North Down Way 100 Mile Race Report
So it all started way back in October 2018 just after an exciting PB at the Great Brugge Marathon. Speaking with current men’s captain Chris Brenchley he told me I could run faster so I thought why not go for it. Then after a couple of months of not getting any quicker I realised that it was going to take a lot of training to go faster so wanted a gentler option – further was clearly a better option than faster.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve, a decent bottle of Rioja and another Mark Ashmore challenge (for some reason I always seem to listen to him) I entered the North Downs’ Way 100 Mile race. ‘How hard can it be’ I thought – just a few back to back training runs then running two 50 milers. Surely it will be fine. Then when sobriety kicked in and I started looking at training plans I realised just how hard and time consuming it was going to be.
Fast forward again – this time to early August – 1312 lonely training miles and very little sleep later and I found myself heading to Farnham with a huge amount of kit, the cricket on the radio and the Fosters in the driving seat. I was now much wiser than I had been on New Year’s Eve and was slightly daunted by the prospect of what lay ahead. The first test was passing the mandatory kit check which luckily went well although I got a few looks at the size of the bag I was carrying (I like a lot of food on a long run) – however I now had a number and there was no way out.
One pasta dinner and early night later (I even managed a whole 6 hours sleep which is unheard of pre-race) I found myself standing in a sports hall with Mark and Sharon feeling more nervous than I expected listening to the various last minute instructions (basically saying don’t do anything stupid and don’t die). The walk to the start was most notable for the first of many pieces of advice from Sharon and this was the most pertinent – ‘Don’t be sh*t Pete’. It stuck with me for the next 29 hours (and 3 minutes).
And so the race started. I still had no real idea of how to complete it so thought I’d just start running and see what happened. For the first 30 or so miles this worked fairly effectively. The terrain was somewhat bumpy but there were some highlights – stepping stones, Box Hill, early morning sun lighting the fields, the awesome Fosters, and also some lowlights – having to make like a bear more often than hoped which was the only time I even contemplated pulling out. Watching other runners tactics during the early phases was kind of interesting with various run/walk to constant plod to going off at one pace options on show with me somewhere in between. Then a quick stop for food and with sandwiches, crisps and soup (along with an ice lolly) rolling around I pottered on. The aim was to get to the 50 mile point in under 12 hours to leave as long as possible before the tight 30 hour cut off to walk run the second half. So through the woods, along the roads and up and over the hills I pushed it to a pb for 50 miles and ended up sitting at Knockhoult Pound eating slow cookered spag bol 11 and a half hours in with Mark and Sharon changing my T-Shirt.
A highlight at this point was to see the rest of the family who had come up to lend some support and as they ran with me out of the checkpoint we realised to much amusement that Sharon (G this time rather than F) could now officially be classed as a 100 mile pacer.
Now the race started to get a bit tough. I was expecting to be fine until 50 miles then be relatively OK to 60 then probably fall apart a bit and I followed that plan fairly successfully. 50 to 60 was a slow walk with occasional jogging as the dusk started to settle in. The hills seemed steeper, there were fewer people to talk to and everything started hurting just that bit more. By the time the 60 mile checkpoint appeared it was headtorch weather so I sat outside and ate a shortbread whilst Mark and Sharon performed their magic again with tea, mints and various other useful bits and pieces. I found out afterwards that sitting outside by the car was the best choice I made as this is where the highest number of drop outs were – inside the nice warm cricket club with food and drink on hand.
So onto the dreaded night section. I hadn’t done much night running before and had been warned about this by all the best ultra runners (Messrs Wild, Foster and Hunt) with their message being ‘just keep going because it does eventually get light.’ As I plodded off up the annoyingly steep hill section out of the checkpoint I thought of this advice and also reminded myself not to be sh*t as Bob had run 10 times this distance not long ago so what was I worrying about. However the demons started kicking in as the darkness grew. There was still a long way to go and I kept tripping over and my knee was not faring brilliantly. I was paranoid about missing turnings and often turned briefly back only to find that I was going the right way and getting annoyed. I started hallucinating (a crocodile and three people who didn’t exist). All in all by the time I got to 70 miles having walked a large portion of the last 10 miles I was decidedly not at my best. Luckily I had a Mark Foster to jump in and run with me at this point. I really needed someone just to be positive and keep me moving which he was perfect at.
So onwards over the Medway bridge and to Bluebell Hill. ‘Don’t worry’ said Mark, ‘we are starting at the top so it can’t be much of a climb’. About an hour later and still climbing I started to think he may have been mistaken. But the pain was really hitting me now. I was limping along trying to run a bit whilst not tripping. My language was deteriorating in direct proportion to my speed decrease but we made it off the various hills (I think the downs were harder than the ups at this point) and over to the last crew point at Detling 82 miles in. This was where I had my major wobble. Things hurt and I couldn’t bend my leg. Luckily Sharon managed to get spag bol, ibuprofen and shortbread down me whilst simultaneously applying a knee support and helping me stand up. As I hobbled off with walking poles to the fore and Sharon’s final hollering of ‘Don’t be sh*t Pete’ ringing in my ears the sun started to come up and suddenly things seemed more positive.
However time was ticking on and Mark was pushing me to keep every mile at around 18 minutes (yes 18 minutes) which with the hills was harder than I thought but we plodded along and even overtook a few people. It was at this point that I had the most surreal experience – I started falling asleep while running. I would suddenly veer over to the side of the path and not work out how I’d got there. It was the freakiest thing I’ve experienced while running but luckily the 90 mile checkpoint hove into view exactly when I needed it. I sat down and got caffeine and sugar in and was given a pep talk by Steve Hobbs who had completed the Lakeland 100 in 23 hours a few weeks before and was now volunteering at the checkpoint to help lesser runners like me get through to the end.
There was now only one more checkpoint and despite feeling generally rubbish we started out with a run and on to the 99 mile point. Except that it never seemed to appear. On and on we ran and walked but the checkpoint never got nearer. Past stricken runners (who we got moving with S-Caps) and up hill and down dale we went until about to give up on the checkpoint as a myth it appeared. There were now only 4 miles to go and nothing could stop us. I hadn’t appreciated up to this point just how much Mark had got me through but now we could actually start to enjoy it. So we ran. Yes ran. The last 4 miles was run all the way with mile 104 being an 11 minuter. We literally (well not literally) flew past runners who were on the march and suddenly the finish was in sight. With one final lap of the track (where my dad also amazingly became an official pacer) with the boys I was across the line at a veritable sprint and could finally sit down with a bacon sandwich.
So that was that – I can now tick off 100 miles on my list and can concentrate on bimbling round marathons for a while (Northern Ireland anyone??). The attempt to walk to the car at the end and stairs for the next few days were amusing to watch but other than that and a blister the size of my heel I came through pretty much unscathed. Definitely recommended to all TRACcies. Go on – give it a go. Just make sure you have a crew as good as mine – oh wait you can’t because mine were the best.