About two years ago I vividly remember Sarah Booker and Susie Chan taking part in a race I’d never heard of called the Autumn 100. It seemed incomprehensible to me at the time. How can you run for 100 miles in one go? More importantly why would anyone want to do that? It just seems totally impossible. As we tracked them over the weekend of their race I remember thinking how insane the whole thing was.
And then you start to think. Well, what would the training look like? I’ve done training before that’s been pretty hard. It’s still way too far but I’ve had a go at things like that before too. You know what, maybe I could do something like that. Before you know it you start spending time on the event website, so then you might as well give in and sign up, it’s going to happen. I signed up for last year’s race and got the qualifying distance at Thunder Run, but after falling out of love with running for a lot of last year I dropped out. I had no intention of signing up this year until we went for a meal with the Twitter people in December. On the way out, H said “so I’m thinking of doing the A100, do you want to do it too?” to which I replied “Absolutely not”.
And then about 5 minutes later, I got in the car with Pilla and told her that I wanted to do it.
H and I had already planned to do a 24hr race together as a pair at Equinox in September so we figured we could just keep on training for this race four weeks later. I made my training up as I went along for both events; I planned to do a lot of double run days of running to and from work, which I built up to about 9 miles there and 7.5 back, a couple of times a week with a long run at the weekend. The idea was to just get used to running on tired legs. Right from the start I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to run the whole way so all of my training was a walk/run strategy and I usually settled on 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking. This training really worked for me and Equinox was amazing. We both felt great, we stayed really consistent and strong, I felt fantastic and we both did 68 miles in about twelve hours. However, in hindsight I think we might have pushed too hard because I felt absolutely shattered for two weeks after.
The build up to this event was like nothing I’ve felt before, it became almost all I could think about. It wasn’t nerves exactly, more just this strange feeling of knowing what I was about to put myself through. You know it’s coming, you know you want the t-shirt and the buckle at the end, but you also know that you are going to have to put yourself through an awful lot to get it. Before the event I never really thought about not being able to finish it, I absolutely, definitely, clearly knew that we would and that we’d do it together. As the race weekend rolled around, I picked up my traditional pre-race cold but this time also managed to pass it on to Pilla. The feeling of getting ready in a hotel room in Reading whilst Pilla could barely get out of bed was pretty dreadful; I often think it’s pretty selfish doing these events but when it consumes a whole weekend and you know that your partner will be out on course worrying, updating people, seeing you looking dreadful, consoling you, cheering you, texting you to remind you that you are doing it, all whilst wanting to do nothing more than to be snuggled up at home in bed with a cat. It wasn’t a great feeling.
I went through the process of getting all my kit together, filling up my water bottles, doing a bit of general faffing and applying a years supply of Vaseline and Body Glide and I was ready. It was a short car journey up to the start at Goring with Loz and straight into the village hall to have my kit checked, pick up my race number, drop bags off and have the race briefing. This was a bit grim. H and I were both faffing, it’s a small hall, there were a lot of runners. Experienced runners always wear kit they’ve run in before on race days. Ultra runners do a lot of running. It was quite warm and there were a lot of nerves. I’ve run out of ways to say this; the hall was hot, sweaty and smelt like a men’s changing room, so we were both much happier once we were outside on the short walk to the start line. A quick picture and before you could say “ARGH WHAT ARE WE DOING?!”, we were off.
The total distance is too far to comprehend at the beginning, so we broke it down into smaller chunks; each leg of 25 miles, the distance to each aid station of between 4 and 9.5 miles and each halfway point of about 12.5 miles. These were all smaller points of the larger journey and before the race you can’t help plan for how you might feel; the easy first leg to warm into it, the difficult night sections on the ridgeway, the brutal last leg shuffle. We just had to get this first flat leg out of the way and then deal with the harder sections when they happened.
The first leg was an absolute horror show for both of us. The first 4 miles or so were pretty wet and slippery mud and even wearing trail shoes, we were both sliding all over the place, which is such hard work and is all extra energy wasted that you don’t get back. The paths were narrow and we couldn’t slow down that much to do our run/walk strategy properly and our legs felt heavy. More than that though, it just really got to us mentally; this was the easy bit, it was only going to get harder, if it feels like this now how will it feel later? All of this was going through my head and when we turned a corner and saw Loz and Pilla at about nine miles in, it must have been pretty clear to them that we weren’t really enjoying it. We didn’t stick around, we got to our first check point at 12 miles and headed back. When we saw Pilla again I had a massive headache and was really struggling with the sun in my eyes, as was H. Pilla gave me a hug and as we were about to set off, as Loz and H were chatting so they wouldn’t see, she did that sort of silent ‘are you ok?’ sideways head look. I shook my head. I wasn’t. This made me feel even worse because I knew she’d be worrying more but I just couldn’t stop myself. Shortly after that, as we were both complaining about how awful it was and how dreadful we felt, I thought through what it could be? The cold? The wind? Not enough training? Something I’d eaten? The sunshine? Wait.
What did I have to drink this morning?
Ok, brilliant. Here you are Neil, running 25 miles having not drunk any water and wondering why you feel like death. Every time we stopped to walk now we went through a pretty familiar routine: “How do you feel H?” “Terrible, what about you?” “Flipping awful” “Ok, you need to drink”. We agreed that we just needed to get back to Goring, have some food, change our clothes, a change of attitude and we’d be fine. We were going to do this even if it was awful and so we agreed that moaning about it didn’t help. The last couple of miles into Goring were the warmest yet, which was good for drying out some of the worst mud but because I was drinking more it meant I’d run out of water in my bottles. I’ve been dehydrated often enough on long runs to know that when it gets really bad my forearms and hands start to cramp up and right on cue this happened at about mile out. We ran past our support crew at a coffee shop outside the village hall and all I could say to them was “I need to get some food and drink”. A volunteer passed my drop bag to me and I couldn’t work out where anything was or where we could sit until H pointed me to a whole other quiet room we had just walked past. I stared at my bag and couldn’t quite figure out the next steps. “Neil, you need to go get some food” H was pretty much my saviour here as I was walking over to the food bench, I remembered they had Coke. “Coke or Pepsi” errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-why-was-this-even-a-hard-errrrrr-choice-when-errrrrrr-any-will-do-just-answer-the-guy-ok-he’s-just-pouring-something-errrrrrrr-Coke-yeah-please. And another. And one more please. I grabbed a load of cheese sandwiches and more Coke and water on my way back. I drank; I ate; I slowly got changed into my leg two kit and swapped my lightweight head torch we had to carry for the proper one I need at night; fixed some tape around the number where the wind had torn it and re-pinned it. I also overheard another runner just opposite us talking to a guy that looked as broken as we were and his words of encouragement stuck with me for a lot of the race “You’ll finish it as long as you want to finish it”. H was going through a similar slow motion chain of events and obviously people outside were worried about us as Pilla and Loz came in to ask if we were OK, chivvy us on a bit and give us some moral support. They weren’t allowed to provide any assistance to us at all and so watching us must have been difficult knowing they couldn’t actually do anything to help “Can you just put this in my bag Pilla?” “Nope, you need to” “Oh bugger”. As we left the hall I picked up more cheese sandwiches, a load of sweets and a banana and we set off. We had planned on spending 10 – 15 minutes there. We eventually took at least 35.
What. A. Difference.
The choice to stay in the hall longer and properly sort ourselves out was probably the best decision we made on the event because leg two was beautiful. We both felt a million times better, the run was more scenic and even though our legs were still tired, at least we felt like they should be. We’d run 25 miles and it now felt like it was OK to be sore and that made me much happier in a weird way. Storm Brian had been threatening to hit all week and it was mentioned at the briefing that it would be worst between about 2pm and 8pm. For us this was great as it meant the windiest part of the storm would be when we were in the most sheltered parts of the route. We got to the first aid station at North Stoke which was a really good looking spread; these are not events where you have to worry about food. I ate a cheese sandwich (obvs), sausages, a scotch egg and Haribo. The volunteers were lovely and I had a ton more Coke. I grabbed some more food to eat as we set off, I definitely wasn’t going to starve out on the course.
We saw Loz just after this and then headed up the ridgeway. The climb here is pretty gentle, although it does feel worse than it actually is after 30 miles of very flat ground. I loved it. We tripped over tree roots and chatted to runners and generally felt like two completely different people from the first leg. At the first turn around on leg one, it didn’t feel like there were 150 people in front of us, so H made it a one woman mission to count every runner that went past us. This is the sort of thing that I start doing and then get confused/bored/forgetful, but H saying the number of all the runners became one of the regular patterns of our run. Later on when we were coming back we passed another runner doing the same thing (H was a lot more accurate with her counting though!). Loz appeared again just before crossing one of the main roads to dish out hugs and nice words and then we popped out onto the fields that form the backdrop to the main Autumn 100 page on the Centurian site. From here you can see for miles across to the power station close to Didcot which we’d be running past in a few miles. It looked flipping miles away but I really enjoyed this feeling rather than being intimidated by it.
You could definitely feel the wind on the more exposed sections of fields, but the rain that had been predicted all week continued to hold off. Dusk quickly came and went and we started to see the first runners with head torches on as we got to the half way point in the back of a van in Swyncombe. The aid stations were either in lovely little village halls or the back of vans in the middle of nowhere. Climbing into those vans definitely got more fun as the race wore on. This turn around point was manned by probably the most polite children I’ve ever spoken to, all dressed up in Halloween outfits they helped to fill my water bottles, get me sandwiches and after I heard H raving about it, squeezed through the van to get me a chocolate and peanut butter cookie. I should say here that literally every volunteer there at the event helped to make this an overwhelmingly positive experience. Friendly, chatty, a nice level of encouraging, they couldn’t do enough to help you and get you back out on your way. This became more difficult for them at the later aid stations but they all deserve a medal. I think my favourite was overhearing one of the ladies in Whitchurch with about 4 miles to go who was persuading a runner to go out with a cup of tea, breezily saying how she had a runner in earlier who was hallucinating and it just took a cup of tea and a sit down and 10 minutes later he was out of the door. If you ever need help in a race the kind ladies of Whitchurch are the people to see!
This stop followed the now familiar routine of me taking way more time than H to eat, sort myself and get moving again. Headtorch and gloves on, coat zipped up it was time to run in the dark. As we were running along happily chatting we heard a bit of a noise behind us, thought nothing of it and carried on. About 5 minutes later as we passed a massive mansion and slogged up a hill, H suddenly realised we hadn’t come this way before and that the noise we had heard was obviously someone trying to warn us we’d gone wrong! The route is exceptionally well marked but when you are tired, distracted and zoning out a bit it’s easy to miss a turn off. We pegged it back down the road and agreed to pay better attention from now on!
The route back down to Goring was much trickier in the dark. The route takes you through a 3.5 mile section called Grims Dyke which is an ancient earth work with steep sides, lined with trees. It’s great for protecting you from the wind but the tree roots provide a constant challenge with tired legs. The more tired you get, the lower you seem to lift your feet and the harder it is to pay attention. You are sort of caught in a battle between wanting to get into a running zone but also needing to concentrate. We both had a few near misses and trips but we had our first proper scare of the run when I heard a yelp and turned to see H flat out on the floor having gone flying. She picked herself up really quickly and set off like the running machine that I know. A bit like the wrong turning, this probably didn’t work out too badly to happen so early on and again I think we were pretty lucky to get away with nothing too serious, but we definitely took it a bit easier after this. We saw Loz and H’s family just before the stop at North Stoke where a quick loo stop confirmed the earlier hydration crisis was over. The flat 4 miles or so back to Goring took forever this time as we were both looking forward to a stop and getting some more company and I think the anticipation of that made the last section drag on. Finally, we ran down the last road and popped out at Goring village hall with Liz, Pilla and Loz all waiting there for us.
The volunteers grabbed our bags before we had even got into the main hall and ushered us over to some free seats and we got going with the familiar eating, drinking, changing routine. This time was a much happier experience. We’d both been really looked forward to Liz joining us on the run. Imagine being the kind of person that would volunteer to pace for mile 50 to 75 of an ultra. You have about a three hour window when it might start; it’s dark; it’s barely walking pace; you have to gently encourage, but not too much, a couple of very tired runners; the route is on an exposed path with Storm Brian happening and it’s the middle of the night. Liz is exactly that sort of person! She brought a load of fresh enthusiasm to us. After a bit less faff than after leg two we headed out through Goring and Streatley and turned off up what felt like the longest, biggest hill of the day. In reality this was a fairly gentle climb over probably not more than a mile and a half, but with increasingly tired legs it was a bit of an effort. As we got higher the wind really kicked in and it was directly in our faces for most of the outward leg. We were still walk/running at this point but the walks were getting longer and the runs slower. Liz is the sort of person that can chat about anything and we covered a lot of things from Strictly, to playing the airport A-Z game, to how impressive it was they had real Coke. There was a bit of chat about how awful my choice of route was as I seemed to have an amazing ability to pick out the worst path with almost all the puddles!
As long as we were moving, the wind and cold wasn’t too bad; as soon as we stopped it really got to us. We hit the aid station at about 8 miles and these folk are some of the heroes of the race. The wind was battering the van but everyone there was super helpful as they filled our drinks and we grabbed yet more sandwiches and pushed on. I realised during that stop I had become freezing cold, so I had to get running to warm up with and within a few minutes I was in a pretty good place. Having expected horrific weather, the poor weather we were getting felt like a massive win in comparison and the wind had kept all the cloud off which meant that the view of the stars was lovely. It wasn’t quite as nice as seeing the fairy lights at the turnaround van which we spotted at the top of a fairly gentle incline that felt like a mountain. I think H and I were both starting to feel bad at this point. The combined effect of 62.5 miles, the dark and especially the wind in our faces made that section probably the most draining of the event. As we sat in the back of a van Liz was fetching us tea, sandwiches, sweets and anything else we wanted and defying all laws of food, I was just eating anything, in any order, at any time. Getting to this point was a huge achievement, this always felt like it could be the worst part of the course and the route back was mostly downhill and with the wind at our backs so it should be a doddle, right?
Not quite. As we set off I knew I needed to keep running to stay warm but I think H was struggling. This kind of worked out ok as my running wasn’t much faster than H’s walking and my walking was much slower than H’s so we all stayed roughly together. We were trying to keep the pace up, but the tricky ground made it hard to run at any pace. The 8 miles or so of really exposed path eventually ended but the long downhill we had all been looking forward to was neither as long or downhill as we thought. I got a bit emotional talking to Liz about what I was putting Pilla through when she wasn’t well and how much I was looking forward to seeing her in the morning. The whole thing was making me a bit grumpy and H was clearly going through the same. From out of nowhere H said “Neil, I’ve got a big problem” and then just burst into tears. I knew exactly how she felt. A few kind words from Liz though and it passed quickly. At the start of the race we were talking to a guy that had stopped at 75 miles last year and we agreed after hearing this that if we got to 75 miles there was absolutely no way we wouldn’t set out on the last leg. That is the sort of thing that is really easy to say at the start but we absolutely meant it. I wasn’t exactly loving this part of the race and said that we had to get out on leg four because there was no way I was doing this again. Both suffering and moaning quite loudly about it to Liz, she said ”But you must be so proud of yourselves”, ”No, I’m questioning all my life choices, like why can’t I just like cheese instead and be spending my weekends in cheese shops instead of this nonsense”. The stony paths on this leg had started to make my left foot a bit sore, which was starting to annoy me and the last few miles to Goring just seemed to take forever. I was pretty much in tears choking up to Liz about just how hard it now was. She was an absolute star dealing with our chaotic emotions from start to finish and we absolutely couldn’t have completed that leg without her. We turned into the main road feeling battered and jogged up to the village hall.
Obviously Loz was waiting, supporting, hugging, saying nice things and making us feel like heroes. H’s other half James also appeared just as H really needed it which I think gave her a massive lift.
We faffed around for longer than we should have done at the end of leg three but there was never any thought of us not getting out again once we had got back into the hall. Brian, who at got up at 1:15am and hung around for HOURS waiting for us, was calm and patient and had already worked out the run maths. “If we set of in 20 minutes, we’ll have 8 and a half hours to do 25 miles. How do you feel about 20 minute miles?”. I honestly felt great about 20 minute miles, we’d still been doing 14 and 15 on leg three so this felt like it would be easy. But… we set off about 5 minutes later than we planned and then I remembered Sarah saying that this leg was longer than the others. How much longer? What if it’s hilly? What if I physically fall apart in the last few miles like at Thunder Run? Very quickly I’d worked myself up into a “Oh this is going to be close, maybe I can’t get round in time” panic. We were ok for the first mile or two just walking, then we hit a slightly hilly section. At this point I convinced myself that I needed to go faster to get round and that I couldn’t just walk it in time even though Brian kept calmly explaining we could. I just kept thinking “I can’t get this far and not finish, I can’t get this far and not finish, I need to finish”. I desperately wanted to do it, but I knew I needed to make some extra time whilst I still could. I told Brian that I was ok and I moved ahead.
And then I felt dreadful. For the next few miles I walked, ran and trudged on. I saw H and Brian at the aid station and we were together again for a small part from Whitchurch but the same voice came back “You need to get some time, you need to get ahead, you can’t get this far and not finish”. I moved a bit faster, again leaving H behind. I felt like I had abandoned her again but kept moving. “You need to get ahead, the last miles will be hard, you need to do this”. Now I had a second voice that said “You left H at the hardest bit, you selfish d!ck” and these thoughts, and pretty much nothing else, came into my mind for the next 6 miles until I saw Pilla and Loz outside the hotel in Reading. I know that it had got light between these two times, but I have hardly any memory of that, I just kept running, walking and staring at my watch convinced it was going to be really close. Feeling broken, like a horrible friend, and like all the wheels were about to fall off, I was a bit of a mess.
Pilla hugged me. “It’s so hard, is H OK? I had to go, I needed to go, I need to” I blubbed. “She’s fine, Brian’s told us she’s picked up some pace, she’s going to do it, just keep going”. Pilla grabbed my hand and we walked for half a mile or so before hugging again as we agreed to meet in the same place on the way back. I wasn’t quite sure how far it was to the turnaround point and every runner I asked seemed to say a different distance and it ended up being about half a mile further than I thought, up a couple of sets of steps. I don’t remember eating much or getting any drink and I hadn’t been there more than a couple of minutes when Brian arrived with H. I was so relieved to see her, but again I had in my head that I couldn’t hang around and set off.
About a minute later I bumped into Pilla coming from the other direction and we walked along and chatted for a mile or so until we saw the rest of the supporting crew, this time including Rae and Paul too. I was still in my “need to move, need to move” zone so didn’t stop at all, I ust kept going as I was still massively concerned about making the cut off time. I was pretty much unable to run as I’d now got an absolute beauty of a blister on the ball of my foot from all the stony paths. The route back from Reading to Whitchurch was not fun; flat, hard, stony, a massive set of stairs over a railway and a weird bit through a housing estate, followed by a set of fields with the wind in your face, it was just a drag really. Shortly after the housing estate with about 12km to go, I was really struggling. I turned around to see Brian and H and thank God they were there because when they caught up, they gave me a massive lift. H was now charging along and I dropped in behind her and just counted my steps as I was walking to take my mind off things. Following H here saved my race, she just has this ability to power on through that is incredible, without any of the whining that I had started.
“Brian, how far to go?”, ”11km Neil, you’ve easily got this”, “And what’s our ETA?”……”13:26″….”Ok, ok”. And then 2 minutes later……”Brian, how far to go?”…… “10.8km Neil”. This whining from me continued at anywhere between 100 and 500 metre gaps for the rest of the route. Brian, without fail, patiently replied that we were going to make it if we kept at a good pace, that we had time to spare and that we’d be fine. I’m not sure either H or I really believed it. We got to Whitchurch with 1hr 40 in hand and with 4 miles to go. At my regular running pace I’d be able to have a picnic for an hour by the river and still make it back in time, but this morning it still didn’t sound enough. I slowed even more after this stop, the small hills (never trust Brian Drought when he says something is mostly flat or downhill) took an age and quite a few people went past me in the last two miles. As we hit the flat ground again next to the Thames, Brian called out that it was a mile and a half. We’d be done in 25 minutes. “H says can you believe there’s only a mile to go after what happened on leg one?”. No I can’t. I really, really can’t.
H was moving off into the distance as I saw the bridge we’d turn at. Once there it was just a 200 metre walk up to the finish line and we’d have done it and we could stop moving. Liz walked up to meet me just before the bridge and by this time I was hardly moving at all. It was lovely to walk those last few metres down the river in the bright sunshine with her after the run during the night. As I turned the last corner I saw H had waited up ahead and we walked up together chatting, like at the start, up to the finish and with all our supporting crew present we felt like heroes.
100 miles. 27 hours and 35 minutes. 25 minutes before the cut off.
I know it’s long and I’m in danger of it sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech now, but I have some amazing and difficult memories from this weekend and I’m sat here a few days later trying to comprehend how on earth we managed to run a hundred miles in one go. It seems impossible. The only reason we did it are because of our friends and family and especially those that came along at all hours during the event and put up with us for months before. Rae and Paul for giving up most of a Sunday to see us in a shocking state when we needed it the most. Loz for being the best supporter at Goring, for appearing out of nowhere on course, being the best hugger and room tidier. Liz for being the happiest and chattiest person to run for 7 hours in the middle of the night with, up a hill, in a gale, that the world has ever seen. You could totally boss this race Liz! Brian for being the calmest runner with best run maths when faced with the whiniest pair of very tired runners for what felt like a life time. You could totally boss this race Brian! And Pilla, for being amazing at everything, hugs, texting, making me go running when I don’t want to, driving us back home when I was passed out, feeding me, not rolling her eyes when I say “Pilla, I’ve been thinking about doing….” and for the best on course support anyone has ever had. I love you x.
And finally to H. I couldn’t have done the training without you and I couldn’t have completed it this weekend without you. You dragged me round with sheer determination when I couldn’t do it any more. You are an inspiration. It was bloody hard and we did it!
We made a plan to finish this together in December, without really knowing just how challenging and difficult it might be, what it really involved or what we could do and we only went and did it! Sometimes you don’t get the race you want or the one you trained for, the race you have spirals off course and sends you in a different direction, but in the process it teaches you a lot about who you are and what you are capable of. You are capable of anything. Whatever it is, as long as you want to finish it, you’ll finish it. Thank you x
What a weekend. I’m just going to write out Thunder Run as I think about it now with sore legs, a happy heart and a insatiable appetite. If it doesn’t make sense as a blog it’s because I write these really to remember the event so I can look back when I forget that I ever did this and remember how it feels.
The lap is a 10km loop, which worked a bit like this:
- The first bit: flat, from the camp, about 0.5km to the first hill
- The steep bit: very steep hilly woody bit, lots of switch backs and narrow paths, up to about 1.5km
- The nice bit into the camp: downhill, then the flat bit around the camp to about 3km
- The hilly, rubbish bit: a slope, then a woody section which included a hill to about 4km
- The quite pleasant bit: an open bit, with a steep hill just before the 5km point, then a nice downhill bit to the drinks station, then an uphill bit where the hill challenge was.
- The first wooded bit: through the woods, then an uphill bit at 6km, then past the @teamB_O_B sign
- The second wooded bit: lots of switchbacks, soft ground, smelt like Christmas. Past the 7km sign.
- The ridge bit: quite open, nice views, quite exposed. Run out along it, then down, then back across the bottom and a quite awkward camber.
- The ‘lake’ bit: around the lake to the campsite
- The bit next to all the tents: where everyone clapped and said nice things on every lap
- The last hill: short stony hill before the finish. Loads of people on the corner then up the hill.
- The last bit: around the back of the start finish line, then across the line to start another lap.
How do you train for a 24hr race? In my case not well! Due to various reasons including busy weekends, being a bit lazy and generally messing around I had scrapped all of my long runs. This meant I was fitting in what I could by run commuting. It’s about 7.5 miles to work, and about half the time I’d run home too, which I was probably doing twice a week for four or five weeks. It meant I hadn’t done any runs longer than 7.5 miles since April. I suppose this didn’t make ideal training and I did go into the weekend wishing I’d done a lot more. Also all of my runs were pretty much flat, apart from going over the odd canal bridge. I was obviously pretty fit going into it just not very well ‘event trained’.
I had a very vague idea for how to handle the race, splitting it down just into 10kms at a time. Stopping after each one and aiming to get round, eat, drink, and rest and be out again within 90 minutes. In theory if you kept that up for 24 hrs you’d get to about 160km and pretty close to the 100 mile mark. What I don’t think I realised was how tricky the course was. I was guessing I’d be doing 10kms in about an hour. I’d tested a 5 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy in training and that was still seeing me do 10km in about an hour so I figured I’d be banking quite a bit of time in the early stages to use up later on if I needed to sleep.
My only goal really was the 100km mark for no other reason than it just sounded quite a long way!
We arrived on the Saturday morning at about 9:30 or so, handily we’d given @TheLozzatron our tent the weekend before to put up when she arrived the day before. Now it’s fair to say that Loz is not a born camper, but I doubt there is anyone that loves a 24 hour race as much as her and if you want a good spot for the weekend there is no better person to give your tent to. Yes, we might have been worried about what state the tent would be in when we got there, but we knew it’d be in a great spot. And boy was it! About 200m on from the start/finish line, right on the edge of the course. Perfect.
Loz and Sarah arrived on the Friday and had to put up the tent with the rain for company. We arrived on the Saturday morning in perfect weather to a tent already put up. Thanks/sorry.
Love it already #TR24
— Neil Wilkinson (@Neily_wilko) July 25, 2015
This event was described to me (by Loz I think) as being like the Glastonbury of 24hr runs and that was exactly what it felt like as we wandered around the site and went to get registered and pick up my number. Events like this always have a really nice feel to me – everyone there has at least the event in common and that you are a runner. This gives endless opportunities for chatting and quite frankly a lovely community feel. I loved it.
Car unpacked and tent set up I set about the important business of pre race fuelling. In this case High 5 zero drink, a pork pie and a chocolate cookie. Like all the athletes do.
Lap 1: First lap
12:00 – 13:12, 0 – 10km
One of my favourite moments happened right before the start when everyone was lined up. The announcer asked everyone to wave who was a first timer, then the same again for the solo runners, at this and without any prompting, the other runners started clapping. A really lovely touch that, and frankly the first of many throughout the weekend.
Both Sarah and Chris had mentioned the bottle neck through the first lap as people have to go pretty much single file through the first steep bit and true enough this happened. It actually works out quite nicely to slow you down on the first lap. I was a bit unsure about what shoes to wear to start the race, it pretty much came down to two choices:
- Very comfy road running shoes, totally unsuited to mud or slopes (or muddy slopes)
- Trail shoes, which are a bit less comfy and have blistered my feet before on 10km runs
Looking around at the start pretty much everyone else had gone for trails, I was standing there in my white road shoes and when we got the the first muddy bit totally regretted it. It was both slidey and wetty (a term I invented at about 100km when I couldn’t think or speak very well) and lots of the paths had cambers on making for some really interesting ‘bambi on ice’ moments for me and other runners too. I love running new routes in races it really helps not knowing what’s coming up, although in this case going round the course my main thought was ‘woah, there are a lot of hilly bits’.
Lap time: 01:12:24
Break time: 00:10:07
Lap 2: The lap with TeamB_O_B
13:22 to 14:30, 10 – 20km
I bumped into Martin off of Twitter during lap two and it was it a flipping pleasure to run with him for a couple of km. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more infectiously enthusiastic person to run with, good words to every runner, every volunteer and every marshal we passed. Lovely guy. He also gave some solid advice about listening to your body and not your head which is totally right. Around the course the TR people had created a load of signs with quotes from some of the runners, things like ‘The difference between trying and triumph is a little bit of umph’. I spotted Martin had a sign on the first lap so we stopped at about 6.5km to take his picture in front of it.
It was on this lap I started noticing a slight burning in my feet, almost cramp like that I assume was caused by the bumpy ground on my used-to-flat-canal-path feet. Oddly enough I then got it in the same place on most laps but it only lasted for a km or so.
Lap time: 01:08:07
Break time: 00:13:12
Lap 3: the lap with Chris
14:43 to 15:54, 20 – 30km
I set off on lap three with Chris for a bit of company. We were going at pretty similar paces and walking in similar places so we had a good chat for the first few km. After that we kind of leap frogged each other during walk and run breaks but it definitely passed the time. Chris did the event in 2014 and also had some pretty solid advice about not burning out too early. I was figuring the speed I was going was perfect non-burn out pace. The only thing bothering me was the weather – it was a little breezy but surprisingly warm. I was drinking tons at this point during the breaks and a couple of waters on the route (the water station volunteers were ace and had kind words for everyone).
It was during this lap that I started to feel a bit self conscious about just how slow I was going. It’s not like I’m the world’s fastest runner, but I’m normally top third I would guess* but in this race people were absolutely bombing past me. As a solo that’s totally to be expected but it would have been nice to have something on my back that said I was a solo, so I made a plan to ask Pilla to figure something out when I finished the lap.
*which as we all know is the totally made up figure for what makes a good race result
Lap time: 01:10:14
Break time: 00:32:59
Lap 4: the solo sign
16:27 to 17:38 30 – 40km
I changed clothes during the break and had a brew. The first of many MANY delicious cups of tea. I packed a million running tshirts to change into and my favourite for hot weather happens to have my name on the front (I did it for the Manchester Marathon but ended up not wearing it). Pilla also made a sign from half of the envelope the race number came in which I then pinned to the back of my race belt. All set.
What a difference. In the first 10 seconds of the next lap the camp opposite shouted ‘GO ON NEIL!’ and pretty much 50% of the runners going past said some kind words on the way. It made a huge difference; if I ever do one of these again I’ll have one on from the start. Not only do you get all the support but you don’t feel as bad on the bits where you walk, cos, Solo.
Lap time: 01:11:33
Break time: 00:23:18
Lap 5: The one where I can’t remember anything
18:01 to 19:15, 40 – 50km
I know I did this lap. I’ve definitely got evidence it happened! It’s just I cannot remember anything at all from it. I did post this onto Facebook at the end of it:
Obviously things were pretty tasty. I might have been talking about the food. Standard.
Lap time: 01:13:39
Break time: 00:17:01
Lap 6: Lap with Pilla
19:32 to 20:59, 50 – 60km
I was trying to save my laps with people for when I thought I’d need them and I figured the first full lap after I’d gone past marathon distance would be a good time. I had a lovely lap pootling round chatting to Pilla about the course, saying thank you to everyone that wished me good luck or called me crazy, generally being very appreciative of the solo sign on my back and having a good old time of it. By now I had a pretty good routine of where I would run and where I would walk although this was the first lap where the walking amounts increased noticeably. The parts that were flat and runnable now seemed to have slight slopes which made it much more difficult.
Lap time: 01:27:15
Break time: 00:26:04
Lap 7: The first head torch lap
21:25 to 22:58, 60 – 70km
Sarah had offered to run this lap with me, but I had been picturing listening to some music and entering some sort of transcendent state as it got dark. Me, music and head torch. It sounded pretty cool so I did the lap on my own. I actually regretted this decision fairly soon. There were some lovely spots with music, but being really slow and not hearing the runners who were coming up from behind so much made it a little disorientating. It would have been lovely having some company and the lesson to learn here is never turn down an offer of a lap with a friend during a 24hr race.
The thought getting me through most of lap 7 was what I was going to eat at the end of it. Actually I was thinking about food quite a lot during the whole thing! I was getting pretty fixated on what I would eat on the way home. It definitely had to involve KFC but I was also picturing a milkshake from McDonalds. Maybe with a portion of fries if I was in there already. If there is any day you can visit both of these for lunch then it’s the afternoon of a 24hr race (in the end we just went to KFC but ordered ALL of the food). This was also the first night lap which I’d been looking forward to. I think that night laps might be the thing that mark 24hr races as special, everyone dons the head torches and there are some pretty moments when you are going through the woods where all you can see is the lights on others runners as they weave through the branches. What was different here from the Equinox 24hr race was just the sheer darkness of the wooded sections, there was absolutely zero light in there. There was also the small matter of the hundreds of roots, stumps and rocks lying about. These were totally not a problem in the daylight when your legs were fresh but at night with tired legs? Ouch. This was also the time I realised that whilst our new head torches are pretty good at throwing a focused beam of light out, they didn’t give much outside of that narrow circle of light. So you saw a root 2 metres ahead, but then it disappeared before helpfully reappearing just under your foot. This made for a fairly difficult lap where I stumbled over a lot of things and generally got a bit down about it. This again made me regret not having some company. The low point was the last slope down before the little lake/puddle/bog where I managed to twist my ankle in a hole (when it got lighter I looked for the hole, and it was WAY off the path, god knows why I’d stumbled so far over). There was a lot of swearing here. As I plodded around the last few kms though all I could think about was the food waiting for me back at the tent….
Lap time: 01:32:46
Break time: 00:44:50
I love food. I love chilli. I was cold. I was incredibly hungry. I had chilli and a baked potato and it was probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
Lap 8: Walking lap with Pilla
23:43 – 01:46, 70 to 80km
After eating it seemed like it made sense to walk a lap to avoid indigestion. As we’d be walking and it was dark I thought I’d change into my running tights (with shorts over, I’m not that weird). In the previous lap I’d started getting some weird cramping feelings in my arms (which were doing nothing all day except eating, ah that might explain it) and I thought holding them differently would help so I set out with the walking poles and it did help quite a lot. I really enjoyed this lap, it isn’t everyday you are 14 hours into a 24 hr race plodding around in the dark chatting to your best friend.
If I loved the lap it was also notable for one thing I didn’t love quite as much. Lap 8 was when The Chafing began. Caused just by long distances I guess, Lap 8 brought about a heat in the ‘sensitive places’ that could cook food (not many chefs would recommend that method though!). Lots of runners after these events post pictures of their mangled feet – the only thing mangled of mine so far would not make an appropriate picture. Once it started it didn’t let up for the rest of the event. If you saw me smiling after this point, it’s highly likely it was actually a friction based grimace.
Once we got back to the tent Pilla was planning on getting to bed but not before she gave me a severe talking to about my plans for the rest of the night. Along the lines of ‘you are going to make it to 100km – just don’t do anything stupid’. I listened to her advice.
Lap time: 02:02:44
Break time: 00:39:36
Lap 9: 3rd night lap
02:25 – 04:17, 80 to 90km
After Pilla gave me the talking to I set off on another lap. Frankly, at this point having listened to Pilla’s very sensible advice I was still planning on ignoring it and just carrying on. During the break I got pretty cosy in the coat/shmangle set up and very quickly after setting off walking I was bloody freezing, proper teeth chattering, whole body shaking cold. Given the layers I was wearing I figured if I could just run then I’d warm up really quickly and so I started out on a shuffle and surprised at how ok it felt (‘ok’ is relative here), I just carried on.
I’d picked up our little LED torch which made a HUGE difference to how much I could see. The first 5km or so of this lap was flipping great and then I just couldn’t run any more. This is when The Fart happened. As I trogged around the last half of the lap I was getting a bit of stomach gip. You are running and eating and running and eating and that is not a good recipe for a happy stomach. The problem with Thunder Run I guess is that the course is consistently pretty busy and so if you have to let rip people are going to hear. After walking with a very gurgly stomach for a couple of km’s, waiting for a quiet patch and being in a miserable frame of mind I thought ‘ah fuck it’. Sadly the point at which I did this was the bit in the woods. With all the switch backs. Which is pretty much the point on the course where you are closest to the most people. What I released in the woods that night was not a silent little thing, but instead came to the outside world kicking and screaming with all the force of a jet engine taking off. It was probably the loudest and longest noise I have ever heard. I think earthquake detectors might have been triggered. In China. 14 hours of running and eating compressed into one 10 second monster. If I’d been running at this point it probably could have taken a good few seconds off my PB.
Suddenly, the gentle night time chat I had been hearing from other runners all around me was instantly silenced. After a few awkward seconds that felt like hours I heard voices in the dark behind me say “Oh god, it’s like a napalm attack….”
And they still legitimately wished me good luck when they went past me. If you were those runners, I’m sorry. From the bottom of my heart, to the bottom of my stomach via my actual bottom, I’m sorry.
When I got back the sun was about the rise and the sky was getting really light. I really wanted to be out on the course for the this, but as I went into the tent to try and get some food, I managed to wreck the zip on the tent. First it got stuck in the fabric, then while undoing that I managed to pull the zipper off one side. This rendered the whole door bloody useless and I spent what felt like an hour (probably only 10 minutes) trying to fix this with the only tool I had available, a coat hanger. Predictably, I failed. At this point, annoyed with myself and tired, I did what I normally do in these situations and sat down and felt sorry for myself. I couldn’t be bothered eating and so I just sat thinking what to do.
After having some semi delirious chat with Loz and Sarah about who was big spoon and who was little spoon in their shared tent (for the record, I think Sarah would be big spoon), where Loz kindly informed me she though it might be best if I go to sleep, I decided to go running again.
When I got into the tent to get some food I then thought that actually bed would be the best thing. I climbed into the sleeping bag still in my full running kit,shaking with cold when Pilla put an arm round me and the warmth radiating off her was enough to instantly sending me to sleep. I will never forget that feeling of tiredness, effort and grumpiness being switched off in the blink of an eye.
Lap time: 01:51:56
Break time: 03:05:36
Lap 10: Pilla’s lap
7:23 – 08:53, 90 to 100km
The alarm went off at 6:30 and I had to peel myself out of the warm sleeping bag and go get prepped for running. This being the glamourous sport that it is, this involved a very stiff legged, sore and awkward walk with every step feeling like parts of me were being blow torched and applying a years worth of Vaseline to the sore areas in a pretty grim portaloo. This made absolutely no difference whatsoever and every step back from the portaloo still felt like I was being scrubbed with wire wool.
After probably the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten and a little procrastination I set off on lap 10. I wanted to do this one with Pilla as it would mean hitting my goal and that seemed right to share. It was pretty uncomfortable to get going but once I was moving it was absolutely fine. This might have been my favourite lap so far. The difference between this lap and the previous nights lap were incredible (literally the difference was like night and day) and I had a flipping great time getting round with Pilla. We high fived at the finish. Job done!
Lap time: 01:30:04
Break time: 00:22:10
Lap 11: Rae’s lap
09:15 – 10:53, 100 to 110km
Still feeling pretty decent all things considered, I set off for lap 11. I wanted to get back for 11ish to make sure I had plenty of time to get round a final victory lap during which I would presumably smile all my way around. Easy.
After I got to the first hill as I was looking through the trees back at the other runners down below for some reason and I happened to see Rae speeding along. I shouted ‘RAAAAEEEEEEE’ whilst everyone around me looked on in surprise and I heard back ‘ARE YOU IN THE TREES?!’ Yeeaaahhhh, this meant I’d have some company for at least some of the lap and this would make it So Much Better. Rae caught up after a few switchbacks and we chatted and ran and walked and chatted for the whole lap. I. Loved. It. Rae was on her fifth lap (after being knocked over by some divs in the night) which was going to get her to 30 miles. As her one time marathon training plan creator this actually made me feel very proud of her especially as she was still running like it was her first lap. This got me round in plenty of time to get the last lap in and time actually flew on the way round. During the lap she spoke to H on the phone who would be starting a lap pretty close to when I’d be starting my last. Woo! Maybe some more company…
Lap time: 01:38:08
Break time: 00:11:47
Lap 12: H‘s lap
11:05 – 12:46, 110 to 120km
H came running past our camp with the rest of her team and offered to run with me on the last lap. At first I just thought it would be for a little while and I felt really guilty as her team ran off but she was VERY insistent about staying with me which I will forever be grateful for. As soon as I got running I knew it would be a painful lap as I could barely bend my knees. It had also just started properly raining and I told H she had to make sure I didn’t just walk the whole lap. I didn’t want to be the last on the course and I didn’t want to be out for hours. We plodded down to the first hill and it was painful but fine. We chatted (rather, H chatted and I listened which is an arrangement I’m very comfortable with living with Pilla) and it was lovely. It started getting really wet at around the 2km mark and I was walking more and more. H was gently encouraging me to run as much as I could which was perfect, but by the time we got to 5km I was totally done in. I felt sick, my eyes were going weird, my legs felt shocking, the soles of my feet were burning and the chafing was reaching new of levels of friction if that was possible. At this point the course loops very close to the end and if H wasn’t there I would have given up. The fact that I didn’t was all down to her. We pretty much had to walk the last 5km, in the pouring rain with me being miserable and H trying to distract me. It must have been terrible for H and I’m truly sorry but incredibly grateful for the company.
Once we got to the ridge at 8km for the last time the finish felt pretty close and I was pretty excited to be getting back into camp. Despite the weather there were still loads of people supporting and it seemed that everyone had some nice words for the solo runners. I tried to thank everyone who said anything to me but that got pretty hard on the last big corner and last hill. So many people and so much genuine support. It was pretty special (actually teamB_O_B said on lap 2 that it would be like this and I’d been looking forward to it for 22 hours). As we looped into the start/finish area we obviously had to run this bit and again there was tons of support. As I was getting close to the line I could hear a runner coming up really fast behind me and just as I crossed the line Sarah tapped me on the shoulder. Pilla and everyone else was waiting at the line, cue lots of hugs and cheering and it was flipping brilliant. The utter pain of the lap was gone, replaced with some lovely moments.
Lap time: 01:40:30
There were hugs.
There was pain.
There were smiles.
— H (@HelenJaneWyatt) July 27, 2015
There were Facebook updates.
And then there was utter utter exhaustion. That lap was the closest I’ve come to giving up. It took just about everything out of me. Once I got the medal and back to the tent I could barely move. Rae brought me a cup of tea. It was incredible.
This photo is not just an unflattering moment. This captures exactly how I felt:
I think Pilla got a bit worried at this point and demanded I got warm and changed and she actually had to help me do that given I couldn’t feel my hands or move my legs. That in a half taken down tent with a broken door deserves it’s own medal (for Pilla).
120km, 74.5 miles. Thunder run, you were brutal. Loved it.
— Neil Wilkinson (@Neily_wilko) July 26, 2015
The journey home
I fell asleep. The site is about 5 minutes from the motorway but I don’t even remember getting to the first turn off the first road from the site. I slept until a motorway service station with a KFC then I fell asleep again all the way home. This was obviously a nightmare for Pilla dealing with her own tiredness and shocking weather and once again reminded me how amazing she is. I totally couldn’t do it without her and I’m not sure I’d want to. Thank you Pilla x
The things I don’t want to forget
(in no particular order)
- How amazing Pilla is at supporting me in these events. The food, the cheering, the pictures, the nice words, the stern words of advice, the lap when it was dark.
- Sarah B arriving back from swimming as I was getting ready by taping up my nips and saying ‘Ahhh the glamour of ultra running’.
- Chatting to TeamB_O_B for half a lap or so. Actually listening to his advice. What a lovely guy. Taking his photo by his sign just before the second wooded bit.
- The random guy that actually stopped me to shake my hand on the last km.
- The millions of ‘keep it up solo’, ‘go solo’, ‘great effort solo’ comments that lasted for 24 hours.
- The last two camps before the 3km sign – the ones who shouted out my name at EVERY lap. So looked forward to seeing those guys, and the bigger group of ladies who were equally enthusiastic (and quite possible a bit more drunk).
- The big spoon conversation which at 4am with no sleep and a tired mind was to me the most hilarious thing ever, and to Loz and Sarah probably the stupidest chat ever.
- The feeling when I was cold and broken in the tent before Pilla rolled over to warm me up and I fell asleep in about a second.
- How amazing Pringles are when you are hungry and in need of salty things.
- The chat with the really friendly pairs lady in the night who was telling me how amazing she thought the mental toughness of the solo runner was. Whilst I was dying a bit inside.
- Sarah telling me every lap that the next lap I was about to be on was the one where it starts to get easier. And most of the time she was right.
- How quickly your head goes from ‘Things are great!’ to ‘Things are miserable’ to ‘Things are great!’ often many times in a lap. Sometimes many times on a hill.
- The support on Facebook during and Twitter after, where you are made to feel like a rock star.
- Everyone at the finish, with Sarah & Simon running up behind me at the line.
- The cup of tea Rae bought me.
- Loz asking how long it would take for what I did to sink in and me thinking ‘ff*******cccccking hell that is quite a long way’.
- Running through the sunset and the dark and still going when it was getting light.
- Having some of the best tasting cups of tea I’ve ever had
- Legitimately eating anything, in any order, that I wanted. Pilla: “What do you fancy?”, me: ” I think I could go for a banana, Babybel, cookies and Pringles please. Maybe a pork pie?”.
- The funny songs playing at the start area on the first few laps. Sit Down by James, Road to Nowhere.
- Seeing a guy at the services limping and asking ‘Thunder Run?’ Him nodding and smiling.
Thunder Run Lap Times
Lap,Lap Start,Lap End,Lap Time,Break
This is a long post about the Manchester marathon last weekend. I’m sorry.
Back in 2009 when I signed up to the Paris Marathon running was pretty straightforward. That was time time when every distance was a first, and so it was PB after PB after PB. No having anything to aim for you just don’t know what you are capable of. When Paris came around I was a rank amateur, I ran twice during the week for about 2.5 miles, then did a long run at the weekend. I made up the distances. I didn’t think about race plans, pace plans, nutrition, spreadsheets analysing performance, I just ran. I ran because it made me lose weight and it meant I could play football for longer. I ran because I wanted to get medals and take part in events. I ran because it was fun and I wanted to. When I signed up to Paris I had one very stubborn goal, a sub 4 marathon. That was it. I had no idea what pace that was or if I could do it. I picked a figure and stuck to it.
It was six years ago but parts of that Paris marathon are seared with full HD technicolour into my brain – things like not taking any breakfast so my prerace meal was a stale croissant and half a danish whirl. The massive number of people wearing what looked like cycling shorts to run in. I remember the parks, the bands, seeing my supporters. I remember the wine, the guy next to me at 21 miles that said, “damn we could walk this in and get under 4 hours”. I remember getting near the end and hurting so much I had to walk, but then hurting so much I had to run but counting each step to take my mind off the pain. When I saw the finish line I just remember thinking ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE I’VE JUST RUN A F******* MARATHON’. The start line. Oh my god, the start line at Paris. And the medal. It’s absolutely beautiful. It was the perfect race, everything just worked. I got 3:57.16. I left that race thinking all marathons must be like that, a beautiful, brutal, but ultimately uplifting affair…
Only they are not are they. The next three marathons taught me that are awful, dreadful, dream crushing affairs. Edinburgh was a bust due to some unseasonably hot weather and London 2012 was probably the single most painful experience of my life. After training hard and waiting a lifetime to do this event dreaming how incredible it would be it turned out to be a total and utter nightmare. Walking that last 10 miles, with the worst cramp I’ve ever had before or since I promised myself I’d never, EVER do one again. I’ve never really looked at that medal. It’s in the house somewhere but I’m not proud of it. If 2012 was bad, London 2014 comes a close second, it really should have been the one. I barely missed a beat in training, session after session, mile after mile. I was going for frankly a stupid time, but I didn’t have any doubts at all I would do it. The plan said so. I could not have been more ready. But when at mile 18 when the wheels fell off and I wanted to crawl into a hole and die I wasn’t that surprised because this is what marathons are about. Setting targets and failing. Wanting them to end. Disappointment. Not wanting to tell anyone how you did. This was my marathon experience. Somewhere along the way I’d lost Paris. Milton Keynes helped, due to the people there mostly, but ultimately I still left there somehow disappointed in my time.
The Manchester marathon rolled around last Sunday. I’m not making excuse but my training has been hard this time:
- My knee was buggered when I started training
- I got a stressy new job in December
- I’ve had weeks away working in both very hot and very cold places
- I’ve moved house.
All in the last 16 weeks. I’ve missed so much training and my runs have been all over the place from slow to quick to merrr, to slow. I only half jokingly on Twitter said that I was happy to predict a time from 3:30 to 5hrs it was that open. I was not expecting much – my only vague target was to try and enjoy it.
Last weekend was properly amazing.
Firstly all the ace people came round and stayed with us. Loz, H and Rae. Literally, The. Best. People. How to relax and feel good before a race? Well just invite some good friends over and eat good food and all get nervous together. Invite more ace Twitter people round. Chat about good things and bad things and equinox things and good races and bad races and plans and schemes and life. This is probably all you need. In fact for any future marathons I may or may not do, I’m going to demand they come round. H was shooting for a sub 4, and it was Rae’s first marathon. So. Much. Fun.
After a breakfast of a hot cross bun and a cup of tea we set off to the start, which was dead easy as the start is just down the road from my work, hello free parking. The weather at the start line was just about perfect for me, cool, slight breeze. It was strange though standing there because it’s been AGES since I’ve pinned a number on, I think the last time was Equinox in September and to be honest I had no idea what to expect. As much as I loved it, I won’t lie the start of the course isn’t very exciting. It’s pretty much two out and backs through an industrial estate which I thought I’d hate, but I actually even loved these bits because you get a real sense of the size of the race – it’s kind of fun ticking off the pacers in front and behind you and you get to look for everyone else in the race.
After about 4 miles you head out towards Sale and at this point I figure I’m running ok. In fact I was amazed how fast the race was going. I kept looking at the time on my watch thinking ‘Wow, an hour’s gone’. The support across Manchester for this race is lovely. It’s not London, it’s not crowds 10 deep but it’s almost better for that. The support in the village centres is great, there’s lot of haribo and jelly babies and you actually thank people cheering you on. The organisers have a pitch about it being the UKs friendliest marathon, I think it actually might be. I got to Brooklands at about 9 expecting Loz and Pilla so the run down Brooklands road was very fun. This is another out and back bit so you get to see the race leaders, and I was happily chatting to a lady about how unfair it was that they didn’t even look like they were trying. Pilla gave me a fun on mid race de-brief about where the water points and jelly babies were.
Tick tick tick. I was enjoying it so much through Timperley and Altrincham I barely even noticed the miles, the time, the pace or anything. Altrincham was fab – loads up music, people, support. Although because it’s such a flat marathon the bridge going into it and the slope up the high street you really notice even though it’s probably about 10 meters in total! Also, these guys were out and this was the second closest point I got to crying. They were singing Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga when I went past:
After Altrincham you loop back to Brooklands and get to see the runners slightly behind you on the course. Obviously you spend the whole time looking for your friends to see how they are doing and hope they are enjoying at much as you. I saw H ages before the 4hr pacer looking like a machine and then just after saw Rae. This forms part of my new HD-seared-in-technicolour-marathon-memory because at mile 15, feeling great seeing someone who you helped put a training plan together for their first marathon who was obviously loving the day, looking strong and so far in front of their pacer and target time that you thought you’d better not slow down because they might catch you was fantastic. Fan-bloody-tastic. Also, a big shout out here to the lady with the big ‘Motivational Sign’ motivational sign – I love a comedy sign me.
The run through Carrington at 19-21 is not great, it’s all open fields and little support but in my head I thought if I could get through this, then I was home dry. And then. Mile 19 was fine, mile 20 was fine, mile 21 was fine, mile 22 was, umm, tough. I saw my friend Viv who ran alongside for a little but oh my life my legs had started to give up at that point. Mile 23 was a nightmare and then I had to walk in mile 24. Only for a little bit. Only after seeing some more friends supporting me. But I walked. And at this point I saw the 3:30 pacer go past and got flipping p*ssed I’d given up when I was so close. So I started running. At this point a welsh guy just in front of me got given some jelly babies by a little girl and her dad supporting and his exact words back to here were so grateful and heart felt that I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment. He’ll never know I think this and he’ll never know it had such an effect on my but I pretty much burst into tears.
So I started running again and it hurt, but I carried on this time. Turning back into Chester Road with a mile and a half to go was immense, just absolutely chock full of people including one guy dressed as the grim reaper running up and down the road shouting ‘THE END IS NIGH, THE END IS NIGH!!!’. LOVED ITTT!!! It was really just now about finishing it I knew I’d be getting a PB but it was still a massive surprise by the time: 3:32:14. What a race.
I hung about at the finish trying to put my socks on for half an hour as my legs were so ruined I couldn’t bend them, before walking back to mile 25 to meet Pilla and cheer on the rest of the runners. H had already claimed her sub 4, and we saw Rae storming down the road at about mile 25.5. Looking like she’d just started a park run. Amazing. She got a brilliant time of 4:40. We celebrated with burgers and beers and they might have been the best tasting things I’ve ever eaten.
- Manchester, you’re ace.
- Running, you’re ace.
- Pilla, you’re ace.
- Twitter friends (real friends), you’re ace. We had the best weekend.
So marathons are a beautiful, uplifting, life affirming, friend affirming, brutal, utterly lovely thing. Thank you Manchester.
You can divide my 2014 neatly into two halves. The first half, where I was a runner, doing running things and eating. I trained hard, I got pretty good, I was focused, dedicated and wanted to do it. I ran two marathons, a half ironman, a half marathon and PB’d at every distance, 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon. It was the year of Neil. Unless you count the massive burn out at London obviously, but otherwise pretty good. And then…
And the second half, where I basically sat around, doing sitting things and eating. Since May, I’ve done pretty much zero training.
And that was all fine and lovely and quite frankly I didn’t miss it that much. Once you go all out in training it’s nice to have a break. And then Equinox came around, for which we did pretty much zero training. Now in hindsight that was a mistake (er, yeah) and if I was to give anyone advice I would say ‘Don’t try and do a team 24hr race when you haven’t trained at all’. I would also say ‘Don’t try and run faster than #CousinTom or @mia79gbr‘ (especially if you lose to both of them) and probably also ‘don’t try and run 50km because it’s further than a marathon and that is kind of cool’. However the biggest piece of advice I’d say is ‘If you haven’t trained for an event and you run 50km it’s probably best if you don’t play football the next day’.
Clever huh? But I did play football. And I did get injured.
Equinox was all kinds of amazing and I was totally inspired to crack on with the training again. I wrote a plan and everything. Only after about 20 minutes of football my knee started hurting. And then it starting clicking. Not like that occasionally pop you get when you stand up but On. Every. Single. Step. And it was loud. Like a bowl of popcorn popping in the microwave. Every. Single. Step.
I did what all good runners do at this point and put my head in the sand, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. It didn’t get better. After a couple of weeks Pilla got fed up of my mooching and off I went to the physio who pretty quickly diagnosed some cartilage damage and some weakness of muscles. Cue weeks of no running and strength exercises. And it barely got better. She did some horrible, unspeakable, brutal things to me involving needles and chains (I made that bit up, but it did involve needles). And it still didn’t get better.
I did what most reasonable people do at this point and looked to Google. I found the first article that affirmed my own beliefs and disregarded the mountain of other evidence and followed it religiously. This article described how cartilage could be improved by impact (so running) and that my muscle weaknesses (probably caused by sopping training completely) could also be involved by training….
It was at about this point of ‘ah f*ck it’ that we went to Birmingham to meet some aces people off of Twitter, and as we discussed races and running and what 2015 held I pretty much thought feck it, it’s time to start training, injury or none. It wasn’t getting better not running, so what’s the worse that could happen…
(It did take Pilla literally kicking me out of bed on the first day to start training again, however)
…And now I’m the 4th week of training, and my total for January as at the 12th, is bigger than all of the running I’ve done in the last 6 months. My knee still hurts, but I’m ‘fairly sure’ it’s getting stronger. Fingers crossed. My running however it’s all sorts of crap, but at last, finally, maybe, possibly I’m starting to get fitter again…
Which is good because in the meantime, whilst I’ve been not training I’ve signed up to all sorts of events. I’m never one to let things like training get in the way of a good race. So in 2015, I’ve got the following:
March, Silverstone Half
April, Manchester Marathon
May, Manchester 10km
May, West Highland Way
June, Outlaw Half Ironman
July, Thunder Run (24hr race)
October, Snowdonia Marathon
October, Hell Up North
So yeah knee I’m tight and I’ve paid the race fees so you’d better stop messing around. And be quiet!
I won’t bore you, everyone knows that core work is important, but not very many people do it. It’s a bit of a pain to organise. I started doing circuits with a guy who was into boxing at work at lunches and was pretty impressed at how much you can do in a short time without equipment if you do some high intensity circuits. I also found it a pain to put them together, so created a spreadsheet that could do it for me randomly.
Every workout goes like this:
- Each exercise lasts one minute
- You have a 15 second rest
- You complete one complete ‘set’ of all 10, then have a two minute rest
- You complete three sets.
Each set is made up of a number of different types of exercises, ones that work your core, your cardio, arms and legs.
I use an app on my iPhone to time it called ‘Seconds Pro’ – I think it cost about 99p. Well orth it. After we started going to some boxing classes I added in a few boxing exercises too.
The link to the googledoc version is here: http://goo.gl/I8MwVD
Warning: I did just try downloading it to excel and it messed up. I could probably do some work to convert it to Excel if anyone really cares enough.
Warning #2: The random updating probably works a bit weird on your phones/ipads. Might be better on a computer.
- Select what equipment you have. You don’t need any, but having weights/skipping rope/kettle bell gives a bigger range of exercises.
- Every time you change a cell value, the list of exercises regenerates. If you don’t like the selection, select a blank cell (any blank cell), press delete and a new list will be created.
I tried to put links and desriptions of some exercises but I got a bit bored, so it’s about 50/50. What I generally do is create the routine, copy it into word, print it out then go a be awesome on the local car park roof.
(That isn’t a euphemism, that is actually where we do this stuff).
How it works
Honestly, you probably don’t care about this but:
- All the exercises are stored in their own tabs
- A random number is generated if the exercise can be picked (essentially if it doesn’t need kit, or you have the kit)
- This random number is ranked
- The top ranked exercises are then shown in the front grid using a series of vlookups (it also uses the highly awesome and little used ‘INDIRECT’ formula to get the sheetname from the value in the types column but even I struggle to get too excited about that at this time on a Thursday evening).
Anyway, let me know if it’s useful, have fun!
I made this little spreadsheet to help with figuring out what time I would be in certain places on marathon routes but it works for anything now.
To use it:
- Type in the length in miles of the race
- Type in the best guess for how long it’ll take to cross the start line (useful at places like London where it might take ages)
- Type in the predicted finish time
You can then type in up to four points you’ll be spectating at, and it will generate a set of times you should expect your runner. It works on a scale of 95% to 110% of the predicted time, so the ranges will get wider as the race goes on.
Hope it’s useful!