January 2021 and running started up again in preparation for SDW100 in June.
All was going well and I managed a muddy 48 miler in March with Michelle along the Brenda Parker way.
The following weeks I felt fantastic and was running fast to work and back and then one day I started a 14 mile trail run with a slightly tight right glute and finished it heavily limping. From that day on for around the next 8 weeks I barely ran. My pelvis was really twisted and although I went to the Osteopath, Physio and did lots of yoga, the journey to recovery was slow.
When I say I barely ran, I did complete 2 x 50kms!! Racing had just returned after lockdown and I weighed up the disappointed at a DNS(did not start) with the disappointment that a DNF (did not finish) would entail. I decided that I would rather hobble round than sit at home moping!
Both 50kms were ok. The first one was quite painful and my gait was so wonky that I kept tripping on my right foot and fell hard, smashing my knee. The second one was an improvement and I was happy with 5hrs 30 minutes especially after a cataclysmic drop in pace with around 6 miles to go.
5 weeks out from SDW100 and with ‘racing’ out of my system, I vowed to spend all my time repairing and preparing to get to the start line in good health and uninjured.
I knew that I didn’t have time to build up long runs and to be honest I had lost motivation to stay fit- all I wanted was for my glute to feel better.
Fast forward 5 weeks and a 2.45am alarm woke us for the drive to the Winchester start line, picking up fellow runners Paul and Kate on the way.
Mark had a busy day- he was going home after dropping me to the start line to take the kids to clubs and to hand them over to grandparents so that he could drive to the finish line in Eastbourne, get a train to Brighton and walk up the hill to meet me at around 64 miles in before running to the finish with me.
The race started. A staggered start meant there were people everywhere and due to the initial few small loops, there was lots to see.
I was relieved to see people walking from the very beginning and I joined them up the inclines.
Once onto the South Downs Way I settled into a jog/walk pattern and was pleased to see that I was moving at around 5 mile per hour(12 minute miles)
It was due to be a really hot day and even at 5.20am start, the air was warm. I made a vow to drink and drink and drink and that I did from the very beginning to the very end-I am actually really proud of how much water and food I managed to consume as it’s often something I neglect, paying the price of nausea and lightheadedness later in the day.
Checkpoints came and went. I picked up small individually packaged ham wraps and pieces of pineapple and grapes. I made sure I had 2 500mls bottles filled with water and a spare 500ml bottle filled with tailwind for some extra calories.
I had never taken salt tablets but because the day was going to be hot and I couldn’t rely on just crisps and other salty food, I started taking the odd salt tablet from quite early on.
By marathon distance the sun had some real intensity and I drank a lot between South Harting and Cocking. Arriving at Cocking was amazing- there was a cold tap just before the checkpoint and I stuck my head under it- heaven! I drank lots at the checkpoint and filled up all 3 bottles, I also washed my salty face and neck again at another tap on the way out.
The next stretch from mile 35 to 45 was possibly the hardest of the race. It was so hot. We were out of the trees and the sun reflected off the white chalk with such intensity I was craving shade and cold water. I hadn’t recced the course since running it over 3 days a few years ago and although I knew there were 10 miles between checkpoints I hadn’t kept track of mileage on my watch and didn’t really have a concept of how much further to go.
Along the route there were aid stations for all runners but also extra crew points where runners could arrange for friends and family to provide extra drinks etc. I didn’t have a crew so just relied on the aid stations(which was fine and plenty enough stopping) Most crew points up to this stage had been close to the aid stations so when I approached Bignor Hill car park and saw a crew point my spirits lifted as I thought it couldn’t be much further until the aid station. I was nearly out of water and had stopped trying to run- I decided to walk this leg because the heat was so intense that I thought saving my energy now would mean that I would reap back the miles later on in the race when it had cooled.
I was dismayed to find out I had another 4 miles to go until the aid station! I completely ran out of water a few miles out and was desperate. A very kind lady on the trail who had offered me an orange slice(heaven)realised I was out of fluids and gave me and a fellow runner the last of her own water- she was our absolute saviour at that point- thank-you!
Cursing myself for being so stupid and not saving water, I entered Houghton Farm. It was carnage! Lots of people sitting on the grass, one man with a bloodied head where he had fallen – clearly it wasn’t just me who had suffered on this leg.
I drank a whole bottle of water before filling all 3 up and having a cup of coke too. I asked about a tap on the next leg(incidentally the previous leg was one of the few where there wasn’t a tap!!) and was told it was about 0.5 miles down the course… amazing news.
I started walking with a fellow runner who I had been close to from the start, we both shovelled down crisps and some grapes. I hoped dearly that the tap was there for a refill and started making my way through my first bottle of water.
I basically had a shower under the tap when we came across it, much to the amusement of some mountain bike riders who were filling their bottles. I filled up my now empty bottle and was satisfied that I had got enough fluids back into my body to continue.
Washington- 54 miles in – was the next stop and the ‘halfway point’. I chose not to have any drop bags as I didn’t want any distractions to stop. This I think stems from the old channel swimming days where you have to train yourself to not even pull your swimming hat down as you swim- if you start doing that, it can be the start of a slippery downward slope of mental distractions that ultimately do not help you!
Many people might find this odd but for me I wanted every minute possible to be based around moving forwards …. stopping to change socks and shoes and clothes just wasn’t something I felt I needed or wanted to do- I could change at the end of the race 🙂
I was in and out of Washington in a few minutes and it wasn’t long before I reached Botolphs. I think I had got used to the heat and was out of the main midday sun by this point. I grabbed some coke and crisps, refilled my bottles and was just walking out when I saw some camping chairs lined up and a man sitting down. Ooh… a little sit down would be rather nice, I thought, I had after all been on my feet for 14 solid hours and travelled 61 miles with no sitting down so far! I sat down… aaaaah what bliss! Then the man next to me asked the checkpoint crew if he could have a coffee- what a bloody great idea! I asked for one too and sat for around a minute, sipping it before standing up and finishing it as I walked to the road crossing and the gigantic hill climb that awaited. I felt positive and strode up the hill until suddenly a sharp pain at the side of my heel stopped me dead. I tried walking again but the sharp pain continued. I reluctantly stopped and took my shoe off, rolling down my sock to find a big blister had just burst. It didn’t look too bad so sock and shoe back on I carried on striding and soon the pain subsided. This happened more than once but the pain always went away without the need for plasters(not that I had any plasters!!)
Mark was due to meet me before the next checkpoint and I focussed on this through the next tough miles of hills.
When I saw him coming from the opposite side of the valley, just after the Truleigh Hill YMCA, a small lump, actually a very big lump, rose up in my throat and I did a little choked up cry as I hugged him hello. It was all going to be ok from here on now, I just knew it. By this point it was after 8pm and we jogged a little and walked a lot, talking and watching as the sun went down in a spectacular fashion.
Just past the Jack and Jill windmills and at nearly 10pm with the sky still so light, we saw someone coming towards us with a small vehicle behind them. Mark immediately knew it was the adventurer Rosie Swale-Pope and was keen to talk to her. She was a bit lost without a phone, money or an extra layer and wanted to find her way to the windmills. Once we told her that I was running 100 miles she told me to get a move on! It was a bizarre and uplifting meet and we were both absolutely buzzing after it.
I sat down again at Housedean Farm, 76 miles in. I had been feeling tired and it was now dark. I had some refreshments and we got going again- I got the walking poles out and suddenly felt I had energy and strode up the hill at pace… it wasn’t until I reflected on what I had consumed at the previous checkpoint did I realised I had had a coke, a coffee and a revvies caffeine strip- buzzing!!
We carried on and past the crew point at 86 miles. Mark had got sweets out of the bag and as I turned to him I could see he was really pale in the light of my headtorch. He didn’t look good. He suddenly said that I should go on and he had to sit down for 5 minutes. I knew this meant he wasn’t continuing but I was loathed to leave him behind… I knew, however that he had worked some ridiculous hours leading up to this race, been up for the same amount of time as me that day preparing family life and sorting everything that wasn’t me running out, and hadn’t done any running for months and months. Selfishly, I would rather he got in a fit state to drive me home after the race than try and slog it out for the remaining 14 miles. He walked back to the crew point and some very kind supporters drove him back to his car. He was there exactly when I needed him to be and is, and will always be, the best person I could wish for to help me.
After Mark left, I got a little second wind and started to do a bit of jogging. The downhills were pretty painful but the sun was now up and the headtorch was off. There was the most beautiful sea mist that had rolled in and, up on the hillside, it felt like we were literally running above the clouds- I can’t describe how special it felt to be out there.
The final two checkpoints were great in terms of hospitality and I looked forward to them. My feet were really hurting at this point and progress was slow going for the final 8 miles… I had lost even walking speed and sat down a few times on the trail just to lift the pressure off my feet for a few seconds.
I had a sit down and a coffee at the final checkpoint with 4 miles to go and just smiled- life was good and I knew I was going to finish.
It’s really strange, without a single exception I have always had a moment or stage of doubt or negativity in a long race. That day felt different. I think I may have just found mindfulness! I embraced the positive thoughts and let the negative ones float through me. I kept repeating something Keith Simpson wrote to me before the race; experience the experience… such a simple but beautiful use of words that hold great value and made me smile without exception every time I repeated it.
The finish was lovely. I saw a runner in front of me for the last mile and I wanted him to have a full lap to himself running round the track at Eastbourne so I made sure I walked when he walked and jogged to keep him in sight so I didn’t miss a turn!!!
Entering the track was amazing- I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face I was just so happy!
The finish was kind of like any other race, I picked up my buckle and tshirt then pretty much walked straight to the car and drove 5 minutes to our first of 2 Mac Donald’s stops 🙂
Often I am not hungry straight after a run but I was starving and stopped a second time for a milkshake.
It was such a thrilling weekend for so many reasons.
There were tough bits and not so tough bits but they all added up to create a wonderful experience that has made me stronger, tougher, happier, more mindful, and that is the beauty of endurance sport. Not once was it a competition. Not once did I look at another runner as anything but a fellow comrade. Not once did I feel anything but thankfulness to the selfless volunteers who stood out in the heat to feed us, water us and reassure us. Every single person was the experience and I am so grateful for it.
Thank you Centurion