81 on the start list. 50 finishers, 25 sub 24 hrs and 11th overall
|Dawn over Dover (Photo: Dee Rand)|
This all started because of my good friends Kris, Marie, Brenda and Finn all did 100 miles/24 hr challenges over the last few years and were successful, and I wanted a to see if I could do it. I think the main enabling factor that made me think it was possible was my switch to Hoka's for the long stuff and that makes a huge difference. I hadn't a clue how to train for this but given my longest run to date being a 50k I knew that I had to really up the mileage.
Some of the more astute among you might have noticed me upping my Ultra participation in the last 6 months and this was all with this challenge in mind. I had set my goal as finishing in sub 24hrs. I felt this was realistic but knew that I had to be patient and build my schedule around this. Fortunately Kris was around, so there was no shortage of encouragement, company or inspiration. I set out my schedule so that I would peak in July. This started with a hard winters training focusing initially on the national 50K. I then gradually upped the challenges. The Vartry 50 miler (I studied many of the 100 mile runners here) and the Connemara Ultra (both in atrocious conditions) was followed by the Fowlmead 50 and I had started using the SVN challenge events as Ultra's eventually using the full time allocated. So far so good.
Everything became an Ultra now or even back to back Ultras and the Tullroan Ultra was followed by the Forest 100K. I was doing OK I thought and was still injury free and enjoying the really long stuff be it a little slower.
Paul Mason, Somie Back and Paul Sahota all had done 100's in the UK and their experience and inspiration were logged. In June, I managed 5 Ultras including the most useful which was the Endura 12 hour race in Belfast as part of the national 24hr's were I managed 64 miles. Here again I went to school on Kris, Finn, Catherine, Paddy, Enda, Gary, Sharon, Anne and countless others as they achieved their 100 mile targets. In retrospect I was ready that day but I wasn't entered. Lastly I did the Somme Ultra at Samphire Hoe as a last recce. 1600 miles training and racing to date for the year had me ready and with a 10 day taper I was all set.
Kris had abandoned me for the summer but with her parents was giving massive encouragement from Australia and I was very fortunate that Finn (3 weeks after picking up a national medal at the 24hr championships with 116 miles) was also in the race and we would travel together. I knew with her vast experience that she would look after me throughout the day. I had studied all the advise from Traviss and Paul Mason, had consulted with everyone and had a strategy. The only thing I hadnt practised was night time running. I was as ready as I could be.
Samphire Hoe comes with its own challenges. It is relatively flat but there is a really tasty hill. It is completely open with no shelter at all and being beside the sea is open to the wind and 2/3rds of the race would be on concrete. The weather forecast was for warm day with a gentle breeze and a moonlit night. We would have taken that.
What actually occurred was way warmer than forecast with some telling me it was mid 20's and was very very humid the whole time. Even at night it didnt drop to beneath 16 degrees. The wind went from a gentle breeze to a brisk wind and for a time died totally in the middle of the night. There was no rain.
81 were entered but a few like Karen Summerville were long term injured so were not there. Finn and I stayed over the night before in Folkestown and spent the evening strategising and me taking note of her every last bit of advise. We arrived early and set up our own aid station. We deliberately set up a little off the course so that we would have to make a conscious decision to use it rather than make it too easy. I had long taken on board Traviss's advise of stopping at the main aid station and did not go near it all day. The irony is that there was even more stuff than normal on it (lots of baking and fudge) and Dominos pizza in the middle of the night (I had long past taking on solid food at that stage).
|Photos: Mel Sturman (one of my favourite running photos)|
By 8am on Saturday we had registered, had our briefing, were setup and we were off. Along side the 100 miler there were various other 6hr/12hr and 24hr challenges. It was hot and humid from the get go and it is the only time that I actually looked forward to turning into the wind to cool down. I actually throughout the whole race preferred running into the wind. The whole field quickly spread out. James predictably set off like a hare. We had all seen this before and we knew he would settle down and help others out. A surprise was Chris who went with James. He would live to regret that.
We plodded around in the heat and the humid conditions knocking off the 3.7 mile laps. The reserve was hot and the bit along the railway line on the way back seemed particularly dead. The concrete sea wall was hard and we all got into a rhythm. A 4:30 marathon was followed by a 5:30 50K. Finn was settled in about 10 minutes back and I was pretty much were I had expected to be in the race. 50 miles came in 9:40 and I was just shy of 100K in 12 hours. I was a little down on previous runs but conditions were tough and I still had a long way to go. Upto 100K I was still managing to run but had long since decided that I would have a run/walk strategy after 12 hours and had picked my spots on the course to execute this. Also, I found that as soon as I hit 100K I went through a real bad patch but toughed it out and came through it with much encouragement from everyone. Finn later told me I looked terrible at this stage with big black marks under my eyes.
|Photos: Mel Sturman|
The run/walk strategy was working well and I was managing the 3.7 mile loops in well under an hour and was banking time against the 24hrs all the way. I felt very comfortable when I had an hour in hand and when I got to 1.5hrs up I knew that only injury now would stop me from achieving a sub 24hr race.
I seemed to be running at the same pace as Karen and seen a lot of her. At one point in the reserve she had picked up a "calippo" lolly and I was tracking about 5m back. It was real "Harry met Sally" stuff that came out of her while eating it and we both agreed that this lolly at that particular time on that particular day was better than sex.
You could see the heat and humidity beginning to take its toll on others who were either dropping down in events or starting to walk early.
Night time came and it was a big unknown for me. I put the head torch on and as the temp only had dropped slightly I decided to keep running in a T-shirt. It was fine and my paranoia was unfounded. The moon came out as promised and it was a surreal and wonderful experience. As it was now dark I hadnt a clue who anyone was anymore and stuck to a "well done" strategy as I met everyone. Bizarrely, Fiona who had joined as a pacer for the night shift seemed to recognise everyone. She must eat lots of carrots. Her encouragement was great and you could hear he coming from about 200m. Also there entertaining everyone was vanessa who must have talked and laughed and talked and laughed for the whole 24 hrs of her race.
Throughout the night I kept with the run/walk strategy and got the miles in and by the time the sun came up around 5am I was into my last few laps. It was quite interesting to see who survived and who hadnt. One of things that also worked well for me was charging my Garmin enroute and I had a novel powerpack/charging lead combo that did the job. I managed to get the whole race on the one record.
In terms of other runners I knew, most seemed to be going OK. Finn was on the same lap as me despite struggling with nutrition, Paul Mason and Philip Rand seemed to be going well and running a lot. James Bennet had speeded up again. Thankfully Chris had slowed down from his suicidal start. Clive was going steady. Karen and Elaine were both still with me, Somie looked determined. Mel was having the run of her life. Paul Rose was always just behind, Gary Wayman was struggling with an obvious injury but still moving and Greg was moving forward nicely. Enda was having problems and I seen him at one stage attempting open toe surgery and another passing me with only one shoe on the way to the paramedics (he was fine once stitched up). Pam dropped after getting to 100K and Rita just went on and on and on and on (hers imho was the performance of the day coming in as second female). Jools was going well despite being over dressed in my opinion and Kat did a valiant effort making 75 miles.
A lot of the SVN helpers are WAG's of some of the more regular runners and they came out early in the morning to walk, pace and encourage their other half's. That was really nice.
Then the wheels fell off. At 89 miles (3 laps to go) I felt the soles of my feet hurt. It felt like blisters on bruises. I could feel every pebble and stone on the route and running on the concrete was like sandpaper. It happened suddenly and on both feet and it seemed as if the whole structure of my shoes had failed. Normally Hoka's are like running on pillows. Now it was just agony. I was reduced to a walk. I knew I had enough time but I could also see the rest of the field gaining and I lost a few spots around now. I was not going to take my shoes off and decided just to tough it out. My now enforced walk strategy had me coming in around 1hr to 1hr 5 mins per lap and I got closer and closer to the finish.
Part of the system was to pick up a "St Georges" flag to tell everyone you were on your last lap. Pre-empting this I decided to bring my own flag and it caused much amusement as I headed off into my last lap with the Irish flag. There was no end to the detail of my planning.
I had noticed that there were quite a few people in and around the same pace as me and Elaine, Karen, Paul, Philip, Clive, Finn and Enda and some others also ended up at the same time as me on their last laps. I just happened to be ahead of them but they were all running and some of them fast (Enda and Philip in particular). Small things matter at this time and I was determined not to loose 5 or 6 places in the last lap just because I was walking so I sucked it up and started to run again and managed to get quite a nice pace going (sub 10 minutes for the last mile) and by the time I came into the final straight I was well ahead to claim 11th place overall. Very soon after there was deluge of finishers and the atmosphere around the finish line was just magic.
I picked up my buckle, medal and T-Shirt and collapsed in a heap. Could I have kept going......Absolutely.
SVN had pulled off another fantastic event and all the helpers were just fantastic.
Thanks very much to Kris who's fault all of this is and to Finn for looking after me so well on the day. To Rachel and Traviss and all the helpers that was a magical experience.
I'll fill in with some photos when I get time. Its beginning to sink in.
Photos: Mel Sturman
Details of the day