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.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

North Downs Way 100.

The North Downs Way 100 race is reputed to be Centurion Running’s toughest footrace over a 100 mile course. It is 102.6 miles to be exact. Its starts in Farnham and makes its way all the way out over the Surrey Hills and on to finish at Wye in Kent.  The course follows the National Trail. It is a hilly route with steep climbs and steps including the ominous Detling steps after 82 miles, they are pretty tough after running the distance to get there. The course is quite challenging and demanding with an elevation of 9930 ft. or 3025 m.

I had some fears about this race and had read a few blogs. I had also managed to reach Bluebell Hill last year before dropping, just because my head was not in the right place. But a week before the event I put those fears aside and started to look forward to it. On registration day I was picked up from a nearby Travelodge by my friend and fellow Ultra runner Luke Ashotn and his Dad. It was nice to have the company on the way to the race start. I was feeling pretty good about the day ahead, so was Luke.  I asked if he had slept well and he said he had and he was ready to go. 
Looking relaxed @ Race Brief. Picture Luke Ashton.
We registered then waited for the race brief, I said hello to a few people - Mark Johnson and Big Cliff - friends I made from when I first got into running ultras. James gave the race brief; we would have an extra mile at the start due to a road being closed. This had only been discovered the night before, more miles for our money! The weather was going to be good with it in its 20's. We then made our way from the hall to the trail head, about 5 minutes’ walk. Time for me and Luke to take a picture. We wished each other well and Luke headed off to the front of the pack.
My plan for the race was firstly to finish and secondly to enjoy and have no big expectations on myself. Being in the Grand Slam and having DNF’d here last year there was a fair bit at stake. Also Donna said we could not go on holiday if I dropped! I was looking forward to having a break after this. I was aiming for an average 12 minute mile pace to start with. 

The first Aid station was Puttenham at 6.8 miles. I settled into a nice easy pace, watching others overtaking and speeding off.  The weather was warming up and it was quite humid. I arrived at Puttenham feeling good in around 70 minutes. I topped up my water and moved on. I had a couple of niggles coming into today, peri formis had been playing up and one of my achilles was a bit inflamed. So far I had no problems with either.
Aid Station 2 Newlands Corner at 14.7 miles in Guildford as I make my way to there I start one of the first and many hills at around 11 miles. We ran past St. Martha’s Church. In the Woods here we were greeted by a cheerleader jumping about with pom-poms.

Early Morning Cheer leader.
The Woods before St Martha's Church.

The third Aid Station is Box Hill 24.6 miles, the heat has risen and the day is becoming hot. To get to the aid station we had to run along the road then through a subway, as I run along I see Mark and Cliff wave to me from the other side of the road. The whole day we would  pass each other. I arrive at Box Hill in the shade of the aid station. There was ice and plenty of food. It was good to see Brigitte Groves, fellow runner and one of the ladies who regularly volunteers. The temperature was affecting people and we were all feeling the heat. I had a quick nibble, drank and rubbed some ice round my neck.

Next were the stepping stones and across the stream. It would have been lovely to take a dip here, the water looked so clear and inviting in the heat of the day. The climb up from here was fairly hard going. Box Hill is described as a summit, the highest point being Betchworth Clumps at 174 metres. I passed the Salomon’s Memorial.  It was not too bad, but I was glad to get the top.  However I was going through water like no one’s business. And 2 - 3 miles from Reigate hills I was struggling. I was feeling sick to my stomach and was finding it impossible to run. I started to dry heave when I did run. I had to have a couple of pit stops for loo breaks along the way. I was dehydrated, my mouth was feeling very dry!

Making my way to Reigate Hill there was a climb spread out over 2 - 3 miles.  It was hard going but with no water it was not easy. The sun was shining, it was too hot out of the shade.  At this point there are some woods as well as plenty of open trails. They were cooler and nice to run in. At the summit of the hill a guy turned up selling ice creams. I could murder one, but I had no money on me. I had bumped into Mark and Big Cliff who gave me some water, which was a life saver and helped me to start moving forward again.  I had been taking s-caps at regular intervals and I had been putting dyralites in my water.

Mark suggested at Reigate Aid Station 31.8 miles it would be a good idea to take some time and get some water in. It was a relief to get to Reigate, it was nice to see Alma Botes and Sunday. I was well taken care of and made sure I ate and drank. I said hello to Luke's dad and mum and asked how he was doing. Luke had added some extra mileage getting lost and had a fall. After some cheese and crisps I headed out again. I walked and ate before starting to run again. The time to drink and eat had made a big difference to my thoughts and being able to run again. I was to use this process many times later when I was struggling and having moments of despondency. Just get to next aid station eat and drink before making any decisions. It was the main reason I was able to finish.
Eating and drinking, Picture Sunday Odesanya.
After Reigate it was nice to have some downhill for a few miles. The going was good here. I was feeling hot but I was feeling good. Every now and then I would listen to music or just focus on what my body or breathing was doing to keep me focused and to keep me positive and moving.  After Reigate we crossed the M25 and M23.
Denbies Wine Estate.
Caterham was the next aid station,  mile 38. I had seen one of the ladies at the previous aid station as she topped my water up she asked how I was. I said better and I had got some good running in. She said I looked better than the last aid station. This was good for me to hear.  It had started to get a lot warmer now and I was sweating quite heavily.
Sweating at Redhill.
The next aid station Botely Hill was at 43 miles. Making my way here I felt good as I ran along the NDW with the London Orbital to my right, I found myself on familiar ground briefly, part of the London 2 Brighton route. I thought of Mark Dean as I had run some of this route with him. I made good progress here and was feeling strong. 
 I knew I would soon be at Botely Hill as I was remembering quite a bit of the route from last year. There is a lovely climb although arduous in some woods. After the open trail the woods again were most welcome due to the shade. I made my way up the hill to the aid station followed by Mark and Cliff. We were all feeling the heat. I had a quick top up of water and was soon on my way again across the road and on to another tarmac road in the shade however. This part was again undulating and we were soon on trail.

It was a slow slog to Knockholt for the last couple of miles. I was feeling pretty good mentally, but the day’s heat had taken it out of me. I was looking forward to sitting down, which I have a habit of doing in the latter stages. I always waste too much time like this! I ate a pouch of baby food in the last mile as I wanted to cut down on time at Knockholt. The last mile to here was one of those that seem to go on! It was great to arrive and get a hug from Karen Webber and see the other people I know. I changed and checked my feet, they looked good. I had stubbed my toes on a number of tree roots and stones, but all looked well. After 20 minutes and a gentle nudge from Karen to get moving, I was off.

Out of Knockholt and straight into a hill having refuelled and having spoken to others, I was in good form. I remember last year running this bit so I did the same again this year. The natural slowdown in the second half is something I wanted to avoid as much as I could. There were others with me, this is always a good incentive for me to keep moving and not to start walking. This part of the route into Wrotham involves some road work. I went off course after a couple of miles; I soon backtracked and found the way I needed to go. There is quite a big ascent once out of a housing estate if I remember right, you go through an alley and are soon presented with a hill that does your back in due to its steepness. It has steps cut into it. But they do not help lessen the steep climb. I remember being here last year!

I arrived at Wrotham. This Aid Station was at the edge of a sports field, it was dark now, I sat and had a cup of tea. I changed my top as I could feel it was getting cooler. The sweeper bus was here picking up people that had dropped. Whilst here another runner made the decision that today was not his day. I tried to not sit for too long. I ate some food and was off again. I started to run as I had gotten cold. Along the Pilgrims Way I continued. Once out of some woods I saw the route went up into a field and off the road. As I was going through the  field, which ran alongside the road, I could see runners going  along the road. I thought to myself I have taken the harder option here. It was hard to see any marking tape. There was some type of party going on in a big garden with loud music. I spotted more tape which then ran out. I was getting a bit panicked about getting lost. I came out of the field following the natural direction I assumed the tape would be going, I was back on a road, and I could see no headlamps of any other runners. 
I headed up the road then decided to phone race HQ. I spoke to James, he said others had just phoned and I was heading in the right direction. I said to James there was a sign saying Colsplay Woods? he said that I would be going through here.  As I went up the road I saw tape in a field so I got back into it and followed a trail up a hill. It seemed like forever before I saw any tape again. I got my map and compass out, it was hard to see without my glasses. I found out where I was which was a place called Waterford Water, I was heading in the right direction.  I had wasted a bit of time now trying to locate my position, but it felt good that I could find out where I was. Nick Jones, my pacer, had been in touch to see where I was. When you get lost your mood can drop really quickly. It's a good idea to try and get on top of things and take control. Being able to use a map and find out where I was lifted my spirits, but also I could now see headlamps from others runners coming up the hill. As I came out of the woods there were some guys from Centurion Running coming out to mark the route again. I had noticed on route that some tape had been pulled down. Some people have nothing better to do! 

 I arrived at the next aid station which is Holley Hills at 65.6 miles. I was clapped in here.  At some point in the later stages of running a 100 mile race a number of things happen. One is that you lose all sense of time, so I had no clue what time I got here. I saw Mark, he said that he had been being sick and had felt disorientated and had told Cliff to go on. Mark was still talking about carrying on but when speaking to him I could see things were not quite right with him. The paramedic had advised him not to go on and one of the volunteers had given him a space blanket. I said to Mark he really needed to take that advice as he might risk causing himself some long term damage. He did, I am glad to say. It was time for me to get moving. As I left seeing Mark like that left me feeling troubled and concerned for him.

Now I was heading to Bluebell Hill at 76.2 miles, just over 11 miles. Last year this bit had finished me. Despondency and the hurricane Bertha is what led me to dropping. Nothing physically wrong with me, just mentally and I gave in to what was going on in my head. I was not going to let that happen this time. I had been focusing on positive things that made me happy if my head was turning to negative thoughts, but also listening to music. I normally only do this when training as I can find it irritating.  
There were a few of us grouped together and the later stages can see a game of cat and mouse going on. I like this, but it's also nice to have people around as this can be when things get tough and it’s nice to chat to others. Luke had texted me to say he had had to drop just before I got to Holly Hills, heat and his ankles had started to play up. He had dropped at Bluebell. I knew he would be in good hands there as the BOSH crew were there, Steve Amiet and Tina Amiet. Also John Fitzgerald was there. 
I had calculated in my befuddled head how long it was now going to take me to finish.  A silly thing to do! I had to push that aside. At this point I caught up with Cliff, he was finding things difficult and said he was finding it hard to make 3mph but he was going to carry on. I kept moving forward and soon arrived at Bluebell with Cliff not far behind. It was awesome to arrive here, see everyone and get some hugs and fantastic encouragement. Nick got himself ready while I refuelled with a cuppa soup, some bread then a coffee. I said my goodbyes to everyone and headed off.

As me and Nick headed off from Bluebell Hill I felt pretty good, this would be a new adventure for me having not been this far.  I was also aware that I had to keep moving forward consistently as we were getting close to the cut offs. It was good to have Nick's company as knowing you are close to the cut offs puts a bit of pressure on you. Having Nick along meant that from now on he took over. We had talked end of race strategy prior to the race. However Nick having paced me before on SDW 100 knew what to do to keep me going. We spoke for a while about how I had been doing and how others had done. Then the comfortable silence of getting the job done came. My tummy had been struggling for a while. I had run out of loo roll and desperately needed the loo. Nick had none either so unfortunately I had to stop and use my SDW 100 top. It was not too bad.  However I would later have to put this back on as the temperature rose.  I had to change as I was overheating, I smelt pretty awful anyhow by that time so it could not be any worse and I at least had the foresight to use the back which would not be seen. Sorry to all those that hugged me at the end.

The next aid station was Detling at mile 82. I remember a lot of steps on our way to Detling and thinking this must be the steps that people spoke about with reverence. I thought these are not too bad. Before we got to Detling we were greeted with a wonderful sunrise. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to Detling. It was good to get here. I needed the toilet again; I made sure I took some loo roll away with me. At this point there were 20 runners behind me. I ate a little and took some gels. I do not normally take gels, but it was quick and easy. Eating sandwiches at this point in an ultra is like chewing on a blanket, it's time consuming. I ate and drank and what I could. 
As we were leaving Detling I was able to do the sums in my head, I believe it was 5.45am and we had 18 miles to travel. As I found out in the Aid station we still had the Detling Steps to contend with. Having taken 2 1/2 hours to do just over 6 miles I thought this is not going to happen. I said so to Nick; I was ready to give in. He said ‘it’s not over yet’. We started to run, or shuffle. I kept running and thinking we were making good time, but it was more of a shuffle. But forward we went! The decision I made was that I was going to keep moving until I was told to stop.  

Coming across Detling.

The DETLING Steps, I have heard about them many times. Only in experiencing them can you appreciate the difficulty of having to get up and over them after running for 82 miles. The first set I just power hiked up and caught Nick up, but then we had more. This was not too bad; I think the overall slower pace of the race had helped.  My positive mind-set for most of the race was standing me in good stead too. Nick was doing a fine job, he kept moving ahead of me. This kept me going.  The temperature was now rising and I was getting really hot. There were some spectacular views on this part of the route as there had been along the whole NDW. Getting to Lenham seemed to be taking forever and I asked Nick ‘how much further?’ It gave me a lift to see Jackie Byrne walking down the road. I was definitely shuffling because Nick said ‘how much further?’ and Jackie replied ‘5 minutes at that pace!’ It was also great to see Sharon Dickson, another BOSH member. We had made the cut off to here with time to spare. 
Picture Nick Jones.
We just had to get to Dunn Street now 7 1/2 miles away before 10.45am. I took some more gels and I took my tea to go. Nick wanted us to keep moving so that we could be comfortable with the last 4 miles and not have such a push. I agreed. I was now feeling pretty good, I was buzzing and every now and again I would well up with emotion knowing my Grand Slam dream was still alive. We had made good time on the hardest part of the course and with 82 miles in the legs and no sleep! I was looking forward to seeing my partner Donna.

There were bits of shaded woods which was a welcome relief from the sun that was getting incredible hot. Nick kept moving forward ahead of me. I had a few dry heaves along the way and just needed to stop and put my hands on my knees for 10 seconds to just rest! 

Getting to Dunn Street inside the cut off with time to spare was a relief. There was cold coke there and I ate and drank. We had just over 4 miles to go. We set off knowing that we would get to the finish in time. I remember the cornfields and the heat in the exposed fields. We met two others along the way, deep in their own mental battle to get to the end. Words of encouragement were given. Over the course of the past 24 hours I had stubbed my big toes many times on tree roots and had somehow even managed to toe punt a big flint stone. My feet had been sore for a long time from the pounding they had been getting but I had I chosen to ignore the discomfort. But now it felt like one of my toenails had come adrift and was rubbing on the other toe. I said to Nick I needed to stop and sort this out, it was getting too painful. One sock off and there was a big blister pushing the big toenail out if its bed. 

The hobbits toe, picture Nick Jones. 
We taped it down to stop it moving. I took the other sock off and we just started to laugh. The big toe nail had a big blood blister under it and was lifting right off, there was a massive blister on the side of the toe also. At this point two runners passed and winced at the sight of my toes. I put on some fresh socks and we started to move. I could gingerly prance about every little root or stone in my way or I could just run and get this done. I ran.  Further on it felt like I had stood on a nail, but it was a blister on my little toe bursting.
The Last mile. Picture Nick Jones.
Getting to Wye was a pleasant run. Coming to the railway crossing at Wye we decided to go over the steps, the train was taking forever. As we rounded the corner I could see a crowd of people.  I could see Donna and as I was running nearer I could just see Mark, it was great to see him looking recovered. As I reached him he said ‘just four more laps around the field and you are finished!’. Reaching the end was just great. It was uncertain and it had been a tough 29.45 minutes on the course. It was not easy, but I got it done and remained positive throughout most of the race. 
Nearly there!
At the start yesterday there had been 218 runners, by the end of the race 137 had finished. It was Centurions highest drop out. It had been a tough one. I am glad I had booked some holiday time off. My feet were painful for a couple of days. I found it difficult to walk properly due to the swelling and my toe nails.  I have a real sense of achievement having completed my 7th 100 mile ultra-race and my third in the Grand Slam. I look forward to the Autumn 100 my favourite Centurion Race. 

I am fundraising throughout the Grand Slam. Just Giving . This is for Crohn's and Colitis Uk. 10years ago I was diagnosed with having Ulcerative colitis I had been struggling with this illness since my early 20's. Unfortunately I had to have my large bowel removed I had become seriously ill. My bowel was either going to turn cancerous and kill me, or burst and do the same. It took a long time to recover. I took up running to beat the depression but also to just do one marathon! I have what is called a jpouch. A reconstruction out of my small bowel. I work differently down there now and I have things to contend with. I let this hold me back at first, but through trial and error and perseverance I have been able to achieve more than I think I can. Please visit my Just Giving Page Shawn Timmons if you would like to make a donation. Many Thanks.