Written by Claudi | The first 26miles you run with your legs… 2015 I ran my first 100miler by accident. By accident? I had no intention to be taking on such a huge task so early in my running ‘career’. 2016. If I get into Western States 100. Then Maybe. Yes. But somehow my heart had other plans.
Dreaming big at heart and really enjoying to move through challenges on my own two feet, a new dream was in the making. After UTMB TDS – the most incredible race I have ever done – the queen of 100milers was calling my name. I wanted to put my name into the hat for UTMB 2016. WSER100 might not be on the cards anyway (lottery pot luck). However this meant stocking up on 3 UMTB points and inevitably running 100miles before mid December. Ouch.
A100. A starting point.
In September we only just talked about the A100. Just out of TDS I happily not run long or far for a while. My partner in running crime James managed to get me onto the waiting list, and ultimately a start bib, at Centurion Running‘s Autumn 100. We’ve done a course recce a few weeks prior to the race. Stupidly after one of our biggest #runforbeer events – 60k trail recce with a hangover but legs and heart willing. We ran the 3rd leg, the Ridgeway and the 4th leg, Thames Path to Reading. So this is all relatively flat and straight. I was sure it’s manageable. I wasn’t so sure in how much my heart would be into a rolling, flat-ish course like this.
You never know until you go. A dance with uncertainty.
Fast forward 17 OCT, a mad dash to Goring Village, almost too late for the registration. Not an ideal start to a big day and night and potentially more day of relentless forward motion. Pinned on the bib, munched a banana in record time, race briefing By James Elson and off we were. Literally thrown into a whirlwind of uncertainty. James Elson, Centurion race director but racer himself that day, won the race in a new course record (14:35). Incredible performance and such a great person, encouraging every runner out there. The course switched back on itself four times, a great way to break the big 100mile chunk down but also a great chance to see the front of the race, in fact the whole race. I mainly ran for high fives, nods and smiles on miles 0–25. There’s nothing else I can do apart from letting it all unfold. Making meaning and creating new experiences on the go.
You know better yet you can’t quite tame the horses. Again. A 100miler is close to four trail marathons and with any marathon, let alone four, pacing is key. Easy at first, steady for as long as possible, then just keep moving forwards until it’s done. I thought running the first marathon in under 4hrs was a brilliant idea. Not. My legs hurt from the get go. Coming back into Goring I had tears in my eyes and said to my crew – ‘I’m not sure I am going to finish this. I feel like a bird trapped in a cage.’ I was craving hills. Scenery. Sunshine. My heart wasn’t in it. I spent a good 15min in Goring. The emotions bubbling, the mind confused. Thinking of Mont Blanc and TDS. And then. The ultra mindset endures and pushes on when there is nothing left to give. I’m not even close to this, yet my mind started playing tricks on me. ‘Focus on the dream. Keep re-framing your race tactics. Flexibility in behaviour. Where’s your heart at? What else can you do? How about just letting go and get moving? You know you are good at this, you’ve done it so many times. Tip toe. Swift. Change. Go.’
What has changed?
Settling into the ultra mindset and ultimately into pace. It took me 26 miles for my brain to catch up – this is not a race, it’s a journey, a challenge and a stepping stone for the juicy things to come. Knowing is still very different to doing. Getting there at last. It’s a journey into self. And a way of challenging yourself on much deeper levels.
Much more enjoyable second leg of the race. High fives, rhythm, rolling trails, woods, open fields and a heart at ease, a mind focussed on letting go. I have found my rhythm. My heart, head and legs were now singing in unison. Excellent.
Crew and pacers.
Ultra running builds on self sufficiency. I am used to race entirely powered by myself, semi-supported (aid stations but no external support). Luckily most 100milers allow crew and pacers. 50miles down and finally time to share the journey with my first pacer – Ash. A multiple 100mile and marathon guru, planner. Patient and funny. I’ll surely be in good hands. Jess and Alex (crew) made me an excellent coffee which gave me the right amount of focus to take on miles 50–75. Having crewed and paced on many races for James and our AR team, nothing in the world beats seeing familiar faces, a few good words, a chat about how their day is going. If necessary a kick up the pants by your crew. The ease of mind you get by letting your crew look after you – letting go of the sense of control, delegating and just focussing on the task at hand – moving forward. Simple. I am very grateful to have such great friends, helping me to reach new heights. Thinking of TDS CP Cormet de Roselend stills gives me goosebumps and most of these amazing human beings were here with me again. Insanely lucky. It feels like a new dawn and putting the world back in order every time you tap into the energy of your crew.
The uphill struggle.
The Ridgeway at night – let’s say I hated running quite a bit during these 5 hours. Ash did such a brilliant job, pushing the pace when needed, letting me throw some or all the tantrums. The A100 is laid out into four legs (out and back, 25 miles each leg). Out is always harder (uphill) making the back much more doable (downhill) with a magical ‘Goring pull’. Ash and me rolling back into Goring for another amazing cup of coffee, made by my pacer No.2 – Spencer. A gem. Normally he talks a lot and I made really clear I am going to stuff a banana down his throat if he goes overboard. He’s has never paced anyone, let alone done a proper night run. We moved swiftly in a pack of four, fellow AR adidas Trail Team runner Gabriel and his pacer Sarah, along the banks of the Thames.
Aches and pains.
Ultra marathons are no walk in the park. Expect the pain. Expect the doubt. Have the heart to tap into something bigger than a medal or buckle to ensure you stay on track. In training and on race day. Having rolled my ankle a couple of times at night on the Ridgeway made running rather painful. Overall your body is pretty traumatised but the pain never gets any worse. I prefer the dull marathon+ pain as opposed to the sharp short pain of 1mile-10k races. Back on the Thames Path (flat) my ankle, foot and lower leg weren’t in good shape. I went really quiet, filled Spencer in and ‘briefed’ him on moving forward and making me move swiftly through the aid stations. My biggest fear was hypothermia, knowing how tired and sweaty I was, despite all the warm dry clothes I had in my pack, I knew dropping to walking pace could jeopardise the successful completion of the journey. We made it to Reading, falling into a decent rhythm until then. Then I was so tired and tumbled around the place. Urged Spencer to leave the vegan treats at Reading and get the last half marathon of this beast going. We walked a good 3k out of Reading, trying to warm with coffee. Walking was more painful than taking my crankle through a running (jogging) motion. I gave Spencer a pat on the shoulder and said: ‘Let’s go. We’ve got three hours to get home on time.’ (Sub 24 hour finish was definitely doable). The only way to manage the pain was by focussing on good form, cadence and appreciating how far we have come as a team. You really haven’t got much to complain about. Expect the pain. Appreciate the journey. Remember why you run. Or at least that you still can.
A new day is a new beginning.
Dawn. It always, always does the trick. I remember how I was at the end of what I could possibly give climbing out of Les Contamines, up Col de Tricot at TDS. But as I made it across the final 2000m+ climb, the sun basked Mont Blanc valley in all its glory. This was the most precious moment of my running journey. Back on the Thames Path, it got lighter. My spirits lifted. We had some downhill trails to go. My Garmin died long ago and I just let Spencer set the pace. Seeing him having a proper go at the last descend made my heart sing. I pushed onwards with him, dropping any sensation of pain, time, pressure and just rolled on. The last little dance along the path and right into the little uphill to the church felt liberating. Spencer gave me way. I rolled into the finish, ‘checked out’ and got handed my first 100miler buckle. A picture with Nikki, the other amazing Centurion Running organiser, and a long hug by James with my flood barriers open. A shoulder to rest my head on, to cry on. Shaking by the magnitude of emotions washing over me. That’s it. That’s a most brilliant long journey done.
A100 – Pausing workout. Finding greatness. 100miler debut – 21:47. F9.
Thanks to all my crew, pacers, supporters and believers.
Thanks to all at Centurion Running for being really great, supportive and putting on such a fantastic ‘sufferfest’. I couldn’t have wished for a better 100miler debut experience and wholeheartedly recommend doing one of their races (50 mile options available…). Tune into BBC Radio 5 live’s – The Ultra Way to hear more about what it takes to do the A100 and also to organise it.
A massive big up to fellow team mates
James Poole – 17:08, 7th – Spartathlon qualifier and my better ultra half
Fabio Rizzo – 18:32, 12th – fuelled by wallpaper paste and pacing charts
Gabriel Flores – 22:06 – chatterbox and trouper in ‘slow’ crime par excellence
Special thanks to Jess, Paola, AVO, Adam, Stella Mc, Simon – Crew
And special forever grateful thanks to pacers Ash and Spencer for keeping me moving relentlessly forward and reminding me of my dreams between miles 50 and 100.
Take away notes.
- Find greatness in your dreams.
- Find a reason to move forward, something larger than life. A buckle or a time is not sustainable for long time motivation and momentum.
- Be prepared to get challenged physically, mentally and most importantly emotionally. This is not your average journey.
- Find new meanings to pushing on, embracing, acknowledging and dancing in between heaven and hell.
- Invest in great gear. You’ll have a lot of aches and pains to deal with. Eliminate what you can to your best ability. A long run with nil blisters or chafing makes it possible to keep moving forward.
- Eat normal and natural food. Eat regularly. Walk and eat. After years I’ve cracked my nutrition at TDS. Cheese, baguette, banana, water melon, water, shot blocks. Coffee and later on coca cola (real coca cola though).
- Ask for help. Have crew. Have pacers. Listen to those more experienced.
- And always always always respect the distance. You are not the president, you are merely a guest on this quest.
- Make it your personal journey.
- You can run. You can achieve whatever you set your mind and heart to. Getting there physically is easy. Getting there mentally is challenging. Getting there emotionally is your greatest task.
- Inspire others by sharing more of your journey and internal processes than by killing them with pace, times and data. Everyone knows you have to train lots, hard and smart to make it there. The specifics are most individual and not much of applicable value for someone else.
- Do what works best for you. Get to know yourself first and foremost. Do things that help you (better coffee, all the cheese and red ambulance). Rest a little (TDS power nap) when you know you need to, keep pushing on by bringing things in perspective.
- Have a good sense of humour. You’ll need it.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s just running.
- Keep dreaming with your feet moving (dream, move, do).
- Be grateful. Always.
Things to work on
- Have you heard about pacing?
- It’s not a race. Don’t treat it as such. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, it matters how well you manage everything in between the start and the finish.
- Don’t be late to the race start. No need to start in overdrive.
- Even if your heart is not fully in it, you’ve got the guts to still give it your best shot. Work better with the other tools in your toolkit.
- Don’t roll over you ankle like you’ve just learned how to walk. Baby Giraffe stumbling across mountains is not cool either. Focus on your form and let got on the down.
- Distance is a way to measure the gap between two points. You can go any distance. Just never lose you respect for the in between and your resources.
- Post race: east something decent and not head straight for the beer. Also when the tiredness hits you, let it wash over you and sleep. No exception. Not sleeping for 48hrs is bad.
- I’m sure you can come up with more.