Sunday, 3 November 2019

UTMB - lessons for next time

I wrote up my race report for UTMB and someone pointed out I was incredibly bitter and she wouldn't want to cross paths with me in race. In fairness reading it back, it is a spot on observation. I had gone in over-confident and was humbled by the race. I few things didn't go my way but the main reason I didn't finish was lack of hill training and not being mentally prepared for cut-off chasing. However I did enjoy the race and could have written a lot more about the fun and enjoyable aspects of the race

Rather than re-writing the report, I will add a more balanced angle through a lessons learned blog.

Fitness required

I have a 10+ 100 mile finishes with all but one under 24 hours. I've done a 145 miles race and knocked out a 21:41 at the SDW100 (12,000ft of climbing). I thought this would be plenty of base fitness combined with a bit of hill training. I was wrong.

In races such as the SDW and NDW, I made big chunks back on the descents. I did this on the first but stumbled on the second and was a bit rubbish after that. Running down a 150m hill isn't the same as 1,500m one.

I would add that getting the points doesn't mean you are necessarily good enough to finish. If you have only done 2 100 milers and finished say, the NDW100 and SDW100 in 29ish hours, you have the points but I would predict you would struggle big time (feel free to prove me wrong though)

Roll with the atmosphere

It is an amazing atmosphere in Chamonix for the week. I had a great place to stay which was right by the finish line. This was great for almost all the time except when the drummers started outside my room. I will bring ear plugs next time or stay a bit further from the town centre.

Don't worry too much about the first cut-off and queues

I read a few salty Facebook posts in previous years from people who DNFed early on due to missing the cutoffs. It is easy to blame the queues and being stuck in a conga train of sticks. The first 5 miles is easy trail and if you are a speedster, you could easily make up a chunk of places. After Les Houches, the first hill is a road to start with and then up a ski slope with loads of room to pass others. It is a 90 minute+ climb so plenty of time to get ahead of the cutoffs. I made it with 40 minutes to spare.

There were a lot of queues on the climb to the Bonhomme but I don't think it was a major factor as I was slow anyway. Some of the descents are bit like trying to pick your way down past slower skiers on a red run but it isn't worth taking risks to get past them.

I would caveat that I understand this isn't quite the case with TDS and CCC as these go to single track out of Courmayer fairly quickly and you can be stuck in a pack and miss the cut.

Think about the food choices

If you are vegan, the choices are very limited. I'm fairly omnivorous but took a while to get round cheese, salami, and bread being the primary food source. It works quite well - especially when combined with the soups.

The tailwind equivalent is overstim. It sounds like a bad name but was alright actually. I might try to get some imported to use in advance. They have copious amounts of proper coca-cola which was good. No worries about the sugar tax in France. There were TUC biscuits and choc chip cookies which were fine. No gels but overstim bars which I didn't fancy.

SiS gels screwed me over but I will learn to get fresh ones or a different brand next time. High5 ones last for ever, SiS don't even last to their best before date.

People are much friendlier than the blogs say

They aren't all as miserable as the person who wrote my race report. Sure there is a language barrier but a lot of people were willing to chat - especially on some of the longer climbs. This can help when you are going through a bad patch.

I met people from lots of countries including

Denmark - a guy who trained on a 45m high rubbish dump
Brits - quite a few Brits
Aussies - I even had a quick chat about Ben Stokes
South Africa - a couple who I crossed paths many times
HK & China - lots especially after I dropped. Thanks for buying me the beer after I DNF'ed
Japan - coming out of Courmayer I practiced my Japanese. He took it in good spirits
NZ - coming out of Les Chapieux. Only 4 Kiwis in the race apparently.
USA - loads including someone who shared his name with colleague Kevin Hong.
Brazil and Argentina - two guys were running together including with one in an Argentina shirt. I called the Aguero and Neymar. Good bit of football chat coming into St Gervais.
France - my basic French got me into a bit of trouble
Greece - a bit of Spartathlon chat
Belgium - less said about that the better : )
Canada - we met some before the race

The support in the streets is incredible. I did lots of high fives and mercis. It was cool to change into Italy and speak Italian. Thanks also to the Brits who were supporting and made a big deal of any Brits who came past.

The support for finishers is something else. Seeing the TDSers come down the final street was awesome. Shame I didn't get to experience it first hand...

It is also nice to bump into friends in town and to spot a few "celebs". I had a burrito next to Hayden Hawks. I had a beer with David Harvey too!


- Almost everyone uses a number belt. I went Brit style with my number pinned to my shorts. Not helpful if you change shorts or need to put trousers on.
- My Salomon waterproof wasn't good enough when it properly rained. I have since bought a Montane Spine jacket which is a proper bit of kit
- Put stickers on or mark your poles. Everyone has one of 3 brands and it might be easy to pick up the wrong ones.
- According to the shoe survey, only 3 people out of 2,000 were wearing my Mizuno trail shoes. They were ok but maybe there is a reason they aren't more popular.
- Almost everyone uses poles. Buy them as soon as you get into the race. They are rarely on sale so just bit the bullet and buy some. Start training with them in January not in July. Having said that, I'm sure loads are available second hand just after UTMB.

This is a great article which is spot on. My training was inadequate as it turns out. The two people I know who have finished UTMB spent a lot of time in either Chamonix or Brecon Beacons. A lot of DNFed didn't. Might be coincidence but it can't do any harm. This is a great article to read and probably more enlightening than anything I can add

Very interesting stat that the Brits DNF rate is 60% compared with 30% for other countries. I have certainly helped that stat.

Final thoughts

I guess the UTMB is a bit like the London marathon. It is oversubscribed, has a lot of hype, and lots of queues. However there is a lot of great things and I would love to come back and try to finish again one day. It is a very tough race and not to be underestimated. I typically finish in the top 30% of 100 mile races so figured I would easily finish a race with a 60% finish rate. That does a huge disservice to those who have fought their way to the start line.

So sign up to the ballot if you get a chance. I'm sure there are better races out there with fewer crowds and less hype but it is quite a global circus that is unique.

Here is the original blog

Saturday, 2 November 2019

UTMB 2019 - Crushing disappointment is earned, not given

Some people say the hardest part of finishing UTMB is getting on the start list. I have to admit I was in this group before I actually tried it. I even went as far as predicting my finish time would be close to 40 hours The reality was very different.

Most of you reading this probably know about UTMB but for those who don't, UTMB is arguably one of the most, if not the most famous trail ultra in the world. It is based on the Tour Du Mont Blanc ( ) which is a lovely walking holiday which is typically done in 11 days. It is 170km and 10,000m of climbing. There are mountain refuges to stay in each evening.  I have walked the TMB route twice as a teenager and in the guide book it mentioned that it was also held as a race. I never imagined I would be coming back as an adult to do that race.

It took me a quite a while to get into UTMB. I started collecting points in 2014. I ended up with 8 points in 2015. This would have got me in the ballot for 2014 when you needed 8 points but it was increased to 9 for 2015. I got in the ballot at last in 2016 after the Centurion Grandslam and was unsuccessful. Same again in 2017. I finally got in with the 3rd time automatic rule in 2018. The points expire after two years so I needed to maintain a running CV of three 100 milers in the most recent two years, After 5 years, I finally had my starting bib.

Getting to Chamonix was really easy. I got a flight after work on Wednesday from London City airport to Geneva and was picked up by James from Cham-Vans. It was a shared transfer with a couple of guys from Hong Kong plus some regular tourists. I made it to the hotel just in time to see 4th place of TDS finish in Chamonix. My parents had booked a room in the Grand Hotels des Alpes and I had the sofabed. I grabbed a beer and crepe at a cafe which was on the finishing straight. You can see a runner's foot in the background.

Thursday was registration. It was a very efficient set up with an airport security feel to it as you had all your kit in a tray. I turned up in civilian clothing but a lot of people turned up in full ultra kit including walking poles. This is one of the comedy aspects of the week. I made sure I had everything on the mandatory list including a few gels. I thought the gels was a bit daft but food was one of the things they checked for so just as well. I got my wrist band and was ready to go.

I now had a lot of waiting ahead before the 6pm start on Friday. I met up with Dave Kind and family for a cheeky beer. Dave had come up short on the challenging TDS and had some good advice including trying to use bits of trail debris to make mini steps (taken from the book "never wipe your ass with a squirrel").

The rest of the day TDS runners were finishing plus the OCC (56km race) took place. I was getting quite excited now.

Friday was finally race day but even then it was quite a bit of waiting around to go as it is a 6pm start. I tried to get some sleep but I was very close to the start line and there was some pre-race entertainment. This took the form of a bunch of people banging really loud drums just outside my window. I had a couple of hours rest but no sleep. Not ideal when you have potentially 48 hours of being awake ahead.

I was about the head to the start when a massive thunderstorm kicked off. It was torrential rain so I headed back to the hotel room and dashed over just before the start. I figured I would rather be dry and at the back than standing in the rain for an hour. I cut it quite fine and struggled to get into position as the hotel was the wrong side of the start. I almost ran into the start with the elites but the marshalls sent me round the side. I ended up lined up in a side street which wasn't a bad place as it turns out.

There were lots of speeches and a Viking clap before we finally started. First km was a bit of a faff with hundreds of people and lots of selfies and videos. It was a bit annoying and I was trying to push on as I was worried about the first cut off. The stretch to Les Houches was undulating valley trail with some mud and lots of people.

I made it safely to the first aid station. I had taken on a bit of extra water at the start with a bladder so I didn't stop. There were hundreds of people trying to get water here and I probably gained 200 places here. I had run 8 km in 56 minutes and felt I was quite far up the field. It turns out I was actually in 2,122 with only 400 people behind me. Shortly after Les Houches, the trail went uphill for the first climb.

I had been training on Surrey hills which are 100-150m high. This was 800m high so worth 8 reps of my favourite local climb - the Pilgrim's way hill. Plenty of people came past me and I overtook a few. I was flying on the descent and overtook quite a few. I put my poles away and ran pretty quickly through the woods. I was very late to put my head torch on as I used the light from everyone else.

I did get one photo in - it was a beautiful on the first climb

Just before St Gervais, there was a chalet giving out water. This was possibly the best water I have ever tasted - especially as the bladder in my pack was new and tasted slightly TCP-like. I figured it might save me a bit of time at the aid station. St Gervais was having a massive party with hundreds of people out watching the race. The aid station food was unusual. They had full fat coke and biscuits but the main food was french bread, cheese, and salami. I went for the usual sugar based selection.

I made it to St Gervais in 3:20 which was 40 minutes inside the cut off. I was a lot more relaxed now as my big fear was getting stuck in the queues and being time out. I could now relax and get into the rhythm of the race. If figured that barring injury, I had a finish in the bag,

This was the start of the biggest climb of the race at 1,900m of height gain. It was a bit of an uphill plod but I felt like I was making good progress. I got to the next checkpoint in 5:20 which was still 40 minutes inside cut off. I had hoped to increase my gap a bit but at least it hadn't reduced. This was the first aid station where crew were allowed. The first tent was for runners only and I refuelled with stuff. The second was where people could get support. This was a bit of annoyance for me as everyone had to go through the second tent even if you didn't have crew. The second tent was rammed with only a small gap to pass through. One stupid cow was using the gap to film her runner and take some selfies. She seemed very put out when I bumped her out of the way after she was oblivious to my repeated "excusez moi"s. I race without crew which puts me at a disadvantage but at least other crews don't slow me down usually...

It was fairly easy coming out of Les Contamines Montjoie with some nice running along the river. It then went a lot steeper uphill. I ended up chatting to a few more people here. There were some Americans and a lady in a Lakeland 100 top. I just about hung onto her pace until the La Balme aid station. This was a bit of a squeeze with lots of people trying to grab stuff. I had managed to get my stuff and was trying to get out the aid station. A lady from China was trying to get at the aid station table but unfortunately I was in her way. The easy thing would have been to let me pass so she could have a good grab at the food but she tried to grab around me. This made it much slower for her and she was very disappointed as her grabs only resulted in picking up some crumbs of TUC biscuits. I was close to just pushing her out of the way but didn't as she settled for her crumbs and went on her way. The aid stations were generally very civilised given the vast numbers of runners. 

I was only 45 minutes inside cut off which was less than ideal - I had hoped to add more to my cushion.  I didn't feel this was a great section but looking at the results, I gained 300 places on this section. A fair chunk of this was probably people taking selfies with their crew at the previous aid station...

The climb continued and became more technical. It was a big conga line up the climb. I was struggling to keep up with the pace as I'm not a good climber and it was getting above 2,000m. I pulled over to let people past every so often and a few steamed past but most were going at the same pace. The miles were taking at least 30 minutes.

It was pretty cool with hundreds of head torches in front and behind me. It was a clear night and there were thousands of stars in the sky too. Some people argue you can just run the trail whenever you want but I'm not sure many would be up in the trails at night like this. Eventually I made it up to the top... There were quite a few people out on the course cheering people on with cowbells which was a nice touch. There is a big tent and timing point at the col which seems like it should be the top but you carry on up. This was a very technical section with a tough rocky section.

Eventually we got to the refuge and croix which is the peak. It had taken my nearly 6 hours to climb up. My longest climb in training was about 10 minutes... I started the descent which was fairly technical. There was an older Belgian chap who was descending quite quickly with his poles in his hand. He stacked it quite hard and the people around him checked he was ok. It was quite slippery and tricky but he continued carrying his poles rather than using them to help his balance. He stacked it again which I had no sympathy for this time - the poles are there to help you... I tried to get past him as he was an absolute liability to those around him. I took a less than ideal route to get around him and slipped. I wrenched my shoulder and knee but was pretty much ok. He was now regarded as the fucking Belgian pillock from now on.

I took the rest of the descent quite steadily as I lost a bit of confidence and I wanted to save my legs for later. I eventually made it into Les Chapeiux just before 4am. The cut off was 5:15am so I didn't quite have the margin I wanted. There was an interesting surprise on entry to the aid station. They had a kit check here where you needed to show your phone and survival blanket. These were buried in the bag so took a while to find. 

I was in and out very quickly - a lot of people were crashed out in the aid station, I decided to take the plunge and get stuck into the French cuisine. I had some soup and a hand made cheese and ham sandwich. I had this on the trudge out of the aid station.  This was a lovely smooth tarmac road. I was really enjoying this until there was a turn onto a footpath before I had finished my meal.

This was the point in the race where my 40 hours plan was out of the window and it was going to be a big fight just to finish. I was pushing hard just to make the cutoffs and was only a quarter of the way into the race. Normally the first quarter of a race is a bit of a jolly and trying to make sure I don't go to fast. 

The course profile headed up and it was a 1,000m climb up to Col de la Seigne. This was another beautiful climb with stars and head torches lighting the way. I was surprised how many people were sleeping on the trail. I called them "campers" and there were at least 10 camping in one of the barns we went past. I must have passed at least 100 people sleeping at various points on this climb.

As I got near the top, the day dawned and blue skies came out. It was full daylight when I made it to the col. It was stunning with some spectacular mountains now visible. One night down, one to go. One border crossing down, two to go.

The timing crew joked about asking for passports. It was pretty cool to cross into another country.

We started the descent into Italy. On the walking route, this is a lovely gentle descent toward Refugio Elisabetta. After a short descent, we were sent up towards Col des Pyramides Calcaires. I was planning to get to the top and reward myself with a gel. This section of the route was particularly crap. The "trail" was where the smaller rocks rather than car sized rocks were. I gave up on plan to get to the top before having a gel and stopped on the side. A lot of other people had done the same.

I went for one of my SiS gels - a nice blackcurrant one. Despite being in just being in date (September 2019), it had turned into mint flavoured lumpy wall paper paste. I carried it for 12 hours and it was a vomit inducing waste of space. Be warned if you ever use this brand. Luckily I had another which was not out of date and helped take the taste away. This could have broken my race if I had taken several of them with me. Another 30 minutes of climbing and I got to the actual col.

This was spartan with a just a timing point. They had a bottle of coke and asked if I could have some. They left me have a cup which was magical. A few other people around me dived on it too. I made up quite a few spots on the descent towards Lac Combal. I made it into Lac Combal just before 9am. The cut off was 10am so I had lost some of my buffer. I was pretty quick in this aid station and went for cheese and salami sandwich with a coffee. I grabbed stuff quickly and pushed on down the round.

For the Tour Mont Blanc walk, this is a nice gentle walk towards Courmayer and the UTMB follows this for a while. I had just about finished my Italian breakfast when there was a sign pointing off the road up the hill. Rather than a flattish section, it was a 500m climb. The start was at 2,000m and I was blowing quite hard. The day was warming up as a bonus...

Col Cherout was the next aid station which had a dance group with drummers. This might have been a nice place for a nap if it wasn't for the tossers banging drums. A quick stop here and it was just 4km to Courmayer. This was downhill so figured I would be in the big aid station in 20-30 minutes. This was a massive under-estimate as it was essentially 4km of steps, roots, and switchbacks as the route dropped 750m. It was actually 53 minutes for 2.5 miles.... 

The next aid station was the big one with the drop bag. I had puts loads in it including a spare pair of shoes. This was unfortunate as I had to carry my bag through the big sports hall. I changed clothes and put on sunscreen. I thought it was in my drop bag but I had been carrying it since Chamonix... I also smashed a bottle of sprite and some treats. I was on my way fairly quickly but managed to get everything done. It was only 5km to the next aid station so didn't grab too much fluids - especially as I had a bit left in my backpack bladder and 500ml of sprite in my belly.

I know the climb to Bertone is brutal but forgot how bad. It was pretty hot and I was going to take some water from a fountain but someone said it wasn't potable so I left it. I regretted this later. It was two hours of switchbacks through the woods. I ran out of water after 90 minutes and my heart rate was climbing faster than I was. I was getting badly dehydrated but had to crack on as there was sitting on the trail wouldn't help. I saw someone how had dropped but they had to walk back down the trail as there is no other option...

I eventually got there and figured I had lost all by buffer to the cut off. Probably two of the worst hours I've had "running". I crashed out at the aid station with some water and some "overstim" which is actually ok. I figured I needed to sort myself out or my race was over. My heart rate was falling and I was getting my body under control. At the aid station, someone lost their poles. They had been picked up by someone else. I had stickers on mine but will make them more distinctive next time so they wouldn't be picked up by mistake (or would be obvious if taken).

It felt like I had spent half an hour here but it was needed. Fortunately, there wasn't a cutoff at this aid station - probably because they couldn't deal with the dropped runners. I came out pushing - I wanted to give myself a chance of carrying on. 

I made it through the next two aid station and made it to Arnovaz. I was really pleased to have dug in and made it here. I came out the aid station with 30 minutes buffer on the cutoff. It was 15km in 4 hours to the next aid station. I gave myself 10 minutes to have a nap outside the aid station. I set my phone for 10 minutes but after 6, I wasn't sleeping so just got on with it.

It was a big climb and I started on it. I could see a long train of people ahead. I was making slow progress and struggling a bit. I figured I would bat on to the next aid station and probably not make it.  I thought I had enough in me to get to the next aid station but figured I would probably be timed out there. DNF due to being timed out is a great way to go and leaves you with no regrets and some pride. 

I had been going a while uphill when there was a massive thunderstorm. It was torrential rain and lightning. Walking up into this didn't seem wise so I decided to head back down and drop from the race. A few others did the same and descended until we came to a race vehicle and dropped. To put myself in potential danger didn't seem wise just to get a better DNF. 

There was a refuge nearby where we stopped until a 4x4 took us down to where the broom wagon / coach was there to take us back to Chamonix. The refuge had a bar so at least I dropped somewhere with beer.

Race over after 25 hours and about 105km. I still have 21.5 hours / 65km to finish. I had pushed very hard to get to where I had and don't think I could have finished but I don't know given the way I dropped.

I will write another blog with a bit more on lessons learned and how I can do things differently. When I finished, I thought I wouldn't try it again but with a week or two of time since, I'm certainly thinking about putting my name down for 2020. And I really want one of those tacky naff gilets.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Thames Path 100 - Becoming a Millennial

The Thames Path 100 is a point to point race from Richmond on the edge of London to Oxford. This was the 7th edition of the TP100 and my 4th.  It is the first Centurion race of the year and has a different atmosphere at the start to any other race. It attracts a higher share of first timers than the other races by virtue of being the first in the year and also a perception that being a flat race makes it easier...

I arrived at about 8:30 which was the peak of the registration rush. I had my kit out ready for check so was given my casino chip from Nici while still in the queue so saved a few minutes. I collected my number and noticed all the emergency contact detail was pre-populated. I complemented Nici on the way the race organisation gets a bit better each year, She then pointed out that the number also has your t-shirt size written on it so the volunteers don't have to ask you when you cross the line. Nice touch.

I had an hour or so to kill so wandered around the steps by the river catching up with people. In 2017, I had chatted to Dan Masters in the queue for the toilets and he finished second that year. This year, I was chatting to John Melbourne who finished second this year...

I caught up with lots of people and suddenly it was time to go. There was a detailed briefing from James. I've done this race several times and am a Centurion veteran but it is always a really good idea to listen. He warned us of some other events and to only follow the red and white tape.

I started near the front to avoid the slight bottleneck under the first bridge but it wasn't really necessary. I enjoy being up front at the start to see the leaders streak away. I ended up chatting with Stephen Cousins - I think the footage he filmed has hit the cutting room floor. Before long, we can to a slight right bend. The marking show you should go to the left but the racing line is straight on.

I know from experience there is a swing gate which slows everyone down so took the path to the left. I looked back and no one had followed me. The path loops round and I looked to my right and half the field were stuck behind the gate. Very satisfying to pick up about 15 places through local knowledge.

I was jogging the early miles just under 9 minute miles with James Moore. I had planned to start the run-walk early and after 30 minutes, I noticed I was just behind the lovely Wendy Shaw and Debbie Martin Consani so figured I was a bit ahead of pace and due a walk. I took my first walking break and nobody else did. I was going to stick to my plan no matter what everyone else was going to do.

I soon came past Hampton Court Palace which is a lovely land mark and the first hour was out of the way. I noticed Run DMC was still behind me - it is not often you are ahead of running royalty - here is a screenshot from Strava to prove it actually happened. She would go onto finish in 17:40.

The next few miles are very familiar from the Phoenix events - I was half hoping Rik's tuck shop at the Weir Pub would be open for business. I was less pleased to the TFBB (the f**ing blue bridge) but it meant the aid station was just round the corner.

The Walton Bridge aid station was a hive of activity. I had my bottles filled by Janette and Pompey Paul. James Elson and Dan Lawson of the BURP podcast were also helping out. I was in and out fairly quickly and on the bridge before 2 hours were on the clock. Nicely ticking along under 10 minute miles.

I hit the first of a few low patches on the run. I'm about to go off on an introspective diversion so feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.

A lot of people ask what time you are after and if you had asked at the beginning of April, I would have said sub 21 and if it all goes well sub 20 but I had a last minute spanner in the works. I am entered for UTMB and needed a medical sign-off. I went for a Nuffield 360 checkup and initially everything seemed well. I was recorded as having high blood pressure but I think it was a combination of white coat syndrome or the measurement done with the earphones and a cuff. I purchased on Omron M40 to measure it at home and I've not go close to a high blood pressure reading since.

I got my sign off  for the UTMB via a GP as Nuffield wouldn't sign the form. All good with a week to go before the TP100 and the taper was underway. I then got a phone call from Nuffield telling me I have Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (LVH) and recommended I see a cardiologist.

While ventricular hypertrophy occurs naturally as a reaction to aerobic exercise and strength training, it is most frequently referred to as a pathological reaction to cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure.[2] It is one aspect of ventricular remodeling.
While LVH itself is not a disease, it is usually a marker for disease involving the heart.[3] Disease processes that can cause LVH include any disease that increases the afterload that the heart has to contract against, and some primary diseases of the muscle of the heart.
Causes of increased afterload that can cause LVH include aortic stenosisaortic insufficiency and hypertension. Primary disease of the muscle of the heart that cause LVH are known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathies, which can lead into heart failure.
Long-standing mitral insufficiency also leads to LVH as a compensatory mechanism. 

And advice from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Monitor high blood pressure. Purchase a home blood pressure measuring device and check your blood pressure frequently. Schedule regular checkups with your doctor.
  • Make time for physical activity. Regular physical activity helps to lower blood pressure and keep it at normal levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat and salt, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcoholic beverages or drink them in moderation.
  • Quit smoking. Giving up smoking improves your overall health and prevents heart attacks.

When to see a doctor
Seek emergency care if:
You feel chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes
You have severe difficulty breathing
You have severe light headedness or lose consciousness
--- ---- ----- ----- ---

So not ideal news just before attempting to run 100 miles. A couple of running friends of mine have had brushes with heart issues - one had a stroke and the other spent Christmas in hospital with pericarditis so I wasn't thrilled. After speaking with my wife and given my absence of nasty symptoms (plus the exercise ECG came back clear), I decided to race any way. I promised I wouldn't die (spoiler alert: I didn't die).

Anyway as you were....

Next aid station came and went and soon I was past the marathon distance. I have a vague recollection about a hailstorm which was not much fun in shorts. Weather otherwise was excellent.

I made it to the 30 mile aid station in 5:17. I was about 10 minutes behind my 2017 pace and was running nicely. I had buddied up with Alex Lee -  a fellow do-badder and all was good. Julius and Allie were on this aid station so it was good to get an FYB!

The first 50 miles of the TP100 would make a great race. There was a detour near Marlow which knocked the momentum somewhat. I know it is stupid but running a bit of extra distance is a bit dispiriting. Cookham aid station was nice to catch up with Janette and Paul again. I had predicted I would be there in 7 hours and arrived in 6:53. I had hoped to be there a bit quicker but I wasn't unhappy. My best race I've ever raced was the SDW100 where I had started steadily and slower than previous years so was hoping for that again.

Before too long it was Henley. I got there in 9:45 which is the slowest first 50 of my 4 attempts. I had been quite slow between 38 and 51 and sub 21 was looking ambitious now. I was looking at somewhere nearer 24 hours now.

I made it to Reading before dark which was nice. As were approaching Reading, a Finnish guy was coming the other way who had seen a turnaround sign from the Saturn marathon and we sent him back towards the checkpoint. It was quite a while to the checkpoint so he must have added a mile onto his race... Remember James's warning at the start.

As the sun sets, the darkness begins... The section from 58 to 85 is pretty tough going. It kicks off with Reading  town centre and then into the darkness. I made it to mile 60 before needing my headtorch. I was Sarah Sawyer briefly here as she speeded off into the distance. I could have done with Team Sawyer's pacing that night.

I ran nicely through the Whitchurch to Streatley section. I really enjoy this bit - especially as my legs were capable of running. I dropped Alex on this stretch but his soldier legs pulled me back on the flat. He spent quite a while in the 71 mile aid station but I'll let him off as he shared his can of cider. I think cheesy beans appeared at some point. I pushed on as I was getting a bit cold. Within a mile of the aid station, I regretted not picking up my waterproof trousers. It got really cold very quickly and Alex caught me up again.

Wallingford came and went and the meadow after the aid station is one of the coldest places on the route. It was covered in frost with banks of fog being reflected by the headlamps.

The section from Streatley to Clifton Hampden is enough to crush anyone's spirit. I was 144th on this stretch compared with my next worst stretch of Henley - Streatley were I was 108th. My overall position had dropped from 86th to 102nd (I exclude DNFs from my placings).

In 2017, I had got to Clifton Hampden in the dark but the sun had come up and I had started an hour earlier. This triggered another low point when it should have a been a real high. It was a beautiful sunrise and morning. We eventually made it to the aid station. Apparently it is a beautiful village.

Someone made me laugh here as they asked if I knew why it was called Clifton Hampden. Apparently it is because you are kept in suspense as to when it will arrive. Alex stopped to fix his feet and I sped on as I didn't want to get too cold. I need to get my act together as I wasn't sure of a sub 24 buckle. I saw Dan Barrett who was also in contention to getting a sub 24.

Never has Didcot ever looked so beautiful

My paced picked up nicely after sunrise and I pushed on to the finish, I really didn't want to finish outside 24 hours and starting to make inroads. Last stop was Abingdon with a hug from Lou. I was warming up nicely and getting my act together. Previously I had struggled to use my hands in the cold and found it difficult to even put away my cup at times...

Photo -Lou Fraser

My main goals were to do with time but me secondary goal was to finish strongly. The first time, I had horrendous blister, and the last two I had things go funny in my legs which meant I had to walk it in. This time I was finishing well. I pulled back 6 places between Clifton and Radley (70th on the stretch) and pushed on. I skipped the last aid station but made sure to thank the volunteers.

I have left it quite late to write my report so can't remember everyone but there were many stars out there.

I pushed on really well towards the finish. I was moving well and picking off zombie runners. My watch ticked over 100 miles at 22:40 and hoped to sneak under 23 hours. A lady then came running toward me saying "well done - only 1.8 miles to go - I've just measured it on my Suunto and it really accurate". I could have punched her in the face (obviously I didn't). No chance of sub 23 but I was going to see how close I could get.

I kept on pushing and overtook Rusty and Paul (thanks for putting my cup away in the night) and picked off one more as I came sprinting towards the finish (sorry about that). I crossed in 23:06. I got my press-ups in and post race photo with the lovely Stuart March.

I finished with a slightly hollow feeling. I had my WSER qualifying race, and my 10th Centurion 100 mile finish but the heart diagnosis thing was in the back of my mind. I might finally qualify for Western States but have retired from ultras...

Alex and Dan came through a bit later both safely under 24 hours and 225 of 297 made it to Oxford.

I caught up with David Harvey and Tim Lambert at the finish. I probably wasn't as talkative as normal as I wasn't quite in the mood to talk about my next race. However I did keep my promise not to die...

Post script

I managed to get an appointment with Professor Sanjay Sharma at Tooting Hospital. I had an ECG which showed signs of LVH so followed up with a full ultrasound. Everything is working perfectly and I have a slightly large heart because I exercise a lot. I'm all set for UTMB and to return to the Centurion family for my 11th 100 miler with them in 2020.... It might even be my 5th TP 100 despite swearing 4 times it would be my last.

Whilst mine was a false alarm, have a think about getting your heart checked. Most injuries you can get over but your heart is trickier one. You can get subsidised ECG checks with CRY if you are under 35.

Next stop UTMB...

Sunday, 16 December 2018

UTMB 2019 - How long will it take me?

After two rejections in the ballot, I am finally in UTMB for 2019. I was curious to see what I had left myself in for and how long I would be out there for. Cut off is 46hr 30 and winning time was 20:44.

I have an ITRA ranking of 495 ( ). You can find yours here ( ). An explanation of the rankings are here:

Back when I reverse engineered the ITRA rankings, I predicted a UTMB finish time of 39 hours based on my ranking (it was 489 back then).

I pulled out the rankings for roughly 100 finishers of the 2018 UTMB. I looked at the XL ranking because a) The 2018 UTMB would be included in the XXL ranking so the prediction would be somewhat circular b) I don't have an XXL ranking

Ranking is reasonable predictive but with quite a lot of variance. The ITRA predictions are pretty good but there are quite a few highly ranked runners who finished much slower than predicted. 

My ranking of 495 would put me roughly in the middle of the finishers in roughly 39 hours. A few important notes:

- I have only looked at the men's results as the women use a slightly different system. I'm sure there is an easy conversion
- I have only looked at finishers. I suspect the drop out rate for lower ranked runners is way lower than mid to high ranked (excluding the elite racers). A better athlete having a bad day might finish in a slow time but the lower ranked runner would be timed out.

It would be interesting to do this analysis if I had the data.

Here is the table form of the results. I only sampled 100 or so. I would need a few more to smooth out the volatility (some higher ranked groups have slower time due to small sample size).

Rank Time Position Percentile
650 34:06 325 18%
625 33:46 332 19%
600 34:12 312 18%
575 36:19 431 24%
550 35:24 399 22%
525 37:05 496 28%
500 39:05 669 38%
475 41:58 1,036 58%
450 43:36 1,260 71%
425 45:06 1,497 84%
400 45:33 1,592 90%
375 45:35 1,614 91%

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Centurion Autumn 100 race report

Running 100 miles is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get...

My race season had started with a much better than expected SDW100. I ran it in 21:41 (a 45 minute PB) including a fast finish down "death gulley". KACR145 had gone fairly well too - my 100 mile split was 22:55 which would have been one of my better standalone times for 100 miles. I came into this race with fairly high expectations.

The A100 has the potential for very fast times with the average time of 23:32 the fastest of the 4 races (TP 23:48, SDW 24:02, and NDW 25:43). The average is 30 minutes faster than the SDW and if I could knock 42 minutes off my time, I would scrape under the Spartathlon qualifying time of 21:00.

This was my third time at the A100 with times of 22:41 in 2015 and 23:25 in 2016. It is has 4 out and backs on the Thames and Ridgeway with a central race HQ so it is easy logistically and for navigation.

I booked a hotel in Reading which works well for the Autumn 100. It was quite a bit cheaper than the Goring options and just a short train journey in the morning. It was a big soulless hotel which is ideal before a race. I picked up dinner from the M&S at Paddington station. Normally pre-race dinner is a cheese and onion or egg and cress sandwich but there were slim pickings so it was ham and cheese.
Reading Sunrise

I woke up at about 7am so had plenty of time to get ready and catch the train. My hotel was about 2 minutes walk from the station so I set off just after 8am and was getting off at Goring station by 8:30. There was a snake of people making their way off the train most of whom where part of the race.  
The weather when I left Reading was a lovely morning but it was starting to rain as I was queuing to get into the hall. I was chatting to James Adams who was getting a lot of attention on his much heralded return to the ultra race scene. 

Breakfast of champions
Check in was smooth with Ian Hammett checking my kit and my number was pinned to my shorts. The hall was packed with people and kit so after a few hellos, I went off to find a cafe. There is an excellent one just over the road from race HQ.I went for a flat white and croissant. The cafe was quite busy so I joined a table of runners including Lorna Spayne who is the custodian of the Bad Boy running merchandise.
It was getting toward 10am so it was time for a the pre-race briefing. It was my 10th race briefing and I could almost give the talk myself now. However there are always a couple of gems. 

Firstly James made a point of telling everyone to hydrate well as it was warm, and a warning that bad weather would be coming at 3am to make the last leg unpleasant. There was the usual hands up for first timer and grandslammers. Then it was "hands up for anyone if it is their 197th 100 mile race". The legendary Sandra Brown put her hand up. She has a 100 mile PB of 19:00:47 and has the women's all time second fastest 1,000 mile time (14 days 10 hours 27 mins 20 secs).

We all made our way down to the start. It was a few hundred metres down the trail compared with previous years to allow for a different turnaround point on leg 1. Soon we were off. It was quite narrow at the start so it was slow progress to begin with. If you are desperate to make a fast start, you are probably best watching the briefing from the back of the hall rather than front row like me as I was near the back of the field.

It is a 100 mile race and losing a minute or two at the start is irrelevant. My first mile as 10:59 compared with 9 something without the crowds. The first two or three miles were slow going but I was happy enough to pace myself. I chatted to a few people around me including Roz Glover and James Adams again. I bumped into Macca who I shared a few of the later miles of the SDW with.

Stuart March photography
First aid station came and went with a top up of tailwind and some jelly babies I think. I seemed to be the only person taking walking breaks but was still making up a few places. 

I made it the turnaround point in just under two hours and pretty much on schedule. More tailwind topped up by Hammy and some jelly babies and I was making my way back. (105th place / 1:59)

I hadn't noticed the following wind on the outbound section and now it was quite a stiff headwind. It was warming up and the later half of this section seemed to drag. I made it back to the start in 4:04 and Goring HQ in 4:10. In 2015 and 2016, I had made it here in under 4 hours. I had probably gone off too fast previously so hopefully this year was better pacing.

I first stopped at the gents at Goring and I was a bit dehydrated already. I need to make sure I upped my drinking. I didn't bother with my drop bag and was out reasonably quickly. I didn't realise this at the time, but our Goring stops were being timed. The timing system has been upgraded with timing chips. My stop was 2:18 helped by Sarah Sawyer F1 style bottle refilling. My Goring stop was 46th fastest and I had made a remarkable 11 positions up while people were faffing about in the village hall. The average time was 8:30 so I had made up 6 minutes here.

Graham Carter photo
I didn't think I was having a great day but I had managed to catch Ken Fancett coming out of Goring. We traded places on the way to North Stoke. Graham Carter and Peter Lemon were amongst those running the aid station. I had a top up on food with a few bits of fruit and some more tailwind. Ken left the aid station a few seconds before me.

Mark Thornberry/ GC Photo
The section to Swyncombe and back is my favourite of the race. I met doubleslammer Maria on this stretch. She was having some stomach troubles but making good progress.

One of the great things about the A100 is that you get to see the entire field including these incredible yellow shorts belonging to Mark Thornberry. Another quick stop at North Stoke and it was the stretch back to HQ. In 2015 I had made it back without using a headtorch but this year I needed it with 2 or 3 miles to go. That year I made it there in 8:47 but this year was 9:20. I had a fairly good pitstop with Sarah Sawyer helping me out. I thought Ironbru would help me out but unfortunately I hadn't opened it in advance so it exploded everywhere. This wouldn't have been so bad if Sarah hadn't kindly opened it for me and refilled my bottles.

Allie Bailey was waiting to pace Dan Barett and she gave me a bit of stick for changing out of my BBR vest. However it absolutely honked after 9 hours of sweaty running.  I was pretty much ready to go when Phil asked to tag along. Having company is particularly great on leg 3. He lent me a USB charger as mine failed so it almost makes up for me missing out on a top 50 time for Goring 2 Exit. I had made up 8 places as my leisurely 9:48 stop (including lovely pasta) was 8 minutes faster than the average of 18:15 and good for 59th fastest stop.

Ken Hughes photo
Ken Hughes photo
Leg 3 is basically 3 hills and the first one is a bit of a plod as witnessed by this action shot. Chain hill was very cool with some disco lights - a rapid stop here with just enough time to grab some of the amazing ginger cake. I had dropped down to 60th place which is one better than when I arrived at Goring.

I missed Lou Fraser at the outbound intermediate aid station but definitely made up for it on the way back with hugs and tea. Shortly after the aid station disaster struck. I had been a bit more adventurous on the food front and ended up decorating the Ridgeway. Maybe Irnbru wasn't such a good idea. I nursed myself back to Goring which was a shame as I was hoping to make the most of the downhills on this section.

Last stop at Goring and I took advantage of the pasta again. I think I caught up with Dave Kind on this stop. In and out in under 10 minutes and back in the top 50 for my stop (average was 17:23). I walked steadily out while Phil caught up. I can't remember when the rain set in for good but it might well have been by now. I had just under 8 hours to get a sub 24 buckle - this wasn't a slam dunk as I had taken 8 hours or longer in 2015 and 2016. The last leg is roughly 25.7 miles - you make up for the slightly short first leg.

My time goals had been somewhat downgraded. My goal now was for leg 4 not be an utter sh!tshow. A lot of time can be gained or lost on this leg. It is flat and really dull. Phil and I kept up a run/walk approach and after an eternity made it to the Welcome to Reading sign. A lot of people get excited by this sign but it is a bit like getting to West London when you have a flight from London Southend. It took another 45 minutes of slogging to get to the turnaround. 

The weather had really set in and it was some of the worst conditions I have ever experienced. Lon Las was probably the worst but had the advantage of being on roads. This was on increasingly boggy paths including a torrent near Tilehurst station. The fact the railway bridge makes it as the highlight of this leg tells it all. Another slog through Pangbourne meadow and it was starting to get light. It was amazing how many people still had their headtorches on full beam in the daylight.

There were a few more people to say hello to including the girls with matching stripy socks, the amazing Sandra Brown, and Dan Park the sweeper. We crossed paths just as I made it Whitchurch. A very quick stop here - I was going for peanut butter and jam wraps which are a good option when the sugar train derails. The last sting in the tail of the A100 is the rollercoaster last section.  Phil wasn't amused by the step section. Maybe if we all chip in, we can get a viaduct built to avoid this bit?

I had the bit between my teeth and sensed a sub 23 time. Some decent jogging (actually 12 minute miles) and I snuck under 23 alongside Phil. I was 33 minutes down on my 2015 time at halfway but had pulled it back to only being less than 20 at the end. Leg 4 was a pretty solid time considering the conditions and my stomach. A good exercise in damage limitation. The crap weather also encouraged me to speed up as more time running meant less time out on the rain.

Joint 66th place out of 235 with my best sections being 25m-37.5m, Goring entry to exit 1, Goring entry to exit 3, and Whitchurch to the finish. Worst was the two digestion impaired running sections between mile 62.5 to 79. 

I am pleased with the result despite my prior expectations. I have finally qualified for UTMB - I needed this race to get my points and I have been unlucky in the past 2 draws. I finished in under 23 hours in a race where a lot of people dropped and most people missed their time expectations. This race was one of those chocolate covered toffees that gets stuck in your teeth and takes longer than you think to finish.

I collected my buckle and t shirt. This was my 10th Centurion finish and my 10th race of 100 miles or more. It was great to sit in the hall afterwards and shake the hands of the newly minted grandslammers. I was in the same place in 2016 and it is great to sit there in the famous red top. There are some pretty special runners who have finished the GS and also some great runners who have failed to get there. 

A goodbye for 2018 to the wonderful team including Nici and Louise who were both looking fabulous, and a finishers photo with Stuart March.

And it was great to have the help and support of the Centurion volunteers.  I only spent 22 minutes in HQ compared with the average of 45 minutes! Sarah and Dave K can definitely take some credit for that as I would probably have missed out on sub 23 otherwise.

Stuart March photography
James Adams post race

Phil still wearing his headtorch

Friday, 28 September 2018

Centurion SDW100 2018 race report

Normally I am fairly quick to write up my race reports but this has been written 3 months late and with a race in between so it might be more historically inspired fiction rather than a detailed factual account. I know I saw someone I knew at every aid station that I recognised and saw a lot of people out on the course.

The South Downs Way 100 is exactly what it says on the tin - a race of approximately 100 miles along the South Downs Way.  I did it back in 2016 as leg 2 of the grand slam and had a good day finishing in 23:12. It was my favourite race of that year and I was looking forward to coming back.

I'm getting better at admin with 100 mile races - although you can't tell that from my pre-race photo. My nutrition plan A was to go down the gels/carb drinks route and I packed accordingly. I had my bag of mandatory kit and I was ready to go. 
There was a bit of a spanner in the pre-race plans. Normally I have a controlled taper with the last day being a bit of walking but nothing much. However today was the "global day of giving" at work. The entire company takes a day off work to do some good in the community. It is a fantastic day with a free gym session with a beer or three in the pub afterwards. However this isn't ideal preparation for a 100 mile race. To make matters worse, our job was changing the bark chippings of the playground at Hackney Park. There were two main tasks - shovelling the bark chips or transporting them in wheel barrows. I went for the wheel barrowing. I logged about 30,000 steps in my 6 hours of hard graft but I thought the shovelling could potentially have done some serious back/hamstring damage. 

We were let off at 4.30pm and I made my way to Winchester on the train. A quick taxi ride to the start and I checked in. I caught up with Graham and Louise on registration and watched the SDW1 - a lovely race for the kids. I had booked the holiday inn which I was convinced was walking distance from the start but it wasn't. I was half-tempted to walk there but ended up chatting to the traffic marshall and grim sweeper from Lon Las and decided this was a bad idea and called a taxi. £5 and 5 minutes later, I was safely checked into the Holiday Inn. It was a busy road and it would have been dangerous.

I was checked in and had the usual pre-race dinner of cheese and onion sandwich, cheese tasters, and can of lager. I watched a programme on the Kennet and Avon Canal (recce for the KACR145?). The next programme was Gardener's World. I deliberately watched it to numb my brain for a good night of sleep and it worked well.
I was up early and had been offered a lift by Bev Navesey as I hope not to walk in the morning. I was chatting to Paul McLeery in reception and we ended up being offered a lift by a fellow racer and her parents. She was pretty handy based on chats about having her kit checked post-race as she had won a prize. I don't know who she was but thanks for the lift!

I had pre-registerd so it was a case of dropping off drop bags and chatting to a few people. Last time, I was here at 3:50am but it was a bit more civilised this time. I caught with Paul Pickford and Tracey Centurionoholic Watson as they reported back on the massive stones that were in Phil Bradburn's trainers for the GUCR.

I also had a chat with the lovely Allie Bailey from the Bad Boy Running podcast. She takes her pre-race nutrition almost as seriously as I do.

The race starts with a lap of the field before heading off a bit later along the SDW. I saw Marco at the start - and quite a few others. I deliberately set off slowly. A lot people came past breathing remarkably hard for the start of a 100 mile race. I bumped into Frank who I work on the same street as. We had a catch up and compared notes on our races of the last year. Frank was having a few stomach problems with the heat so was going a bit slower than normal and I was happy to keep pace with him. 

We stopped losing places at about 5 miles and started to reel people in. First aid station was about 10 miles in and I got there in 1:40 so nice 10 minute miles. Despite this, I was in 142nd place... The Grim sweeper was on duty, and I was back on my way. A bit of melon and a top up of water and tailwind and I was on my way. The weather was really warming up. 

I had been consistently averaging 10 minute miles but I was hammering the downs but walking the ups (with little jogging breakings). I managed a section of 6 minute/mile on the way down Butser Hill which was great to loosen the legs and save the quads.

I picked up a few more places before coming into the QECP. Marco was on volunteer duties and he helped me on my way after a very quick chat. The heat was picking up so the shaded climb here was lovely. I had 4 hours as par for  a sub 24. I was about 5 minutes inside this so roughly on 23:30 pace but feeling well. I was here in 4:00 in 2016.

It is a quick section to Harting Down where Graham was on duties. 
Another hill and descent and it was Cocking aid station. There were lots of crews parked up and I had quick chat with Max and a few other people as I walked into the aid station. Sam Robson who finished sub 20 and 3 hours ahead of me at the 2016 was sat and struggling. It didn't look good for his race but he gutted it out (pun intended) for a sub 24. There was a tap after you leave the aid station and I took the opportunity to soak my head in the lovely cold water. I was here in 6:21:46 which was 4 seconds slower than 6:21:42 of 2016. Consistent....

I was up to 79th place - up from 142nd after 10 miles. It was getting really toasty and there was about 15 seconds of rain - it was quite humid at times. I shared some miles with various people - Paul PT was having a tough day when I came past him on one of the hills and I chatted with Paul Haynes and Henry and a few others.

Bignor Hill was Janette and Joe but it was a far from Janet and John style experience. Joe always seems to get mentioned post-race and would give you the shirt of his back if he thought it would help you finish the race (he has given away socks before). Joe was the Irish bloke wearing a kilt. A hug from Janette (I must have stank by this stage) and I was getting towards halfway. I was still on the sugar train with Tailwind and gels being complemented by biscuits and fruit.

Kithurst Hill was halfway and I was well under 10 hours (par for 24). Ian Lang was on duty and is easily recognisable by his GS100 tattoo on his chest. It was quite a warm day so I will let you off the clear volunteer uniform violation.

Onwards to the first drop bag at Washington. I caught up with the lovely Tim Cox and sadly saw Tom Sawyer call it a day here. It was a fairly quick change here. Clean clothes, chargers, headtorches etc. I had carried two headtorches with me from the start but switched to the big dog. I stopped for two bowls of lovely pasta and possibly a welsh cake or two.  The wonderful Louise Ayling was on the aid station if I remember correctly. I got here in 10:19 - about 10 minutes up on 2016.

It was a bit of a plod out of the aid station. I had been a bit greedy and was going to be digesting for an hour or two. I don't know if it was a good thing to take a break from the sugar train but I was going to have to take it easy for a bit.

I can't remember too much apart from the aid stations. Botolphs is a lay-by on a busy road and gets a mention in Vassos's book. Tim was here again and a quick chat and on my way up a very slow grind of a hill.

I met quite a few people out and about between Washington and the windmills. It is now 3 months ago that I'm writing things up. Simon Best was out supporting and I'm sure I gave Russell Banks an FYB! on this stretch. There was also some Gurkhas out training. They were running in a group and came past wearing just shorts. I moved out of the way assuming they would be flying but they were only a bit quicker. I managed to hold on to the back of the group and overtook one of them just before they stopped for some watermelon. This was a nice mental boost as I had 12 hours of running in my legs.

All of the aid stations are amazing but Saddlecombe is outstanding. They had espresso chocolate ball things which were superb. They have kept up the devil's aid station theme as the are 66.6 miles in. I filled my doggie bag with some extras for the road. In 2016, there was an aid station just a few miles from here but the windmills were being restored so it would be 10 miles to Housedean farm.
As always, it is a challenge to see how far I can get before needing to use a headtorch. Light was fading but it was a clear sky and I managed to get to Housedean aid station and the 76th mile before I need to use it. I had a quick drop bag stop here and had a quick chat with James Moore who I met at the Riddlesdown park run. This is in the shed of a farm and fairly basic but it reduces the risk of extended faffing. 

It is a long slog out of this aid station and it was almost dark now. At least I only had less than a marathon to go now. It was about 11:30pm by the time I arrived at Housedean. I made a lame joke about having to cross the bridge - it must get dull for the volunteers when the 200th runner comes through.

I only had 16 miles to go now and it was still Saturday. I gave myself the chance to have a lovely cup of tea made by Phil Bradburn. We had the briefest of chats about his recent GUCR finish and I was on my way. It is a really really long slog out this aid station. These aren't alpine ascents but a 175 metre high climb grinds on for a while. I bumped into Lee-Stuart Evans here. He was here to pace Allie Bailey and was lurking on the climb. It helped to pass the time as we spoke about his adventures on the Monarch's way which he had recently completed. The 600 and something mile Monarch's Way crosses the SDW near the start. He headed back down towards the aid station and I headed up into the hills.

I had a headlight which was rapidly gaining on me as I went up the hill. It was a single head torch so might have been a pacer trying to catch up to their runner. As the bright headtorch pulled alongside, it was a cyclist. In my head I said "cheating f***ing cyclist" except I didn't say it my head. Fortunately the mountain biker saw the funny side of it and we had a chat going up the hill. He had cycled from his home in Guildford that morning and had planned to stop a few hours earlier but had got caught up following the race. He got to the top of the climb and decided it was time for a kip so got his tent out and stopped for the night. I only had about 15 miles to go until my sleep time.

The next section was really tough in 2016. The sea fog had come in and navigation was tricky. However this year, the fog didn't come and it was fairly plain sailing to Alfriston. I took a somewhat extended stop here (still only 5 minutes or so) and had a quick chat with Drew and possibly Zoe? My crappy Petzl battery gave up the ghost here - it had managed about 2-3 hours or so. I should have changed to regular batteries but I just used my back-up torch.

It is quite a dispiriting climb out of Alfriston which went on for a good half hour. I traded places with a few people but generally I was one of the slowest coming through this section. I had a quick chat with Macca - he reckoned we were on for 21:40 which seemed to good to be true.

I skipped the Jevington aid station - I had a bit of drink and a gel or two so figured I would save the time and disruption to my rhythm. Up the final climb and I saw the trig point. It was still absolutely pitch black at this point. It had been dawn in 2016. A quick hello to the marshalls and time to get ready for "death gully". Judging by my watch, I might sneak under 22 hours.

The descent of "death gully" was quite amusing. I had picked up Henry Church and has pacer son on this section. They were absolutely flying down it. They had also gained an orphaned pacer who's runner had dropped. To add to the fun, the pacer didn't have a working headtorch so we were hacking it down a relatively sketchy bit of trail with 3 headtorches between 4 and mine wasn't the best.

Henry dropped me and the orphaned pacer so we made our way down with me lighting the way. This was a lot more fun than blister blighted hobble of 2016. I made it through to the road with almost all of it running. It was all a bit much for my stomach but the sugar train had last 98 miles. I got overtaken by someone as I was bent double which was annoying.

Last mile or so was through the outskirts of Eastbourne and I could see the glow of the stadium. Sub 22 was definitely happening and I might even a friend's time of 21:55 last year which I had been very impressed by. I had watched the video of the finish a few times but this time it was in the dark. Eventually the track emerged. I had a goal of finishing a Centurion 100 wearing a headtorch and I had done it. It is a stupid goal but normally when you look through the finish photos, it is all the good runners finishing in the dark (apart from the really really good runners who finish in daylight).

Once round the track and I collected my buckle and the celebratory press ups. I was done and dusted in 21:41 - a massive PB on a tough course. 
It was strange at the finish - normally it is packed with runners but the showers were empty and the place was quiet. I was 51st over the line and not too many people. The shower was really warm - normally it is getting cold by the time I cross the line.

I had a slight flaw with getting home - I had expected to finish and get the first train home but that didn't arrive so I got to lounge around for a few hours. I had tried to snooze in a corridor but I was still buzzing and my body was still confused. I had finished at 3:41am which is still the middle of the night. I caught up with Tim and Hammy and cheered a few more finishers over the line. #

I got a taxi to the station and picked up a cheese pasta salad for breakfast and bottle of fizzy water and made it home for just after 8am. 

A very good result - I am in the Western States draw again and just need one more race finish to get auto entry for UTMB. It had also gone as well as any 100 miler and I had been consistently running the flats and downhills all the way to the finish. James and the volunteers really make the race and while my Welsh experience from last year shows I can run 100 miles without the support, it is a hell of a lot more fun and quicker with the help of the Centurion army....