‘The magic is in the man, not the 100 miles’ – Bill Bowerman
If you’ve been following my socials (or this blog) for any amount of time you’ll know that my husband Dave likes to run insane distances for fun. I’d often wondered what the appeal was, having done a couple of half marathons myself, and struggling with the amount of time and dedication the training requires.
He explained to me recently that running is his own form of mindfulness When he’s out in the countryside on a long run hes truly in the moment; he’s not worrying about work, or what meetings he has tomorrow, or getting it in the ear from me about what’s for tea or why the broadband isn’t working. He’s concentrating on whether his feet hurt, or he has enough battery in his phone or if he’s hydrated enough. And that all made it make sense to me.
Last weekend was the challenge of all challenges. But instead of me telling you about it, I’ll let him speak for himself:
I’d been training hard for the St Oswald’s Way 100 miler in 2017 and also “doing a recce” of the course, which meant driving up into Northumberland for each long run at the weekend. In my final long training run, a 50-mile effort on the course, I’d got past half way through and developed a problem with my right knee where it felt as though the nerve ending was getting pinched in my knee joint. The sensation was more numbness than pain but was still very unpleasant, travelling from my knee all the way up to my lower back. I tried to stretch it out and run it off but I couldn’t and had to be rescued by my long suffering wife Helen.
This was just 3 weeks before the race. I rested the knee for a week and then tried to run again but the same sensation came back within a few miles and at that point I knew there was no chance that I would be able to recover in time to get through a hundred-mile race.
The St Oswald’s way race was fairly local, but it’s no longer held so I couldn’t enter again. There aren’t all that many 100-mile races in the UK (most of them are in Southern England) so the Robin Hood 100 was easier to get to. But that wasn’t the only factor. We had been on a trip to that area and walked around some of the trails involved in the race and I’d thought at the time how nice they would be to run; limited rough terrain and no major hills.
I started training for the September 2019 race around December 2018 with a plan to run 3 ultras of increasing length over 2019, but I only booked a place at one at a time in case I got injured again. I modified previous training plans, developed from a mix of research and past experience, which essentially meant doing less mileage in one go. For most of the year it went really well, hardly missing a session, until about 8 weeks before the RH100 when the same feeling started in my knee again. If I hadn’t already bought my place by this point, I’ll be honest, I might not have continued. 3 weeks of rest followed along with a visit to a new physiotherapist before I risked resuming training. I’d missed some crucial weeks and wouldn’t be as fit as I had hoped to be, but it felt doable.
Going into the race I was mindful of avoiding mistakes that I’ve made in other races! Including wrong nutrition (a diet of nothing but jelly babies does not a strong stomach make), wrong pace, wrong equipment and getting lost! I needed to just to try and focus on getting to the next checkpoint (of which there were many in this race – the longest distance between a checkpoint was 10 miles) rather than getting overwhelmed by the full distance.
By the time the morning of the race came I knew I was ready as I’ll ever be, I was just happy to be there and keen to get going, but obviously apprehensive about trying to run 30 miles farther than I ever had before, and through the night which I’d also never done before.
In terms of highs and lows, highs were the first 25 miles or so and the end! The lows weren’t too bad, but starting to feel sore with still 70 miles to go was one, and the last 30 miles felt like a never ending slog! About 85 miles in I got a little spaced out, which is not something that had ever happened before; exhaustion mainly, but I found it difficult to string a sentence together and I know Helen was worried at this point.
Running through the night wasn’t too bad in terms of sleepiness, but it does make it harder to run when also fatigued and with limited light from headtorches. To kep myself motivated I thought about how long it was and how much effort it had taken to get this far. Also knowing how different I would feel immediately after the race, and for the next weeks and months with a successful result rather than a disappointing one meant I was never going to stop unless I physically couldn’t move.
In hindsight, the race actually went so well I’m not sure I would do anything differently. It all came together remarkably well, but the weather being perfect was a saving grace, it could have been very different in bad conditions.
Advice for anyone thinking of doing the same thing? Pray that the farmer hasn’t ploughed the huge field you need to cross twice, as this really is the worst under foot terrain! And have the worlds best support crew like I did!