Saturday, 7 November 2015

Things I have eaten and drank during races this year

After watching Michael Arnstein's film of running the WSER on just raw fruit and veg , it made me think about what I had eaten and drank while running races this year. Only things consumed between gun and finish line count. Needless to say I am not a fruitarian and don't eat like this normally! This was over the course of 226.2 miles of running in the Centurion TP100, A100 and the Vanguard Way marathon.

My strategy with racing has been to grab things quickly in aid stations and start walking with a few things in my hand. This has led to some poor food choices. However I maintain the combo of Maryland cookie, pork pie and coke being the holy trinity of fast medium and slow release foods. I grabbed these at mile 30 of TP100 and viewed it as a stroke of genius.

This is almost certainly not a complete list....

Tea with milk
Coffee with milk
High 5zero tabs with water
High5 carb drinks
High5 gels (first choice for gels)
GU chomps (like wine gums - not bad)
GU gels (salted caramel good but a bit gooey)
Clif bars (blueberry crisp and choc chip)
Jelly babies
Plain crisps
Cheese sandwich
Ham sandwich
Tunnoch Caramel
Ginger and chilli chocolate (that was a surprise after 79 miles)
Cherry tomatoes
Pom bear crisps
Mini scotch eggs
Sausage rolls
Pork pie
Pasta bolognese
Chilli con carne
Pasta soup
Maryland cookie (great ultra food)
Whole boiled egg
Vegetable soup
Peanut butter wrap
Gin drizzle cake (thanks Sarah Barker)
Mars bar

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

How to run 100 miles in a day*

 Or how to run a race and not get lapped by the sun

 Things that are essential to do in the 6 months before you race

- You should be running at least 50 miles a week (lots of 200+ months)
- You need to a follow a training plan
- Pacers and a crew are essential. Use this time to get at least one pacer and ideally at least two crew members
- Don't even think about signing up for the race if you have never run more than 50 miles
- Back to back runs are essential. Ideally you should be aiming for a 50mile / 50 mile weekend and plenty of 35 / 15s if you want to finish, let alone break 24 hours.

I did none of these  in the 6 months before the Centurion TP100

Things I did in the 6 months before 

Started well with a 183 miles in December with bonus miles due to London Bridge being shut so lots of extra commuter running miles.
January - mile 123 of the month was when things went wrong. I slipped trying to turn and run up some steps next to Blackfriars station and fell. Nothing too serious but bent back fingers. I got to work, showered and carried on with my day. A couple of hours later it didn't seem right so went to Guy's hospital urgent care unit. Turns out I had broken my 4 and 5th metacarpal bones in my left hand and required surgery. 14 weeks to go until the start of the TP100.

If you can't run then walk

My normal day involves a lunchtime run so instead I headed out with my arm in a cast and speed walked up and down the Thames with my one arm in a cast and my Garmin on the other one. Two weeks later I was up to 15- 20 mile walking weeks and also the slowest person on Strava. Good miles were sub 14 or so even with tourists on the South bank to avoid. Now if could do another 99 of those I could do a sub 24 hours for 100 miles...

Back in training

After two weeks, I had the big cast taken off and a smaller one put on. I asked the physio about running and he said it would be fine as long as I didn't get the cast and scar wet. Running lunchtimes back on with hand in a cast and the cast in a plastic bag just in case it started to rain. Proper running resumes with a 21 mile week. 10 weeks to go now

Back in proper training

Next 8 weeks was steady training with the three longest runs being two 30 mile runs on the Thames to Richmond and back plus a 28 mile run on the NDW. Now time to taper

Start line -  Zero days to go

So now I am on the start line Aaveraged 30 miles a week for the previous 6 months with a long of 30 miles. Longest run of my life was the Centurion NDW50 (9:58 - see report a bit further down). Surely this had DNF written all over it as I looked at everyone else with their Ultimate direction backpacks and purpose bought drop bags (some people have a strange idea of what "shoe box" size is) at registration. Everyone was talking through plans with their crew and arranging when to meet their pacers.

About 23 hours later

I was arriving across the finish line in 79th place with a shiny "100 miles in a day" Centurion buckle. Miracles do happen.

 So what is my advice?

Clearly I'm not going to recommend breaking your hand in training but there are a few other things which helped me get into the 100 miles in a day club.

There is no shame in walking

There are over a 1,000 members of the Brotherhood of Centurions 1911 and the world record for walking 100 miles is 16:31:38 which would be a very competitive running time. I made sure I put lots of walking breaks in the first 50 miles and most of the last 50 miles was walking. The average pace for a sub 24 100 is about 14 min/mile after allowing for some quick aid station stops. It was very late in the race when my walking / running dropped below this pace despite a lot of walking

Get through aid stations quickly

A typical Centurion race will have to 12-15 aid stations with amazing food and even more amazing volunteers. If you spend 15 minutes in each having a lovely cup of tea while talking to the man dressed as a chicken, you have lost 3-4 hours which is a lot of running to make up. A quick bottle top up, grab some food, make sure you say thanks and be on your way. I always try to get moving quickly but at walking pace to allow my body to digest food. My first few ultras I used a camelbak style bladder but switched to bottles as it is much easier to refill at aid stations. People will also help fill bottles but less willing to do camelbaks. The screw top of the camelbak is easy to cross thread and a lot more complicated than a bottle.


Speak to other runners

 It helps pass the time and it is great to find out what other people are up to. It takes your mind off the pain and reduces the risk of getting lost as you have an extra pair of eyes. You might find yourself talking to someone who answered you question about which watch / bag / jacket / shoes / socks / .. you should be using.


Mix up training

I had a January goal of a sub 20 minute 5k and sub 90 half marathon. This mixed things up and meant that I had a block of speed work and fitness before starting the slower ultra style high mileage slow weeks. Unfortunately my broken hand stopped things. The broken hand may have been a blessing in disguise as taking two weeks off helped me to recover (no harm having some time off)

Pick up a flattish race with good aid stations

Sub 24 will get you on the podium for Hardrock 100 so not all 100s are equal. The Centurion Thames Path 100 is a fast race on paper but being almost totally flat can lead to you going off too quickly whereas a few hills help to break things up. The T100 is a self supported race so will clearly be trickier as you have to carry you food with you. If you are going without a crew or pacers, I can highly recommend the Centurion races as they have the biggest fields so lots of company for the nighttime and lots of choice for food.


Read blogs and books

It helps to read about running. Puts running 100 miles into context.

- Blogs about the race and similar races
Good to know what to expect. Many Centurion blogs out there plus others on Ultrarunning community. I will put a list of my favourites on here shortly.
- Training books
Helps you avoid stupid mistakes. Hal Koerner's one is good.
- Crazy people books
It helps to normalise running 100 miles if you read about someone running across America (James Adams /Marshall Ullrich), Marshall Ullrich's Badwater Quad, Scott Jurek winning WSER on a diet of mung beans and carrots etc.  Also worth watching the "fruitarian" run the WSER only eating raw fruit and veg (lesson - don't eat avocado and dates while running)


And finally...

The 76th mile is the hardest. Staying up all night watching a boxset or playing poker gets tiring so trying to stay up all night having run 50+ miles is always going to be tricky. Be prepared for lots of walking and a bit of questioning you sanity but soon enough the sun will come up, your pace will improve and a shiny buckle will be waiting for you shortly.

* I am a pretty good but not amazing runner so a lot of these things will apply if you are chasing a sub 20 finish or 29:59:59. However the sub 24 title sounds better...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Centurion A100

The Centurion race series is often called a family. As a runner it is a chance to spend 24 hours or so being looked after by aunties and your nan with the odd crazy uncle to keep things interesting. The A100 is the last leg of the Centurion grandslam and my second Centurion 100 of the year.

The A100 is 4 out and back legs with two flat Thames legs either side of 50 miles on the Ridgeway. It is known for people setting off too quickly and I would be no different. This was somewhat planned as I wanted to get some miles done before darkness set in.

Registration and the start

This was the usual Centurion precision machine with a quick kit check and number collection. I stayed in the Goring YHA which I can recommend so I was able to stay in bed late before a gentle walk to register and on to the start line. Sam Robson was behind me - another tick on the blog roll spotters list.

Leg 1

I ended up at the front at the start. This was more by accident as I happened to be stood at the start line. I spent the last few minutes before the start chatting to Paul Russhard who is a friend of a work colleague and was easy to spot as he chose a bear onesie to run in. Suddenly it was time to run.
I remember this as mile after mile of dark wet fields from the TP100 but in the daytime on a dry day, it was much nicer. The front of the field disappeared out of sight and it would only be a matter of time until they were speeding back towards us. After 10 miles or so the front runners were coming back towards us. It makes this race unique. The front runners hit the turn at close to 90 minute half marathon pace which is ludicrous for a 100 mile race. I reached the turn in about 1:55 which was a bit keen. It was definitely at the thick end of the field with at least 50 ahead of me at this point but was nice to turn and see at least 50 coming the other way.

The rest of the leg was fairly uneventful. I felt very good and decided to skip the walking breaks to keep the pace up until dark. Back to base in a scary fast 3:56 - almost sub 4 hour marathon pace. A quick grab of some food and bottle top up and I was on my way up the Ridgeway. I saw James Adams on the bridge and complemented him on his book(a good read) and another tick on the blog roll of honour.

Leg 2

The first 4 miles disappeared quickly and North Stoke appeared. A quick bottle top up and cheeky coke and I was almost on my way. I then knocked over a cup or two of coke which I tried to apologise for before heading up the road. I had a quick chat with Rich Cranswick in the chicken suit and I was on my way. I finished the TP100 just ahead of him but not sure the clown suit had helped him that day.
After  a couple more miles, the Ridgeway proper started and the first hills of the day. I shared a few miles with Sarah Sawyer and Paul the beard. It was good to hear about his Spartathlon experience - maybe one day... The hills forced walking breaks which were much needed. I caught up with with Rich Stewart and we formed a small group to get through Grim's ditch. At this point James Elson flew past grinning like a loon. That settled the debate on who would win. It was a while before the next runners came past.

After a couple of false starts, I eventually found the right field to do my bird impression (thanks Stuart March)

A couple fields and a lovely Golf course later and 37.5 miles was up. Then came the chance to see the people behind us. A few more bloggers ticked off plus I got to shout some support to runner 78. An epic story behind his Grandslam buckle. The most memorable part was kicking a root which resulted in cramp  in my groin which luckily went away quickly. Soon enough I was back at North Stoke and tried to apologise again for spilling my drink and manage to mess up putting the top on my bottle and spilt more drink on the floor. My number of 180 which I had been shouting bullseye style all day was now more like a bull in a china shop. 
Now it was a race  against the sun. I was getting dark but I really wanted to get to halfway before the head torch came out. The sun beat me but the lights of G&S got me home. Halfway in 8:47 which isn't bad for 50 miles. At this point I saw Rich Stewart tucking into a McDonald's - each to their own. 50 down 50 to go. I take 58 to be halfway by time. Also my 10/24 for 50 miles rule meant that I was on for 21:XX pace.

Leg 3

This was a beast with a massive hill which went on for miles. Before long James was speeding past us and plenty more coming past. This seemed to go on for ever before we emerged into a world of headlights. The cheers from other runners were getting less as fatigue kicked in. You could spot the pacers as they were chatty and keen to talk. The runners could just about grunt. 62.5 miles up in sub 12 hours at halfway. I have limited memories of the next 12.5 miles except there didn't seem payback for the climbing on the way out. Back to base in just over 15 hours just before second place arrived. James Elson was home well before that. Quick refuel and out again

Last leg

I got the first 4 miles out of the way to Witchurch ok and then it crashed from there. It took a while to get to the Welcome to Reading sign and the 4 miles from there were horrendous. It reminded me of the night section of the TP where you keep hoping the CP is round the corner and it never comes. It was mainly walking now and sub 22 finish unlikely. I got a lift seeing my "4 park runs to go" sign on the steps. Some gin cake and I was almost ready to go. My running buddy Ben who I had shared the previous 87.5 miles wasn't. He was out on the floor with exhaustion as weeks of nights with a teething baby caught up with him. I abandoned him in the hands of Sarah Barker who fed him cake but it wasn't enough to stop him refusing to continue.

I buddied up with Daniel Youds and Claire before getting dropped after Reading West station as I couldn't keep pace with 15 min mile walking. Pace dropped to nearly 20 miles as the sun came up. Everything hurt at this point but I was almost there. I got a lovely surprise as my friend Dom met me by the Bridge with a Mars Bar and we walked into the last CP. I had a nice chat with a volunteer coming up the road to the CP and realised how ruined I was and I suspect I didn't make any sense. A quick chat with Donna Bullock and off. Just 1.5 park runs to go before the pain would stop. The 180 thing had definitely worn off now.

My ankle was in a bad way and had to walk one legged and literally drag my leg up the super steep bit (you

know if you have done the TP100 or A100). I had a lot of people go past over the previous miles and had a chat with a pacer about how long I had left. I thought it would be about 70 minutes and she reckoned 50. At this point I figured I might as well run so the pain would stop sooner. It started as short bursts but I got finish line fever and started running. I retook a few people over the last mile or two and almost sprint finished. I look back at Garmin afterwards suggests the "sprint" was actually a 12 minute mile - it is all relative. Soon enough the sound of the Goring weir grew louder and the finish was upon me. Time for a final "one hundred and eiiigggghhhhtttyyyy!!!!" and the medal was mine.

Final finish time was 22:40:36 for 22 minute pb. I would love to have cracked 22:30 for Sparta qualification but I don't think I am ready for that yet (is anyone?). Mentally it was a lot better race than the TP100 were I struggled the last 40 miles. That was a race where I really questioned why I was doing a 100 whereas this time it was only the bit in and around Reading where I questioned my sanity.

It would have been great to hold onto the first 70 miles form and pace for the last 30 miles but I guess that is the lure of the 100 miles race...

Thanks again for Centurion team and 73(!) volunteers for putting on a great race and see you again next year. It was great to chat with James Elson who was still chatting to everyone after the race. Now to time to start planning for 30th April in Richmond...

Leg 4


Monday, 10 August 2015

NDW100 - Just as a spectator

I was hoping to run but it was deemed too close to a transatlantic trip to the in-laws. In hindsight probably the right call. The trail goes a few miles from my house so I thought I would take my daughter to get her first taste of ultras. I did the TP100 in May so she was excited to watch a race. The day belongs to the runners, volunteers, crews and pacers but hopefully having a few cheers from me and my excitable 6 year old daughter with pink hair helped your day. I was planning some live blogging in the style of but was foiled by poor reception and a flat iPhone battery. I got the first 30 or so runners on film but cheered through to about 80th place before heading home.

Congratulations to the finishers, and better luck next time for the DNFers - always better than a DNS or DQ... I watched the live feed on Sunday morning and was pleased to follow the finishers and very sad to see a grandslam dream or two fall short.

If you want copies of the photos, drop me a line and feel free to use on any blogs. I am signed up to the A100 so hope to see some of you there...