June 2011

Housman 100

A confidence builder for UTMB (and hopefully a big chunk off my 100 time from the HoS100 last year) was the original plan. With the calf injury my goals were downgraded to the more modest
  1. a) don’t do myself any damage
  2. b) finish
  3. c) finish faster than last year.

The first morning/afternoon went fairly well. I was slow on the ups, but not as bad as Fellsman, and I was keeping up with the people around me by running more/faster on the flats. I’d seriously underestimated the course though. While there might not be any really big hills in Shropshire, it was constant up and down (the total of ~6000m of ascent in the route description, should have been a clue...).  So I knew once my running legs were gone I’d be slipping backwards through the field.

Having started from the first 10am start I was towards the front of the field, and getting pampered by the checkpoint staff (‘sit down dear, now what would you like? we’ve got....’). Which meant I was eating more proper food than my stomach is usually used to when running. By the time I reached the breakfast stop in the early hours of the morning it was decidedly unhappy and I barely made inroads into the huge pile of beans I’d been served on my toast.

After plodding through the night, dawn broke just before the Stiperstones, and I started running the flats again. I didn’t manage any running on day 2 last year, so I was feeling pretty happy at this point. I even managed to hang onto the coat-tails of some speedier runners from the midday start when they overtook me on the descent into the next checkpoint.

The wheels were about to fall off though. Spaghetti hoops and toast were a struggle, and the climb after the checkpoint was even worse, punctuated by the first of a regular series of mid-hill wee-stops. On I plodded, not losing too much time to the people around me at this point, but not eating at all. Coming down off the Long Mynd I was lured into a jog when some more midday starters went past. Bad mistake. The short, but steep, climb just before the next checkpoint at 83 miles was a nightmare and all the people I’d just overtaken streamed back past. At the top I leant on a style, drenched in sweat, wondering what had gone wrong (with thoughts of DNFing entered by head).

At the checkpoint I realised I had to get some food down to have any change of finishing. I managed precisely 2 bites of a piece of toast and was beginning to think a DNF was on the cards (could I even get to the next checkpoint, let along the finish?). At this point someone I’d last seen looking rotten, wrapped in a blanket, way back at 36 miles came in looking pretty perky.  And the realisation dawned, that with a 48 hour time limit I had plenty of time in hand to find something I could eat, get my energy levels up and recover. And the bloke opposite me’s tinned peaches were looking slightly appealing, or at least not completely vomit inducing. So I asked for a bowlful of my own, and slowly nibbled my way through them. After about 30 minutes in the checkpoint I decided to head off and see how the first mile or so felt.

Thankfully the next few miles weren’t too hilly, and feeling better I kept plodding along, with only a couple of people overtaking me.  A couple of miles out from the next checkpoint another big hill ground me to almost a halt. And a bloke who overtook me on it was amazed when I arrived at the checkpoint just after him (‘so you’re obviously going alright on the flats then’). Spurred on by this, I ate a couple of orange segments and then engaged in a power-walking game of ‘cat and mouse’ with him (and his children who were alternating pacing duties, as mum and the rest of the family leapfrogged them in the car) along one of the rare stretches of flat road.

Off of the road and into some wet fields I slowed down again, and a few people passed me. Including a cheery little old lady I’d chatted to 80 or so miles ago. ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m not going anywhere in a hurry’ she said brightly as I stepped off the single track to let her past. I just managed to respond ‘But you’re going a lot fast than I am!’ as she disappeared into the distance. At the final checkpoint I managed to eat a yoghurt, but at attempt at a banana failed after one bite.

Thanks to frequent sock changes (and better conditions under foot) I’d avoided last years foot problems, but my feet were now blistered. With 5 or so miles to go I decided it wasn’t worth doing anything about it, but they slowed me down even more. Swarms of people (well maybe 10) passed me as I plodded over the final ‘sting in the tail’ climb.  I was slowly catching someone I’d been going ‘back and forth’ with earlier on who was now limping and moving even slower than me. I caught him just before the finish, but decided overtaking at this point would be pretty crass, and crossed the line just behind him in 34.16. Declining stomach turning offers of pies and real ale I sat and slowly drunk some water.

Having finished over an hour faster than year, I’d met all 3 of my revised goals. But I was a bit disappointed, secretly I’d been hoping for a time closer to 32 hours. (Checking the results later in the week most of the people who passed through the 83 mile checkpoint at the same time as me had managed to finish in 32-33 hours).

After 12 hours sleep (while the rain pounded down on my tent and I felt very glad I wasn’t still out there) I was feeling a bit happier. My stomach was also feeling better and I ate a pile of toast while watching and clapping the later walkers finishing (one of the nice features of LDWA 100s is the ringing of a bell as every finisher crosses the line). Waiting at the station I chatted to some other participants, and discovering I’d been the fastest finisher of the small group perked my up some more (although I was a bit embarrassed by an exchange between one of the group and a random person: ‘are you lot going for a walk?’, ‘No we’ve just done 100 miles’, ‘Oh.... how long did it take?’, ‘It took me XX hours, but she [points at me as if I was some sort of superstar] did it in 34’).

Last year, with badly battered feet and ankles the journey home was a nightmare and it was a fortnight before I could even walk more than a couple of hundred metres. This year I happily carried my large rucksack full of  running and camping gear home from the station, had a quick run on Wednesday and was out in the Peak District doing hill repeats by the next Sunday.

So lessons learnt?
  1. i) I need to sort out eating and drinking. What has worked successfully up to 60ish miles, isn’t working up to 100. And if the wheels come off at UTMB I’ll get timed out. Food is fairly straight forward. Falling for the temptations of the LDWA checkpoints was a mistake and I should have stuck to my tried and tested sandwiches/biscuits/pizza  and favourite energy bars/gels. At UTMB the checkpoints will be packed (and offer fairly slim pickings for a vegetarian) so I’ll need to aim to be self-sufficient. Hydration is trickier. I’ve been using Hammer Perpetuem for a while, but I’ve been finding it increasingly harder to stomach over long distances (and ended up throwing away almost full bottles after 40ish miles at both Fellsman and the 100). The frequently weeing on the 2nd day and nausea suggest that my electolyte levels were out of wack. So time to switch to a zero calorie electrolite drink. A bottle of elete water is in the post.
  2. ii) Hills. I’m crap at them. And in less than 3 months time I’m attempting a race with 10, 000m of ascent. A mini-stepper is also ordered, and lots of hill repeat sessions in the Peak District planned...