For those of you who don’t know, I set myself a challenge in June of running 100 miles in 24 hours at an event called Endure 24. I only managed 80 miles and was an absolute mess afterwards. It was really embarrassing and painful to fail so spectacularly and finishing a full 20 miles short of my goal really hurt. So, I set out to try again (only 5 months later) and here’s what happened:
First off, it’s probably worth mentioning that I’m 6ft 4in and weigh nearly 15 stone so these distances really hit my joints hard. My nutritionist is called Ronald McDonald and my running technique is a terrible wobbly armed mess. Also, I was swapping Endure 24 (a massive carnival-like event in summer) for a run around a place called Bookham (a small town in Surrey in the middle of Winter.) So it was clearly going to be a big ask to go further than my previous effort.
However, I do have two things in my favour – a very long running stride (because I’m stupidly tall) and unshakeable self-belief that I can do anything if I really try hard enough. Completing an ultra-marathon distance is all about mental toughness not physical ability which is lucky for me as I don’t have much physical ability, but I am super-stubborn! So, I tried to learn from my mistakes and do a few things differently this time – I trained harder and further (including a 45-mile training run a month before) and I hatched a plan which I hoped would get me through.
I needed to find a way to stop myself from quitting and I built in lots of little ways to convince myself to keep moving. Because it was a 5-mile loop I could break the race down into laps – 20 laps is so much easier than 100 miles right?! I gave myself a target time for where I wanted to be at the end of each lap and then I wrote the actual times in my phone as I ran on the day. This was a great help and I would thoroughly recommend it (but only if you check the 5 mile increments properly – I missed one off and set myself a pace target of 2 miles in an hour, 60 miles into the race which needless to say I didn’t hit!) I also had 20 pennies on a plate and every time I completed a lap I’d drop a penny into a bowl to see the pile getting bigger with every lap. Finally, I scheduled breaks for myself – allowing myself four 30-minute pit-stops as part of my pace plan. This looked great on paper and I even did a spreadsheet! Obviously, the actual event didn’t go anything like the plan but at least I had a plan this time to deviate from!
I find nutrition really difficult, mainly because I love chocolate but also because there is so much contradictory information available. It’s always been important to me that running is my hobby and should be fun, so I don’t want to have to make sacrifices in my personal life to support my hobby. This is a grand way for me to say I didn’t quit eating junk food or drinking alcohol until a week before the event! I wouldn’t recommend this obviously and if you guys can manage your nutrition better then you will definitely get better results than me!
However, my in-race nutrition was one thing that I did manage to control better. The generic advice is ‘eat what your body craves’ which I think is good in general but never (EVER) try anything new on race day. Always train with food beforehand or you might get stomach cramps or worse (I have bitter experience of this from a previous 50-mile race.) So, I selected an array of foods that I knew were fine and I concentrated on their carbs, sodium and calorie content, setting myself an hourly target for each. Now I’m no expert and I found this info on-line so please check before you use them, but these targets did work for me:
|Every hour:||25g – 60g||400-800mg||240|
My support crew were worried at one point that I wasn’t eating enough but because I had calculated the value of each small item I was eating (and was typing what I was eating in my phone) I could give information back and I had a small degree of ‘science’ to back it up. Nutrition is a personal thing and it’s best to stick with what you like but also to try and balance out your intake to give you the right things at the right time. For my race I mainly relied on chicken nuggets, bananas, fudge fingers, pot noodles, bacon, flapjacks and my nutrition supplement Tailwind which has all of the electrolytes you need.
I’ll talk more about these guys in a bit but if you are going to do 100 miles then I’d strongly recommend having a crew. They will get you out of trouble, stop you making bad decisions and also keep you safe. Running an ultra can be a little self-indulgent so you really need a group of selfless people to help you and I was lucky enough to be supported by the most amazing people who did everything they could to get me through (more about them later).
The 100 Mile Run
My plan was to run the first 35 miles pretty much non-stop. I was going at a really easy pace, always walking the hills and aiming for 5 miles completed every hour. I started at 9am and I finished at 4pm exactly 7 hours and 7 laps later. Those first loops were quite fun, it wasn’t too cold and I felt pretty strong. I built up a 10-minute cushion but then had to change clothes as the temperature had dropped a bit which meant I lost the cushion but still on track. A couple of people from the Mole Valley Runners came out to run with me for a bit or to wish me luck or in one case leave me some sweets on a bench! These little things make such a massive difference and I am hugely grateful to those guys for taking time out of their busy lives to come and support my ridiculous challenge. I was also given the usual epic support by my wife Maddy who has crewed for me for years and is super supportive. She is an amazing person and always looks out for me but also understands exactly how to push me on a step further when I need it.
So, I was feeling pretty buoyant at my first break – knowing that from that point forward it would just be 4 sets of 3 loops with a 30-minute break until I finished. Unfortunately, I now realised that this was incorrect and I actually needed to do one more loop than the pace plan but I decided to worry about that later! Powered to this point primarily by chicken nuggets, I stopped for a Pot Noodle and to meet the first person from my support crew – the incredible Pippin Hackett. Pippin is a physio who works for Fine Fettle in Surrey and is absolutely amazing. I’ve been going there for some sports massages for a few months now and it has made a huge difference to my recovery times and overall performance. Pippin very kindly gave up her Saturday afternoon to come and join me, give me a quick massage and also to run a lap with me. Pippin is such a force of positivity that I pretty much smiled my way through the entire lap. Unfortunately, I’d taken a bit longer than planned at the first stop and I was also starting to feel the pain a bit more – my lap times were getting slower – the temperature had dropped and the light had gone. All of this started taking effect and I reached the 50-mile marker at 20:30 which was a full hour behind the pacing plan. I’d run the first 50 miles in 11hrs 30 but I was starting to tire so the prospect of doing another 50 miles in 12 hours 30 seemed pretty tough.
Then my secret weapon turned up – the next phase of the support crew!! Darren, Charlotte, Gareth and Emma are all involved in some way with the National Running Show so they know what they are talking about. They had agreed to cover the nightshift so that Maddy could get some sleep (worth noting that she was also managing our 2 kids whilst crewing me – she is a force of nature!)
I kept the break quite quick, had a bit of pizza and set about working out how I could still finish in the required time. It was pretty obvious at this point that I needed a stellar next 3 laps to get back in contention. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have it in me, I was still moving ok but I was resorting to fast walking rather than running and by the next break (65 miles) I was now a full 2 hours behind the pace, also knowing that I had another hour to add on for my mistake in calculating. This basically put the option of finishing in 24 hours off the table. I’d failed again. Gutted.
But the comradery was brilliant, the guys were epic, never complaining despite the freezing weather, treacherous conditions and lack of sleep. To them it was a no brainer – who cares about the time, let’s just get the 100 miles. They had a point – 100 miles is a flipping long way and what’s a few extra hours between friends! These guys were making me food, popping my blisters, lifting me up off the floor and not once did they stop smiling. I felt a bit like a formula one car at every stop. It really was a team effort from here on out – with these guys in my corner there was no way I could fail.
There was however another problem, my left knee. It was really hurting, I was also getting debilitating pain across my shoulders and shooting pains up my calves. I was trying really hard not to limp as I knew that this would create more problems, so I strapped it up and hobbled back out of the door. The next 3 laps were good ones psychologically – 75 miles would be less than a marathon to go and 80 miles would be the same total as my first attempt so 2 massive potential boosts. I was just grinding out laps now – walking not running, barely able to speak but supported by the guys around me and their constant banter. I was so shattered I stopped recording my times in the phone but I think I got to 80 miles at around 6am which was 3 hours faster than last year so actually a big step up in performance.
But I felt terrible, I was in so much pain now, knees in particular but generally everything hurting. Emma had to take my socks off for me because I couldn’t do it and I had lots of blisters on the base of both feet which Charlotte gamely attended to whilst I lay on the floor. As before, Darren, Charlotte, Gareth and Emma picked me up and dusted me off, but I was wavering on the edge of quitting. Fortunately for me, at this point Maddy woke up and came downstairs. She told me to do whatever I wanted and that it was ‘up to me.’ This had the desired effect and woke up my competitive stubborn streak. In my head I made some heroic ‘once more into the breach’ speech and marched out of the door. In reality I made a mute squeak of defiance and hobbled out. Gareth turned to me at this point and reminded me that the first step I’d taken out of the door meant I’d beaten last time which gave me another little boost.
I staggered round for another lap, clocking up to 85 miles at which point Maddy strapped on her shoes and came out to join me. This was a massive boost to my spirits and kicked me on to the 90-mile mark. Unfortunately for the support crew, this meant that they had to look after our 2 kids for a lap – including nappy changing duties for the youngest which is above and beyond the call of duty!
Getting to 90 miles was amazing – I finished that lap at 9:45am so that would have counted under the Endure 24 rules. This meant I’d done 10 miles further than last time under ‘race conditions’ but the real prize was could I crack the 100?! At this point, our house had become like a hostel, our friends Piers and Verity had turned up to run and help take care of the kids respectively and support the support crew. Also, the forever positive Pippin had come back to join us and without even asking had leapt into action, fixing up my battered legs as I collapsed on the floor moaning like a giant baby. Getting a sports massage, 90 miles in and knowing you have 10 more miles to go is BRUTAL. I have never known pain like it and I don’t mind admitting that I screamed and shouted and even cried a little as Pippin (still smiling) tortured me for 20 minutes. I was very grateful to Verity for having the foresight to take our kids upstairs at this point as I was a mess and said some very bad words! Pippin did an amazing job and with the aid of the amazing support team I was lifted back to my feet again and was back out the door.
The last two ‘victory laps’ took 4 hours and 45 mins and thank goodness Piers was there to stop me walking into the road as I ambled along like a zombie. The support crew were tiring too – most of these guys had done 20 plus miles on no sleep and were also flagging. There was very little chat apart from Darren’s occasional dad joke to lift the spirits. We were all in the same place just trying to grind it out and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But we made it – we finished! ONE HUNDRED MILES!!!!!! 29 hours and 23 minutes after I’d set off I got back into my house having finished the hardest challenge I’ve ever done. I didn’t care about the time now it was just such a massive release to have broken 100 miles (although Strava actually clocked me at 101.7 which I guess is the extra walking to aid stations etc.)
A couple of days have passed and I’m still feeling the after-effects but also a huge sense of relief and achievement. I’m delighted that my sponsorship page got another boost and we raised almost £2k for charity but most of all I’m grateful for the awesome people around me that came out to help. Without Maddy, Darren, Charlotte, Gareth, Emma, Pippin, Verity, Piers and the Mole Valley Runners I would have definitely failed this challenge.
So, in summary, whatever challenge you take on, make sure you take the right people to support you as they are the difference between success and failure.
Stuff I would advise you spend good money on:
- Mizuno Wave Rider 20 GTX trainers
- Hilly mono-skin socks
- Absolute 360 leggins and base layer
- Under armour leggins, shorts and cap
- Egloves (meant I could type in my phone without getting cold hands
- 2 x head torches (1 from Unilite and 1 from LED Lenser)
Things you can get cheaply:
- Kalenji gaiters (essential for me if running trail for this distance as stops any little stones getting in)
- Cheap sunglasses
- Cheap wooly hat
- Assorted cheap runnig tee shirts and tops
What I Ate and Drank
- 3 egg omelette ham mushroom & cheese
- Small packet of peanut m&ms
- 10 Chicken nuggets
- 3 x Banana
- 2 x flapjack
- 1 x pot noodle (2 actually but both half eaten)
- 6 x chocolate fudge fingers
- 1 x pizza slice
- 2 x burgers (no bread, only half eaten)
- 2 x sausage roll
- 2 x coffees
- 5 litres of Tailwind supplemment
- 2 x 330ml coca cola cans (flat coke is a really good idea for ultras)
- 2 x lucozade still
- 2l of water