There is carb loading, and then there is carb loading. Expecting to burn about 10,000 calories during this race I had eaten so much food in the previous days - just for this reason alone, I had to do it.
This was my first attempt at a 100 mile non stop race. Having previously paced my friends for the tough overnight sections, and seen just how hard it can get, I was under no illusion as to how hard it was going to be physically. The way I dealt with this was simply not to think about it.
This race is run by the fantastic Centurion Running. They put together 50 and 100 mile races in the UK and they know their stuff. The premise was simple, me and about 290 other ultra runners set off from Richmond in London and ran 100 miles to Oxford following the Thames Path. We had 28 hours to complete the feat and check in to 13 checkpoints along the route. You have to have certain safety kit (compass, map, heat blanket etc) and in this 100 mile race you can have a pacer from mile 51.
I had chosen this race as it was flat. However it was only after running 90 miles of the route in various training runs I realised the endless flat would make it quite a challenge. At least with hills you get a variety of views and use different muscles...
Some good friends had met me for a send off at the start, which helped alleviate nerves a little. As we set off at 10am I refused to acknowledge the distance ahead. The sun was shining and the conditions were near perfect. As my Garmin beeped 1 mile there was a tiny voice in my head which said "99 to go!" I silenced it.
After about 11 miles my IT Bands started to give me grief. They were extremely tight. Boston was still in my legs and it was very hard not to think about how the tightness could play out in the miles ahead. By 22 miles my IT bands were hurting and my knee was also beginning to hurt. At this point I started to become a bit fixated on the problem and it occurred to me there was going to be quite a bit of pain later on in my race.
At mile 31 my dear friend Rhalou and her good chum Simon Lamb met me with chips and brandy. Simon also happens to be a sports masseuse. He laid me down and gave me an excruciating massage to release the IT Bands a bit.
It was very uplifting to see them, and a mile after leaving them, the pain in my legs disappeared the massage had worked wonders! I was elated. This was this point I knew I would make it. It changed my race and saved me from many miles of agony.
The miles of agony came though, but not through tight IT bands.
Mile 51, my lovely and bonkers friend Hannah met me to begin the pacing. The fatigue was setting in. Taking in some hot pasta we put on our head torches as it was getting dark and head for Reading. I fell over. I had to take walk breaks. I was tired. We nearly fell into the Thames in the dark. Hannah was so very chipper and chatted and made me laugh. She handed me over to Shaun at mile 58 who was going to pace me for the remaining 42 miles.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. The are moments that I can remember, and hours and hours which I can't. Having spoken to other race finishers, it has been acknowledged the night section was tough. I was receiving supportive texts which broke things up a lot and served as a distraction. However in the darkest parts of the night, trudging through endless fields and wooded areas I was falling asleep whilst moving. As a field of runners we were getting very strung out and we hardly saw anyone at all overnight. At checkpoints we were hearing about runners who had stopped. I was so glad Shaun was with me.
Shaun tells me it was like I was drunk. I was getting a bit confused, and remember being very worried about falling over. It was like fighting an almost overwhelming physical urge to lie down. In my head I was never going to stop, but I feared if I fell it would be a hell of a job getting up again.
At mile 71 at the checkpoint we got a change to collect and ditch things in a drop bag. I ate a pot noodle (yummy) and we ploughed on.
Dawn. I was so very happy to see the sun rise. However I was reduced to a death march with intermittent running. The running was so slow it might have been more expedient to walk. It was at this point food was becoming a real issue. I'm terrible at eating during ultras, and can normally get away with it. However covering100 miles it is imperative to eat frequently to sustain energy. By 6am I was really struggling and starting to gag on food.
The pain in my feet was nearly insufferable. Blisters had been dealt with at mile 62, but there were terrible shooting pains in my arches and it was getting harder to ignore the pain.
At mile 91 something happened. I overheard a conversation Shaun was having with my mother (who was waiting at the finish line). He said we were moving at 3 miles an hour. Something inside my head snapped. There was no way I was going to continue in this race for 3 more hours, no way. A red mist descended and I started to try to run. Past Abingdon I ran with everything I had. The pain in my body became blank. I started overtaking people ahead of me. Miles 95-100 were the fastest I had run over the whole race, making up 35 places. I honestly have no idea where this strength came from, but it felt pretty good after the night section.
I crossed the line with a sprint finish!
It was done. 100 miles in 24hours 58 seconds.
Elated, but so very tired.
This race is a mental battle. You have so long to think about the miles, pains and strategy. Hours to mull over niggles and nausea and fatigue. For me I knew I could do it. As arrogant as that sounds, you don't stand at a start line of a race like that wondering if you can make it. You tell yourself you will. My concerns lay in how would play out, how my body will cope, how much pain it will be. I approached it not as 100 miles, but as one day in my life. 100 miles was just too intimidating (1 day and 1 hour it would turn out). If you are thinking about a 100 mile, get your head in the right place, and your legs will follow. It really is all in your mind.
I want to say a huge thank you to all who supported me, it just blew me away! Everyone on twitter, those who came to see me off at the start, and every single volunteer at Centurion. I also would like to thank my mum for being my number 1 fan, Carl Ara for crewing, Hannah Robinson for pacing, and especially Shaun Marsden for seeing me safely though the night, doing 42 miles for no medal and laughing at me every single time I had to pee.
Lastly I would like to dedicate my month's trio of races, London Marathon, Boston Marathon and the Thames Path 100 to my daughter Lily. She's only 12 and I spend far too long running and it takes me away from her. Hopefully one day she will understand. Lily thank you for being a very special daughter.