rather than try and get back to sleep I got up and arrange all of the kit I needed to take to the start of the race. This was the first time I had used drop bags so I was trying to think about what I would need and when (more on this later..). Around 4 am the two other runners, Greg and Dan, got up and we made our way to the start. The race began at Wokingham Waterside Centre which sits on the Thames, a couple of miles from the centre of Reading.
On arrival at the Race HQ the atmosphere was quiet but calm, we distributed our drop bags for transport to the aid stations and did the usual last minute checks. I stupidly forgot to do my warm up stretches which I was determined to do, I knew we would be starting off slowly but still think this had an impact later in the race.
A few minutes later we were ushered down to the start where we were briefed and the race began. There were 32 starters in the 100 km race and approximately 100 in the 50 km race which started two hours after the 100 km. Each runner was given a wristband with all the cut offs. In line with my previous time I knew we would be running pretty close to the wire with a similar performance (the final cut off was 15:30 which is the same as my previous time!!).
From the off we were determined to run our own race and not get drawn into charging off. We aimed to run a solid 7 min/km for the first 50 km and within a few minutes we were in last place. This was a great feeling as I usually charge off and end up paying for it later, I think this was thanks to Dan and Greg both being sensible about our pacing. We had overtaken three or four other runners after the first 10 km before getting into the first aid station at 14 km. We knew this would be a tough segment in the second loop with it being the largest distance between aid stations. The aid stations were brilliant, stocked with similar food and drinks at each and more importantly motivational and friendly support crews. After a mixed forecast the weather stayed consistent for most of the morning, with some warm patches whilst not uncomfortable it did mean that we were taking on more water than I usually would.
The next 20 km were relatively uneventful, I might even describe them as fun! We then experienced an aid station with “the most amazing aid station toilets ever” in Green Park (24 km) followed by some running parallel to the M4 and crossing junction 11 over the maze of bridges into Three Mile Cross. The route up to the next aid station at Sindelsham (34 km) took us on some nice trails but the heat and minimal cloud cover did reduce our pace. Again, some incredibly motivating volunteers told us “we don’t want you to be our first cut off on the second loop”, whilst we were well clear off the cut off this did spur us onto a stronger pace to the next aid station at 44 km. Whilst running through a large open field at around 43 km we were passed by the eventual winner of the 50 km race, he looked very fresh and shouted words of encouragement which we reciprocated. The heavens opened at the end of the first loop which meant we only got wet for about 25 minutes, where the original forecast predicted at least three hours of rain – not a bad result and it did mean I was able to use my new coat! We reached the 50 km point at approximately 12:30 pm (6 hours and 28 minutes elapsed), the first half had been run at an enjoyable pace with minimal walking. We had made up six or seven places but hadn’t seen many 100 km runners for quite some time.
The second loop followed the same course, whilst navigation had been straight forward in the first loop, this did mean we didn’t need to check the map as much. After visiting the first aid station we were informed that we were currently in 15th and last place. We were pretty shocked by this, not so much about being last but that there were only 16 runners left with another 16 dropping out or missing cut off times by the half way point. Either way, we carried on with less pressure of being chased down by people behind us. Having reached the second aid station, we took some time to rest and reset for the last quarter of the race, we also bumped into another runner who was taking a prolonged break after suffering from the heat (he was 25 minutes in front of us at one point so we were making decent progress). We followed the other runner out of the aid station and interchanged positions for the next 7 km or so, I don’t think any of us cared who finished last – we just wanted to finish!
It was in this last quarter of the race where things got tough. My hip was feeling sore from taking shorter strides than usual and the feeling of general tiredness. The second loop had primarily been based on 5 minutes of running followed by 5 minutes of walking and this had worked a treat up until now. From now on we tried a variation of four minutes running and six minutes walking before this gradually become full time power walking from the third aid station. It was surprising how little pace we lost when comparing 5:5 against just power walking, at this point we were so battered the running was probably slowing down our walking pace. We continued to power walk with only very minimal amounts of jogging (probably less than 10 minutes in the last few hours). I found the stretch from 85 km to 94 km mentally challenging, doing calculations in my head I knew we were going to be out running for at least another two and a half hours. It was also demoralising when thinking of a typical running time for 15 km compared to 15 km when walking.
Throughout the race I had been thinking of what I was going to eat after the race, dreaming of fish and chips. Arriving at the final aid station (94 km), the support grew had got themselves chips from the local chippy and had saved some for us. At this point I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things but it was absolutely amazing. Again, the support crews and paramedic staff were so friendly and so encouraging more so than in other races I’ve completed.
Motivated and filled with salty fried goodness we got going and made the final push through to the finish line. The stretch back along the Thames path seemed to last for miles, but turning onto the home straight and finally doing some “jogging” over the line was a great experience. We came joint 14th/15th out of 32 starters, of which 16 finished. We ran a total of 103 km in 14 hours 47 minutes, a new personal best for this distance.
I have to thank Daniel and Greg for running with me, it made the race fun and much easier than if doing solo. The aid stations were great, a range of food and drinks and being able to have drop bags was very helpful, especially on the second loop. Also a huge thank you to my wife Georgie putting up with my running and days like this and the knock on impact of the recovery progress!
The volunteers and organisers were fantastic; friendly, approachable, motivational, chip providing – thank you! This was my first race organised by Purple Patch runners and I would 100% recommend their events!