The weekend just gone (21st Sep 2013) saw me take part in my first 100 mile race, the Cotswolds Way 100. The race totalling over 102 miles starts in Chipping Camden and finishes in the city of Bath, taking in beautiful villages, stunning vistas and some pretty tough terrain.
I had earmarked the CW100 as my 100 mile debut from the early part of this year, it ticked the boxes: 4 UTMB points, not heavily oversubscribed so able to enter a bit later on in the year, and a “manageable” (or so I perceived!!) amount of elevation for a 100 miler – 10,000ft or so.
So since the MDS in April this year my roadmap has been to get fighting fit for 100 miles.. Training has gone well, some good races over the past few months and I was ready to go! Ultra Team Jersey consisting of Leanne Rive, Bryce Alford, Robbie Campbell, Neil Leonard, Simon Lester and myself made our way to Bath on the Friday eagerly anticipating the following days race.
Saturday morning arrived and I was up nice and early to hit Waitrose in Bath to get the necessary food bits for the day ahead. I was feeling nervous, excited, and just wanting to get on with the race. Kick off was at 12pm so the morning was spent getting gear ready and then making our connection to the coach for the start line in Chipping Camden.
We arrived at the carpark around the 9am mark and our support crew of Lenny and Simon were there smiling and full of anticipation of being our bitches for the next 24+ hours 🙂 They followed us up in the car and we boarded the coach with 20 or so other runners mad enough to take on the CW100.
This is where the story deviates from your standard race report.. Leanne, Robbie and I are sat on the coach gladly lost in our thoughts mentally getting ready in our own ways for the day ahead.. Myself and Leanne had not done a 100 mile race so were nervous and trying to reassure each other “it would be ok…” This is when my phone rang.. “Paul we’ve got a bit of a problem, the car has broken down on the M4, can you get the coach to come and pick up Bryce as we are probably going to have to get the RAC out to fix the car and he wont make the race if the coach cant get him..” Simon relaying the good news about our support vehicle for the next 24 hours plus Bryce’s lift to the start line.. I asked the Cotswolds running rep if it was possible to stop and pick them up and he explained that legally they werent able to pick up people on the hard shoulder of a motorway.. I rang Simon back and explained this to him.. It was looking like poor old Bryce would probably not be able to start the race, to which the 3 of us on the coach were gutted about, knowing how much he had put into getting ready to do it.. As well as being gutted about Bryce we also had the issue that all of our drop bag related items were in that car, all food, spare clothes, and all the other necessary items needed for the race!
At this point I decided to just accept the situation, I could do nothing about it really, i just hoped that the checkpoints had enough food to keep us going and that the gels and limited equipment I had in my running pack would be sufficient.. This is when the coach broke down! Clutch problems.. By now I just had to laugh.. And I think we all felt this way, “What will be will be!” 1/2 an hour later the backup coach arrived and me got to the start town of Chipping Camden at aroun the 11:30am mark, the decision being made to delay the start to 12:30 or as soon as all coach dwellers were registered and briefed.
Chipping Camden was a beautiful town, built of the Georgian stone that is so frequent in this part of the country. We duly registered, got our race numbers and proceeded to get drop bags (with limited resources!) ready. Then some good news! The guys had been able to get a lift back to Lennys car in bath with all of our drop bag stuff so they would be joining us at some point in the race and also Bryce would be able to start the race, however he might a be a little late…
And so we were off.. Making our way through some of the most picturesque countryside and towns that I had been lucky to see in races. My whole ethos for this race was “no expectations and no thinking before 50 miles at least!” I set off from Chipping Camden and trotted at a really comfortable pace, concentrating on making my way to the next checkpoint only and not letting my mind think too much about the big picture.. this strategy really worked for me and I am amazed that the mind can almost trick oneself into running 100 miles! I was lucky enough to get chatting to a couple of guys on the way, initially a chap who I had met at the MDS which was a great distraction; reminiscing about the time in the desert and talking about how we had found it etc, conversations you cant really have with people unless they had been there that year. Around the 3 mile mark I had gate crashed a group of 3 guys 2 northern Irish guys and another guy Simon (the eventual winner no less!) I ended up running most of my race with the 2 Northern Irish guys Ricky and Ronnie and really enjoyed their company.
The first 12 miles to the first checkpoint were pretty uneventful, settling into the race, trying not to overcook it too quickly and chatting to the people I had met. We ascended some hills which on reflection and viewing the GPS trace from my Garmin were pretty steep, HR felt good though and I hiked up these hills with ease which was a great confidence booster. Some of the descents were a little steep and I was a little concerned that my quads started to burn so soon on in the race!
Upon reaching CP1 our support guys Simon and Lenny were there, awesome to see them and they were able to give us the update that Robbie was doing well and that Bryce was plugging away to reverse his one hour deficit on starting late. I was so excited at seeing them that I forgot to fill up my water bottles (school boy error!) and trotted off catching up Ricky and Ronnie and getting back into the groove.. Simon had shot off and was not to be seen again. The course was marked by the Cotswolds Way Acorn markers and was sufficient in most case particularly in the daylight and although we potentially took a few wrong turns people behind us called us before we went too far down the wrong turns..
On to CP2 and again no real issues, great to see the guys and fill up with water. I had run out about 2 miles previously and it was a warm balmy day and I was sweating quite a bit so once at the checkpoint I drank a fair bit of water and Coke to counter balance. We were warned about a hornets nest about 3 miles down the road after the “Indian restaurant” we did not really have a clue where this was but was alerted to the location when a guy about 20 metres started hopping around and hitting the hornets with his map after being stung. We took a small diversion around that bit through an adjacent field, so thanks hornet boy for the heads up! 🙂
By the time we reached CP3 it was dark. The headtorches were on and I was feeling good enjoying the night running on the trails, hiking up the hills and then running the downhills and flats. I stocked up on checkpoint food, had a gel and some Ibuprofen and felt invincible! We made good time from this point on to about 42 miles which is where the fog came in and things started to go a little pear shaped..
Because of the marking of the Cotswold Way acorn markings being our main guide there were some navigational decisions to be at various points around the course, particularly when the night arrived, The mist also came in and made the route hard to pick up when going across open ground. We got lost on numerous occasions and for me this is when the rot started to set in. Between CP3 and 4 we lost alot of time and I started to feel like my stomach wasnt doing so well, a recurring theme for me in long distance races. I ended up being sick and it actually helped, I felt like I had got rid of whatever was upsetting my stomach and carried on.. At one point we were a tantalising few miles away from CP4, hopelessly lost on a different pathway than the Cotswolds Way trying to apply logic and reason to a map where we werent particularly sure where we were. By some miracle we found the check point and were able to take stock; 54 miles into the race, the halfway point! Get some food in (a chilli that had been made, which I though was ropey but I think might have been down to my stomach situation) change into long sleeves, fill up with water, drink some coke and then get on our way. At the CP I saw Bryce who had decided to call it a day.. Unfortunately the hour he had to catch up had meant that he had run alone for alot of the first part of his race, which meant a few navigational errors and to be fair after the day he had had already I think he had just had enough!
So on we went.. Off into the night to try and break the back of this! Feeling good, and having seen some friendly faces I really felt ok considering.. We decided to keep a closer eye on the map to anticipate any directional issues, but again we ended up taking a few wrong turns.. For me this was the most disheartening thing and I felt my energy levels drop as well as my stomach not feeling too great again.. I felt the nausea creep in again and I was sick whilst trying to take 2 Immodium.. I sorted myself out and took some more Immodium and then marched on. I was really struggling by now, my legs felt like jelly and the hills seemed to get much steeper. Funnily enough looking back on the Garmin trace the hills were not really that steep but I guess the mind played tricks on me a little. I remember thinking “I cant do anymore hills!” and I think thats when I began to doubt if I was going to make this. I was halfway between the 2 checkpoints so I carried on thinking if I could get to the next CP I could sleep or just try and sort my act out a bit then crack on, but I was sick for the third time and I knew it was over.. I was aware I was holding the lads I was with back but I was also not confident in my ability to navigate alone. I decided to call it a day.. I thought I would be gutted at my first DNF, but as soon as I had spoken on the phone to Simon and I knew they were coming to get me in the car I felt nothing but relief.. I had no doubt I had the heart, and I had felt so good up til 42 miles or so and had indeed gone 61 miles in total, the longest I had ever gone! So alot of positives really..
I sat at a bus stop in my foil blanket in some chocolate box house filled village and waited for the support guys: About 15 mins later Leanne came through and I told her the news, she was looking strong, she was with another guy and they seemed to be trotting along well, I was glad to see she was with someone as I think doing that alone would be really hard going..
The guys came to get me and that was it my race was over.. I got a couple of hours kip in the back of Lennys car and felt almost human again. We were at CP5 at about 5am and seeing people coming in I knew I had made the right decision. Some people had spent 5 hours or so making it from CP4 to CP5 a distance of 10 miles or so, mainly due to navigational errors. I think if I had decided to keep going I would have become a crying wreck…
The rest of that day was spent tracking the runners we had out on the course: Robbie Campbell finished in joint 4th place in a time of 21 hours….. Leanne came in in 29 hours….. I hung out at the finish line for a few hours and saw some of the finishers. out of 59 starters only 25 finished which certainly tells its own story. I got to sleep about 4 pm that evening for a couple of hours which was amazing then went for some nice basic grub and a couple of beers with Simon and Adrian Colwill a fellow runner/Spine Challenger Competitor who I had met over the weekend.
So what do I take away from this race?
Firstly the amount of support I/we received. I had my phone with me on the trail and I was regularly getting texts from people back in Jersey. It was amazingly motivating and people were texting me at 3 in the morning, so thanks for that everyone who did. There was also alot of activity on Twitter and Facebook due to Phil Taylor and Simon MacKenzie who, whilst unable to take part, were just as involved as us out there on the trail! Simon Lester and Neil Leonard were also amazing – they were our support crew for 29 whole hours and had to cater to the needs of 4 prima dona runners who were all spaced out over the course, my overriding mental picture of the weekend is of the two of them sat in one of the most notorious dogging carparks on the Cotswolds Way eating their Pie and Chips for their tea like an old married couple wondering why all the other cars were flashing their headlights at them 🙂 Thanks Simon and Lenny for your support, seeing your friendly faces and getting your encouragement at each CP was so motivating, I owe you both!
I was happy with the first 40 -50 miles, I feel like I have raised the distance bar psychologically and I was pleased with the way I got my head around the concept of running 100 miles (i.e. blank emptiness and complete denial!) Ronnie and I were talking along the way saying “I aint even thinking about this race til after the 50 mile mark!” and I think to stand a chance you have to go this way. I think the old saying about run the first third with your legs, the second this with your mind and the last with your heart certainly applies here: I witnessed first hand alot of people showing massive heart at the finish line and it was inspiring to see. Touching on the psychological aspect I was also happy with my approach to the race itself, after Round The Rock I have done alot of work on running my own race, not being concerned what others are up to in the race having little expectations and doing the best that I can do in each moment. I felt this paid off massively and I felt relaxed, positive and focussed for the parts of the race where I was in good nick stomach wise.
The biggest area of development for me now would be the nutritional aspect: I think being sick 3 times sabotaged my race, and I am unsure how this happened. I stuck to Torq gels and flapjacks for the race with the odd Pepperami which felt good. Due to it being hot right up til the 11pm mark though I did drink alot of water and I subsequently ran out of water frequently. As a result I recall getting into the CP’s and quickly drinking alot of water quickly and some coke as well. I wonder if this played a part in my stomach upset. I think over this winter I intend to develop a watertight nutrition plan so that I know what works and when. Hopefully this will be a major part in the jigsaw and I can start to get the results I want.
Overall I would recommend the race. I felt that there were a few teething problems but the race was in it inaugural year so I think this has a potential to be a real classic. The only gripe I had were the markings; I think it is stressful enough running 100 miles without having to worry overtly about navigation. I appreciate we cant be hand held through the whole course and also that the fog was a little exceptional and probably unexpected. I will be back though at some point to conquer this race!
So next up is Round Rotherham 50 miler on October 19th – my 39th birthday as well, what greater way to celebrate than to run an ultra? Round Rotherham is a Western States 100 Qualifier race so am hoping to get an entry in for that for next June – you got to be in to win it (or at least take part!) right?