Monday, 17 June 2013

South Downs Way 100 Miler 2013 Race Report

Aw bollocks (spoiler alert...).

Well okay, that didn't quite go to plan. The Centurion Running South Downs Way had always been my focus race for the year, as I had a target time to beat from last year that I felt was ripe for smashing (with a bit of focussed training). And if you had asked me 6 weeks ago how I felt, I would have been incredibly positive. My pace was increasing, my legs felt strong, the training was going well (despite the arrival of my little angel Lottie), and with several particularly long distance races under my belt I was confident in my endurance. In addition, my kit choice and nutrition were proving to be robust, and in particular a recurring stomach problem which slowed me down last year seemed to be under control. 
Beautiful weather for a run! Are you sure this a Centurion Running event?!
Then Transvulcania happened. I had a bit of an issue with cramping in my calves, something that I think may have been lying dormant for a while and only really showed up by running up a volcano. I really don't get any practice at that - there are very few volcanoes in Cambridge.


Afterwards, despite damaging my knees on some rocks, I didn't feel too bad. A week after the race, I managed to get 8th place (out of around 500 runners) in a local trail 10K, and while my legs felt a bit heavy, running felt pretty much back to normal. I started to kick back into my usual training routine the following week, expecting 3 full on training weeks, and a week to taper before the race. 

Unfortunately my entire house was hit hard by the 10 plagues of Egypt. My wife, my daughter and I all came down with a variety of illnesses. Even our pet dog and two rabbits were ill. Not ideal conditions for training. Just as we were starting to feel better, I got hit by a chest infection. Sigh. With about 2 weeks left until the race, I finally got to a stage where I could get some real running in - only to find that I had a bunch of pretty significant niggles that I hadn't noticed having only run 10 Km in the last 3 weeks! So it was time to kick into emergency rehab mode, with a trip to a sports masseuse to hammer out the scarily large knots in my calves, and a trip to my physio to stick electric needles into my ITB. This was Monday. The race was Saturday. 

Despite this rather impressive run of bad luck, I was staying optimistic, and even went so far as to put my plans out on my blog. I figured that writing it down would make me more accountable, although how James described it on his race preview you would think I had put a press release out or something! 

Things gradually started to feel a bit better, although now my bloody plantar fascia was really aching. For the love of... It's fine. You always get niggles before a race. Positive Mental Attitude and all that jazz. I was still feeling positive. My legs were feeling better, and I'd run a whole 3 miles without pain on the Tuesday. That's like nearly halfway...

And then on Wednesday, we got some sad news. 

Our dog Max was very ill, and wasn't going to get better. After weeks of uncertainty and many trips to the vets, we finally had the diagnosis and it was exactly what we had feared. He was in a lot of pain, and we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to let him go. We took him home and spent the following day with him, making him feel comfortable, feeding him all of his favourite treats, and telling him what a good boy he was. And he really was a good boy. We adopted him 3 years ago from a local shelter, where he had been sent after being found abandoned. Understandably he had some issues with abandonment, and was wary of men having been in an abusive home. But over time, he became a happy dog and completed our happy family. He had many quirks, but they just added to his Maxness. He was gentle, loving, the most friendly dog in the world and he will be sorely missed. Jen and I were with him in the end, and he went peacefully. We like to think that he's now enjoying sleeping on the big sofa in the sky.

On Saturday, I turned up at Winchester bright and early with Dan Park, who was attempting to complete his first 100 miler after having to pull out at 60 miles at the North Downs Way last year. After being dropped off by my Dad (who also managed to pick up a few stragglers on his way back home who were running late having misjudged the distance from the hotel), we registered and got chatting to other runners who were raring to get going. There were lots of friendly faces around, and a few new Twitter friends who I had not yet met in person, and as ever it was great to catch up with them. One of the things I was looking forward to most was hanging around at the end of the race in Eastbourne to chat to everybody (particularly as Mimi had promised me a song as I ran around the track). 

We lined up at the start line, and I found myself next to Robbie Britton. I had been chatting to Robbie earlier in the week about my plans to go for a 16 hour finish, and this had whetted his appetite. He had taken a late registration to the race with the same aim in mind. He is a hell of a runner and a really great guy to boot, so I was looking forward to running with him. I had a pacing plan which would get me in in sub-16, and was hoping to keep to it to within a half hour or so to make my target. Various people had tipped me for a shot at the win, but there were a couple of runners (Robbie included) who are a level above me in their abilities. Still, a lot can happen in 100 miles, so I was just going to run my race and see how it panned out. Obviously the thought of the prize money for the top 3 finishers was big on my mind; babies are bloody expensive after all, and it's much easier to justify disappearing for the day if I come back with some dosh!

We lined up, with Robbie and me pissing around for the cameras, getting ready to sprint off. A cheeky push from Robbie sent me sprawling just before the horn went, but I was up on my feet and we were off! After a couple of laps around the field (Robbie's forté) we were finally on the South Downs Way proper. After a short amount of time there were three of us in a breakaway pack; Robbie, me and a guy named Ollie Stoten who I had chatted to at the start (he recognised the sideburns). Ollie was aiming to complete his first 100 miler in around 18 hours but was trying to capitalise on feeling good at the start to get some miles in (I can happily say he did finish, coming in a smidge over 20 hours). We took it in turns to get the gates, and I tried desperately to not end up downwind of Robbie's overactive bowels (it was windy enough already thank you very much). 
I have Paul (and his car) to thank for completing the Piece of String last year! He has a very comfy front seat. Photo c/o Paul Rowlinson
We were all at a pretty similar pace, similar to what I ran last year. Nice and comfortable, not killing ourselves, but making good progress. As we approached the first aid station at Beacon Hill, I realised the massive benefit that a crew can have. Robbie was handed a new bottle on the move and headed straight through, whilst I had to stop briefly to top up. It was only a few seconds, but it was enough to open up a gap between us meaning I had to run a bit faster to catch up. My plan was to spend as little time as possible at the aid stations and rely on gels alone while moving, but the benefit of saving these few seconds or even minutes every aid station were clear. Something to think about for future races...

As we came out onto the road, we approached the point where I had gone wrong last year. The SDW100 course took the alternative route through Exton, while Wouter and I had missed the turning and continued on the main path around the village adding on quite a bit of time (I lost about 7 positions). I was ready for it this year, but was surprised to see Robbie and Ollie take the "wrong" path. In fact the "wrong" path seemed to be the "right" path this year, and we followed the Petzl tape around the village until we ended up back on track again. Hmm. I'm not sure if this was a change in the course (I couldn't hear the pre-race briefing from outside) or if the course marker had made a mistake. A few people were doubtless going to take the shorter (although arguably harder) route and make up some time on the people in front, but in the grand scheme of things it probably wouldn't make a difference.

As we ran down the hill, I became acutely aware of a van stalking me. It was crawling down the hill ignoring my invitations to pass me. I started to think of Stephen King's Duel... I was relieved when Robbie shouted back that it was just his crew following him. Of course maybe that should have made me more worried about my safety.

And then my knee went. Literally. My leg just collapsed under me. Suddenly my right knee was hurting with every step I was taking. This was exactly what I had worried would happen. I gritted my teeth and ran for a short while and it happened again. Okay, this wasn't feeling like something I could run off. Ollie was with his crew and offered me some tape for it, but I didn't think it would help; I wouldn't know what to do with it anyway! I pushed on, but just got slower and slower until I was having trouble walking. We were only 15 miles in. There was no way I could move like this for another 85 miles. There was certainly no way I was getting top 3. It wasn't even a choice. I walked the 8 miles or so to the 23 mile Queen Elizabeth Country Park checkpoint, getting in at 3:41, and handed in my number. My race was over.

As it happens, I was quite relaxed about things. It wasn't a decision that I was going to regret later (there was no way I could continue - I could barely walk down Butser Hill), so I didn't feel annoyed with myself. It was just an unfortunate thing that was out of my control. Maybe if I hadn't been ill, I might have noticed the problems sooner and been able to have a bit more time preparing for things, but other than that it was just an injury. They happen. 

Of course I was disappointed though. The main reasons for this were:
  1. It was a real shame to not be involved in the race at the front, as I was really looking forward to pitting myself against Robbie to see how long I could hold onto him for. Going out so soon into proceedings was a bit of a blow.
  2. I was really looking forward to seeing everybody at the end, hanging around at the finish line all night to cheer people through the line (particularly Dan).
  3. It was a bit of a blow to be knocked out of the only race where I have ever had a shot at winning an actual prize
As it happens, my parents (who we were staying with over the weekend) only live around the corner from QECP, so Jen was able to come and pick me up. In a silver lining moment, it meant that I got to spend the day with my daughter and the rest of my family. We went out with my sister's family and had a lovely day at the fair, although my limping just held everybody up!

So what now? Honestly I'm not sure. I've been RICEing like a mofo and trying to get the swelling down so that I can actually walk. It's 2 days later, and it does feel a bit better. I'm certainly walking better, but it still hurts particularly when going up the stairs. I'm pretty sure that it is a case of; a niggle in my calf from some of the longer stuff being made worse by the big hills at Transvulcania, which has caused my ITB to become tight and out of balance, which has caused the pain in my knee. Very similar to what happened at Thames Path last year. Fingers crossed that with a few weeks of targeted rehab I'll be able to get back to running. I'm not too fussed about racing, I just want to get running again! I had a blast Saturday morning. I think that I pulled out before I made things any worse, so for now it's a case of waiting and working to get things back on track. All being well, I can make the start line of the NDW in 8 weeks, but we will see what happens.
I didn't quite stick to my pacing plan...
If you ignore my day however, the SDW was an amazing success in all respects! The entire crew at Centurion Running once again showed why they are quickly becoming the de facto ultra marathon organisers in the UK. I didn't think it was possible, but this year the organisation was even slicker than before. And as ever, it is the volunteers at the Aid Stations that really make the race work, and the runners wouldn't get anywhere without the selfless hard work of everybody that gives up their time to help a bunch of idiots run halfway across the country. I didn't get a chance to see many of them, but you only have to look on Twitter and Facebook to see how amazing the checkpoint workers were on the day. If you're interested in the sport in any way, shape or form, I thoroughly recommend volunteering at a race. It can be hard work, but is a whole lot of fun! You'll meet some amazing people, witness people accomplishing awesome things, and you will learn a lot. It's also a way to give back to the sport (think of all of the people that have helped you achieve your goals). The community aspect is certainly one of the greatest things about this sport.

And the race was simply phenomenal. I was able to follow along via Twitter and see the whole thing unfold. Five runners came in under last year's Course Record set by Ryan Brown. Five! The race was, unsurprisingly, won by Robbie who came in looking scarily fresh in 15:43:53 - an hour and 20 minutes faster than Ryan (read his report here). The first lady, Jean Beaumont, absolutely destroyed Claire Shelley's CR from last year coming in third overall on 16:56:38 - almost 3 hours off CR pace! There were reports that she was pushing Robbie at some points. I'm not sure if "chicked" is considered derogatory or not, but Jean really goes to show that in this sport women are just as competitive as men. And I'm incredibly happy to say that Dan finished and was able to make his way to the finish in Eastbourne, sprinting round the track to finish in 27:07:00. Amazing effort throughout, and I look forward to reading his blog on his adventure! Huge congratulations to everybody that ran in this amazing event. I'll be back again to have a proper crack at it next year!

But for now, it's all about getting things sorted. Fingers crossed!

1 comment:

  1. Passed at the QECP check point and made some cheeky comment, and forgot to say congratulations on the arrival of the little one - sorry it didn't work out - I think the real injury was caused when Robbie pushed you over.

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