One Hundred Dark Kilometres
Tales from the inaugural C.I. 100k – Jersey
In a never-ending search for ‘the next challenge’ I was delighted when this unique ultra was announced on our very own doorstep. What more could a deluded running pain cave enthusiast ask for other than a winter night-time 100k trail ultra?!
The night was upon us and after what seemed like weeks and weeks of non-stop rain the ultra running gods finally took pity and opened up a 24 hour window of dry and clear skies albeit with a very nippy easterly wind. After Paul the Race Director had gone through the race briefing we all slowly made our way down to the end of the pier for the 10pm start. With the race now imminent I wished my buddies around me good luck and then hovered my finger over the start button on my Garmin watch….. 3, 2, 1….we were off! My tactic was to run hard at the beginning and if I can get a lead then relax into the race, not really a textbook tactic for an ultra, but it was my tactic nonetheless. It wasn’t until I was approaching Rozel where the distant pitapatting of feet behind me faded away and having quickly looked back I found myself alone, perfect.
The first half of the North coast is arguably the worst in terms of the constant change of elevation, the number of steep steps (up & down), but more importantly the distinct lack of runnable sections which inhibit any form of rhythm which is highly sought after in any ultra-marathon. Conscious that I wanted to maintain a lead I would make a point of looking behind me each time I summited a hefty section of trail to scope out if I had company. It turned out I had company in form of a bobbing headtorch which I was struggling to shake off, a race was on, but I wasn’t hanging about to find out who it was. A sense relief was no doubt justified when the cliff path guided you onto the main road and along to the first check point, the hard section was complete – for now. As I rounded the bend on the road I looked up and noticed a few headtorches bobbing about in the distance, these were to be excited marshals eagerly awaiting their first guest of the evening. After being cheered in and doted on by a team of lovely volunteers I was ready to go back out into the dark to carry on my journey not before quickly looking back for headtorches (I was obsessed with headtorches by this point).
Onward bound to Gronez where the Check Point 2 crew were stationed, this leg of the course being my favourite with plenty of runnable sections albeit the dreaded Greve de Lecq dip. Shortly after noticing that I had been running without incident I stubbed my toe on an inconspicuous tiny bit of rock and though gritted teeth forced out a “%%EDITORCONTENT%%amp;*£*!£ Hell!!!!”. Having knew straight away that I’d dislodged a toe nail, The throbbing pain was excruciating, but in those situations especially in a race your only option is to run it off. With Gronez coming up I was picked up by a marshal/spotter about 100 meters away with a ridiculously bright torch, so bright was this torch that it illuminated the path in front of me like a flood light in someone’s driveway. I was greeted again by a superb team of volunteers who waited on me hand and foot and made sure I was all stocked up and ready to go. All’s I was trying to do was hold a conversation whilst washing down mouthfuls of jam sandwiches with coca cola.
Having been wished well I was again on my own in the pitch black, but safe in the knowledge that I had negotiated the north coast successfully albeit with a loose toe nail floating around my sock. As I dropped down into L’Etacq I was debating whether to stick to the safety of the smooth flat road or cut across the beach and saving about a mile in distance? I recalled my first Round the Rock ultra where I decided to cut across the beach only to regret my decision halfway along where I spent a good 15 minutes hopping over giant moguls with deep puddles (not what you want to be doing 30+ miles into a race). I had to decide quickly as the slipway was coming up, I knew the tide was out… do I or don’t I?? Sod it, the beach it was going to be and my gamble paid off nicely. With the moonlight shining bright enough on the flat glistening beach I decided to turn my headtorch off and run in the dark. What a surreal moment, the early hours of the morning and there’s me, the only person on St. Ouensbeach running in the dark. My only bout of cramp presented itself when I finally reached the other end of the bay at La Pulente steps, my left quad decided to spasm which left me stranded trying not to move a muscle (literately). Luckily the steps were close by so I waddled over grabbed the hand rail and gave my legs a good stretch before heading off round to Corbiere, not before quickly looking back scanning the bay for ominous glows of headtorches – there were none! After navigating some tricky and technical headland and being fooled by the lighthouse (more than once) that it was a runner’s headtorch I found myself running across St. Brelades Bay and onto the much sought after comfort of tarmac! Dropping into St. Aubins and back into civilisation was a nice feeling although it was 3am and not a soul about it was nice to see cars, buildings and lights – you know, normal stuff! I could see disco lights about half a mile away which had to be Check Point 3 and more importantly the halfway stage. I was greeted again by cheers and my beloved jam sandwiches, everyone was in good spirits considering it was ridiculous o clock in the morning and I felt bad leaving the party so soon, but needs must.
As this was an out and back course you can really get a sense of distance between your fellow runners as you would eventually cross paths with them. I thought to myself that if I can get back to the bottom of ghost hill without crossing whoever it is then that’s a comfortable gap. ghost hill approached, no one in sight “RESULT” I said to myself …..I reached the top of ghost hill and still no one around (I was amazed at this point). It wasn’t until I was halfway down the hill to Ouaisne where a headtorch came into view “WOW that’s some gap” I proudly said to myself, but who was it? Who was the person hunting me down earlier on? As we came closer, both looking at each and both inadvertently blinding each other with our lights I realised it was Jamie Illing who was my Breca partner earlier this summer, a steely distance runner! After passing each other compliments I headed further down the road to pass running pal and Jersey’s premier female ultra-runner, Leanne Rive who was looking strong given the niggles and concerns she had coming into this race. The next hour or so was spent crossing paths with other runners shouting and giving words of encouragement to them, the 7 hour halfway cut-off was looming. I soon found myself back on St. Ouens beach feeling excited to tick off some uninterrupted miles in a twilight setting again. Halfway along the beach the clouds had dispersed giving way to crystal clear skies, was a magnificent sight and given I was running on flat sand I had the opportunity to look up and admire the stars without fear of tripping over. Just another beautiful moment that only these type of races can give you. As I neared L’Etacq having run over 3 glorious miles I hit a wash out that was so wide I couldn’t avoid getting my feet wet and after hop skipping and jumping I ended up with one foot soaked right through (was the foot with the floating toenail btw). “Great… just the north coast to go with a wet foot” I said to myself shaking my head in disappointment. I clambered up L’Etacq steps and once I was at the top I remember slapping both my legs jeering myself for the last ‘big push’, the whole north coast! The Gronez checkpoint appeared along with some friendly faces again who cheered me in and offered me everything under the sun to which I had to politely decline and only accept jam sandwiches and coca-cola (my go-to energy sources). It was amazing how upbeat these guys were given they have been standing in the cold all night and I had to show my appreciation the only way I could think of at the time and that was to high 5 every single one of them.
By this time it was 5:30am, still pitch black and I was once again cheered off into the dark with a little help from that ridiculously bright torch (I must get myself one of them). Twenty miles to go and it was a matter of ticking of land marks now, Plemont was next, then Greve, then Devils Hole etc etc… Things were going tickityboo until I again stubbed my toe (SAME TOE AGAIN!!!!), I didn’t hold back on the yelp nor the profanity, I was more angry with myself that I got caught out sloppy running (AGAIN). I passed Devils Hole and could noticeably tell it was getting lighter and by the time I reached Sorel and onto the road I could safely turn my headtorch off for the last time. The last a final checkpoint was inbound and there was still a large crowd of marshals about clapping me in. I had a cup of coffee and some jam sandwiches for breakfast, had the lovely volunteers fill one flask with water and the other with coke whilst I mentally prepared myself for the last ten miles. When I was good to go I followed on my high 5 tradition with all the guys there before they all clapped me off to take it home!
The final leg was upon me and I was under no illusion that it’s the worst part of the north coast and with legs already 50 miles old I knew it was going to be a matter of grinding the miles out one by one. With smashed quads, blisters under my feet and toenails freely moving around, running downhill was becoming rather painful to say the least. Coupled with the fact that about 75% of the remaining 10 miles consists of steep hills/steps, the ticking off the miles process was going to be a slow one. To keep my motivation up and spirits high I made a point after each mile shouting out loud how many miles to go “9 TO GO!!!” “8 TO GO!!!” “7 TO GO!!!” I didn’t care by this point if anyone heard or seen me shouting to myself, I just wanted to see the finish! I finally reached Rozel where the path ends and leads you onto the road, ahhhhhhhh the sweet sweet feeling on flat tarmac, was a beautiful moment. “2 TO GO!!!”. A bit more road, a little bit of trail, a couple more hills and a last smidge of trail and BOOM….St. Catherine’s pier in all her glory!!! I run into the carpark expecting to find Paul and the finish line, but I instead come across someone pointing down towards the end of the pier saying “It’s down there mate”. Looking down the half mile long pier I see flags and a dot of a person waving his arms frantically, its was Paul and the finish line. The wind by this point had picked up quite considerably and to add insult to injury it just so happened to be head on all the way to finish. What felt like an eternity, I eventually crossed the line and fell into the arms of Paul with the biggest sigh of relief and sense of achievement that only a runner knows the feeling.
All in all, it was a savage race and I salute the organizers for putting it on. It’s one which I underestimated how tuff the wet/slippery/muddy conditions were on the trails, let alone running them at night. My hat goes off to the runners that completed within the cut-off, to the runners outside of a medal and to all the runners that put themselves to the ultra-running sword, everyone deserves maximum kudos for lining up at the start line in my opinion.
I can’t thank all the volunteers enough really, you really did shine on a cold dark night. To give up your time (and your sleep) so that others can enjoy themselves safely whilst being so positive and encouraging was quite simply amazing to witness.
Ultra-Running, why do we do this? For some people it’s a personal challenge, a goal or even a charity fund raising attempt – for me it’s far more black and white, it’s because I quite simply……..love it.