Best laid plans and all that.
Mark captured it well:
“You were ‘on the ropes’, taking heavy punishment…”
I was. Must have been around midnight (my memory is muddled around then), and I was feeling horrible. My stomach was painful, my legs had no energy, my head was all over the place and I just wanted to sit down and forget about the whole thing.
The turning point was when I heard myself saying:
“I can’t believe it’s happened again, exactly the same as last time”.
Last time … Tooting 2019, the conditions were almost identical – hot and humid during the day, and much the same at night. Ellie was still stuffing ice cubes down her top (to be fair I think she just likes to make it harder) and Tsvetkov Hristo the (soon to be) Bulgarian 100 mile record holder (12:48:20!) was topless and pouring bottle after bottle of water over himself.
I didn’t want to eat, or drink, or do anything. My arms and legs were gritty with salt.
That triggered another memory from Tooting.
Was I just dehydrated? I’d been drinking plenty, or so I thought, but also sweating buckets, and not peeing. At all. Was it that simple?
I wonder, could I get myself back on track, quite literally, by just drinking some of the weird “hydration” stuff on the aid station table?
It might not be too late this time, and had to be worth a try.
It had all started out so well.
I had of course put together an aspirational plan (with a stretch target of 130 miles), but that was more about getting me to think realistically about my pace, and not take it overly easy at the start making it impossible to catch up later on.
Running each lap around 2 minutes 20 seconds felt fine, I wasn’t pushing myself and was comfortable. It was just really warm, and getting warmer.
Opting for a mostly liquid diet to avoid any stomach issues was fine, Mauren 160 was the only option as far as I was concerned. My helper, who wishes to remain nameless, so I shall just call him “the saint” suggested drinking more water, probably sensibly, but it made me feel boated and horrible, so I avoided it.
Warning bells should have been ringing.
The day went on, I chatted to people I knew from other races, and people I’d just met. Toby came along for a bit, Martin dropped by and bought me a Calipo. All the nice things about track races.
I’d been obsessing for ages about an ice lolly, I could even see the ice cream van outside in the park, but couldn’t figure out how to get one into my hot face.
Apart from the heat, and dearth of shade, there was no breeze.
It got dark, it didn’t cool down. I don’t cope well in the heat. When I set my 24h PB at Crawley in April some years ago it was deliciously cool, my water even froze, much more my kinda weather.
There is a saying that 100 mile races are run in two halves. The first half with your legs, and the second half with your head.
I’d always just assumed the head bit was about gritting your teeth and not giving up.
Thing is, you can’t run the Pennine way in the winter with just brute force, and you can’t realistically run for 24 hours ignoring everything that’s going wrong with your body, and hope to emerge unscathed.
Figuring out what’s wrong and dealing with it sounds easy enough, but problem solving under pressure is quite hard. Problem solving when you’re completely bollocksed is really hard.
It’s similar to trying to get home after a big night out in town. You don’t know where you are, how you got there, and wouldn’t it be so nice and easy to just lie down and sleep.
Somehow throughout all this I managed to maintain some sort of steady pace. I did have a little sit down when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, but otherwise kept on running 300 meters, walking 100 and grabbing a drink, stretching my shoulders and lower back. A small part of my head hadn’t forgotten that every step counts, even staggery ones.
Slowly, after many hours, I started to feel better, it took a while but I just kept on drinking hydration potions from the aid station, and energy drinks that the saint had prepared for me before he’d gone off for a sleep.
I might have sped up a bit, but importantly didn’t slow down, and started creeping up the leaderboard as others dropped out or stopped more often.
I told myself I was “tortoising” myself up the field.
The sun came up and everyone’s spirits lifted, though I’d been fine with the darkness outside (it was the inside variety I’d been battling with), some pro plus and anadin extra had probably helped.
Somehow I hit 100 miles in 19:57:25, pleased with that!
Feeling strong and much cooler thanks to soaking wet flannels every other lap (he’s not called the saint for nothing) I kept a good pace and this now turned into a race.
Chasing (and being chased by) Brynn, then Ryan, then Sinead (who I didn’t catch), kept me well entertained and importantly fully focused.
Running out of Maurten powder and nearly throwing up a gel was a potential speed bump, but Graeme (the other saint) came to the rescue with another sachet and it was Back On.
The last lap felt like a sprint finish (it wasn’t, there is a video) and I hit 121.25 miles for a 24 hour PB at midday on Sunday.
Something that had been unthinkable 18 hours ago.
I absolutely love this race, the camaraderie, the support, the simplicity.
It’s a niche thing for sure, but I’m already looking forward to next year!