Guest post by my mate Bill who accompanied me on first 100km ultra.
The night before the race I had driven home from work to my house, packed, eaten a bowl of pasta, picked up Joe and headed from Norwich to my brother’s house near Oxford. We arrived at about 10 pm and hit the hay shortly afterwards.
We woke at 6 on the Saturday, “borrowed” my brother’s coffee and muesli, and then set off for Chinnor. Joe’s sat nav got us there by about 7:15. The start point was awash with lycra-clad runners and stout-booted walkers. We registered, loaded bags, fitted timing chips, filled water containers, tucked laces and nervously fiddled gear, while overhead, like vultures eying an army preparing for bloody war, red kites circled. We were ushered to the start line with 300 other runners. A brief talk, then off we set. It was cool to start with, but the piercing blue sky and bright sun spoke of trouble ahead. As did forecasts of 29°c or 30°c for early afternoon.
Hills appeared quickly. We started with a ‘run except for the steep bits’ policy. After 6 miles we had the first checkpoint. The pit stop was an annoying 400 metres extra away from the route, which I whinged about. It provided water and some not very nutritious snacks – sandwiches, crisps. I went the flapjack route. Then on we went – through cool shady woodland and already warm rolling fields. We went along the Thames at Goring, past water meadows and grand riverside houses. Rowers sculled past. A swim in that water looked mighty tempting. Joe was struggling with the heat badly. I worried about catching the bus at the end of the race, so I nobly left him to run his own race and ran on ahead. At the next pit stop I waited about 30 minutes in a steamy village hall to see him come in, then headed off on my own again. The route went onto the chalk spine of the Ridgeway, then into villages. I was taking it steadily. I ran alongside a guy called Mike for a bit. He was a car finance salesman. The company helped the miles pass. I saw girls on horseback and thought of my girlfriend’s mum, who grew up riding horses along the Ridgeway. I saw pyramidal orchids, and heard corn buntings in the fields. But the Ridgeway provided no cover now, and its chalk seam only intensified the reflecting heat of the sun. The air grew thick, still and heavy. It was getting tough by 1 pm. People started to drop out.
At the half way stage, I stopped for a regroup and for lunch. As I arrived a bloke with a sponge and a bucket of water apologised. I asked why. He then drenched me head to foot in icy water. Shocking. And refreshing.
My suntan spray stopped working at this halfway point – it had run out. I blagged some from car insurance salesman Mike, who arrived after me and promptly dropped out. I chatted to a guy who had been in the leading group and then dropped out. I stayed for about 40 minutes; I figured that it was not a day to worry about times or positions. I saw Joe arrive, and then set off on my own again.
On I went, suffering a weird mild allergic reaction to some (very tasty) chocolate brownies. I ran along with various people. And walked too. More and more people were walking. In this furnace, it was a battle to keep body temperatures down and salt and fluid levels up. I was drinking about 2 litres of water between pit stops out of the camelback, and drinking another litre or so at the stops. Hills seemed to go up, but with no corresponding down. At the next stop, 2 people were being treated by paramedics. One was on a drip and being carted to hospital. I ran past a guy who had collapsed – luckily near a pit stop, where I found people to help.
I ran with a guy wearing a Marathon Des Sables t-shirt and he wasn’t finding it easy. At one checkpoint I added salt and sugar to my drink. But the pit stops had long gaps between them. The scenery was beautiful – rolling hills and ancient landmarks in colours of clean white chalk, blue sky, yellow sun and green hill. But I was wishing the sun away. “Come on cool evening” I thought, as I trotted steadily. Finally, it did cool – at about 8pm, though my Garmin watch had long since run out of juice – hadn’t we all…
I rang my girlfriend from some of the pit stops – I told myself it was to let her know I was OK, though I suspect it was more about hearing her voice on the long parts of the journey I was on my own.
At 9:30 I had 19km to go. I texted my girlfriend – or so I thought. I actually texted some mates down the pub, who replied in hilarious fashion.
On I went. At the last pit stop with 11km to go I couldn’t find my head torch. I teamed up with 2 blokes and a couple of army girls. I found the head torch in my camelback. We were walking it in. Sensible and safe in the dark. No twisted ankles. We heard someone running past.
Flippin’ heck – it was Joe. We ran off from the band I had been walking with. Slow miles ticked by. It was pitch black and our breath steamed in the cooling air. A downhill stretch took us off the Ridgeway and towards Avebury Village. It seemed close. But it was further than we thought. We were directed towards the Stones. Joe’s watch told us we were at 63 miles travelled. But the route through the dark prehistoric stones of Avebury kept on going. We looped back. The watch beeped 64 miles. Then a distant torch flashed. Applause broke out. The shape of the finish line. Arms raised. Photo flashes. Cheering. A brief video interview. I was told off for swearing. And we were done. 100km run in the hottest conditions in Britain for 7 years. By Joes watch it was about 104km.
Joe’s temperature was struggling. I went to get a pasty and a cup of tea and when I returned he was being attended by medics. I fetched him hot food and a cup of tea and he got wrapped up and recovered. We had arrived at Avebury base camp at about ten past midnight after a 16 hour journey – much slowed by heat. There were still hundreds on the trail. We were in the top 100 – nothing to be ashamed of.
I slept in my sleeping bag on the barn floor for an hour and a half, before being woken at 2am for the bus (cost £25) at 2 am to return us to Chinnor car park (cost £10).
After they filled up the minibus, we set off into the dark. I fell asleep, but awoke busting for a pee. According to Joe we were halfway through the 2 hour journey. I held on for ages. Hmmm. This was bad. Eventually I quietly unfettered the old chap and peed into an empty drinks bottle as carefully and quietly as I could. Nobody, including the girl in the seat behind, appeared to notice.
We arrived in dawn light at about 5 at Chinnor. Joe and I discussed our options. We decided to head straight for Norwich. I was very tired so I insisted Joe stayed awake. Off we went on empty Sunday roads, as the sun reappeared and began to pour its heat onto a new day. Up the M40 we went. Joe started to nod off. I switched on the radio and chatted to him – without him awake I thought it would be too dangerous to drive.
Once again I was stuck by a massive urge to pee. We pulled into services, but I couldn’t make it to the loo so I peed in some bushes outside, while a police car cruised past.
Much relieved, we went and drank large coffees. Joe disappeared and came back looking smug as he waddled towards me (leg cramp and blisters were increasing along with the fatigue). “Rub this on your nether regions – its great” he said, shockingly loudly, while plonking a large tub on the table emblazoned with the title “Bottom Butter”. It was for nappy rash. I went to the loo and applied it to my chaffed bum. It was actually a super thing – very soothing and it immediately fixed the problem.
Coffee drunk and bottoms soothed we headed off again. We got to the A11, stopped to get cans of coke then motored on. We finally got back to Norwich at about 8am. Ready to sleep then go back to work the next day. And move house the day after.
My gear had held up well on the whole. The New Balance Minimus shoes had coped with the terrain well though the heat swelling my feet had caused some blistering. The camelback had done well as both water storage and pocket for bits. A cheap legionnaire’s hat had been too heavy for the day. The Petzl head torch worked well once I found it. A pair of cheap football shorts, a t-shirt from the Dukeries 40, some Nike sweatbands (an extravagant £7) and Slazenger sport socks all worked well. I didn’t find suitable easy to take salt additives that worked, though the not palatable solution of salt and sugar did help. But product of the trip is definitely Waitrose Bottom Butter – a revelation!
The event itself was well run, though expensive and rather torn between catering for walkers and runners at the pit stops. The later stops seemed better equipped for runners and the conditions and the medics and staff were very good. At the end the medal was nice, but the goody bag was not great and the beer was not handed out. There was a field of unused pop tents. It will be interesting to see how the event evolves. I think on a day when soldiers were dying of thirst and heat exhaustion in the Brecon Beacons, the conditions tested the staff and the organisation of the event and it coped well. I felt looked after and safe. But I also felt like I had had my pocket picked, particularly over transport and parking. Otherwise, it was an amazing day. And I raised several hundred pounds for an epilepsy charity. Result.