I'd had a couple of weeks to get over my experience of the Thames Gateway 100 mile race in Kent. The race had promised so much but delivered so little in a mixture of lack of experience in 100 mile races on my behalf but also lack of planning and preparation from the race organisers.
I'd wrote that I felt that the organisers had spoilt my race but in hindsight I think that if I'd done more homework then the outcome might have been different? I'd recce'd half the course including the tricky night section but I should have looked at the start as this set the tone for the whole event.
I took everything onboard and decided to jump back into the frying pan.A very wise man had offered some consolation post first DNF ever and said "you learn far more from a DNF than from a finish!" Well they were spot on and I didn't think I'd have to think about that comment again so soon.
I decided that I'd try and enter another 100 asap as I need to utilise the training I'd done to date but the problem I had was that they were all full. There's not that many 100 milers around so the good one's sell out sometimes even a year in advance! I looked around and decided what I needed to do was gain some more ultra experience at shorter distance then attack the big one next year. I put my name down on the waiting list for the Thames Path 100 but also entered the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100 in June.
I had already qualified to enter the LDWA 100 in Wales in May so I decided to keep my options open between the two events. For now though I decided I needed to break to 53 mile mark (the longest I'd run) so I entered the Stour Valley Way 100k as this would achieve the above and also take my into that night running stage for the finish.
I have to admit that the SVP100 wasn't ideal and in hindsight it was the wrong race for me (I'll go into that in a minute). For now though I needed to focus on my existing race commitments. I'd run a couple of short races since TG100 but I had the LDWA White Cliffs 30 miler to run and anyone that knows that part of Kent.... it wasn't going to be flat!
LDWA White Cliffs 30
As I've said before, I love the LDWA events and considering the location of this run (can't call these event "races" really), I knew it wouldn't be dull.
I'd somehow manage to convince two other club runners, experienced ultra runner Bob Gear and ultra newbie (but seasoned marathon man) Paul Bridges to join me. These guys are good runners in their own right but more importantly great company! I posted on Twitter (@bibo_boy) that I'd never looked forward to an event so much ever.
The forecast wasn't great so I knew it could be hard work especially as we were on the coast so I packed for the worst. Paul had even gone out and brought a decent raincoat so yes you guessed it..... sun burn all the way around :)
SVP100 was only a week away so I said to the guys that we would have to take it slow and easy to try and save my legs and they were fine with this. We all met around mine and Paul who was driving had brought the Bridges support team of his Mum and Dad who are two of the nicest people you could ever meet. We made great time and had an hour to kill at the start but we were told we could start early so soon we were off.
We were soon firing the banter at each other from all angles as we made our way through some fields to the cliffs. The main topic at the start was Paul's limited ultra experience and how he wasn't allow to run uphill. Paul's quite a fast guy and thinks nothing of getting his head down and charging up any kind of incline! This is fine in those shorter distances but we needed to find a way of slowing his pace for later. I decided that we should introduce him to the "rules" of ultra running where you were never allowed to run uphill and you get three strikes then you were out!
This kept us amused for ages and also spent some of the time stopping to pose for photos of the amazing views with France in the background on the other side of the channel. Yes you can tell we meant business. We were soon running along the sea front of Dover and navigating some of the biggest steps ever then out of the town and soon along the cliffs again. We'd spent the first section of the course telling Paul how he would be amazed by the LDWA checkpoints as he probably would have never seen so much food on offer. We'd got to the first CP and.... errr water, juice and a digestive! Not even a custard cream. I think Paul thought we must have been winding him up and I guess he might have been regretting not bringing any backup food. It turns out as that first stop was only 5 miles in it didn't need to have much more and when we finally left the cliffs and headed inland, the second stop was back to normal standards!
We were all laughing all the way around still as we reached Dover town again and ran along the hills that surrounded the population. You could see why this place was so important in the security of the country and also why so many generations had chosen the location for defence as I wouldn't want to attack it with today's military technology let alone years ago! It must have been amazing being there during key points in history like the Battle of Britain.
Paul was still finding things really easy as we passed the halfway point and me again Bob were still enjoying the process of reminding him that ultras were a game of patience. We got to approx. 10 miles left and we were now steadily passing walkers who had left earlier in the day. All was going to plan as we passed another group then "arrrrh" I turned around and Bob had gone? I looked down and the man mountain that is Mr Gear was flat on the floor! We immediately stopped in our tracks and ran to him... by the time we got to him lucky enough he was on his feet and brushing himself off. He'd simply tripped on a root and landed hard but seemed ok so we carried on.
As we approached the magical 26.2 marathon mark, we all commented again on how this would be the furthest Paul had ever run before. I told him that I'd got him a cake and I feel he was a little disappointed when it didn't turn up at the next CP. Joking aside, this is a big deal for any runner. The marathon is for many the ultimate distance and breaking that mark in anyway should be recognised.
I said in the build up to this run that I was really looking forward to this event and even though I was really suprised to see with the finish in sight finally as we ran home along the white cliffs for the last time that the watch was saying over 7hrs! Considering the amount of hills/climbs the time wasn't actually that bad with the fastest person only an hour or so in front of us (not bad when we were taking it really easy). We all finished together being met by the Bridges family with smiles on our faces, a reminder of what distance running is all about... Good course, good views and great company.
My only down side to the whole day was the fact that I'd picked up a couple of little niggles on my left foot/ankle. I'd switched back for Autumn into minimal shoes due to my experience at TG100 and since then I'm starting to get injured again, touchwood nothing serious so far but I'm going to have to wait and see.
As I've hinted towards already... I think this race was actually a poor choice for me. This event was 100K starting at Newmarket and finishing in Manningtree near Colchester in Essex. This was the first race for the organisers as I was a little nervous considering the last "new" event I took part in. I'd spoken to Matt one of the race directors and they sounded fine and even though they admitted some things were WIP, everything should be in place. I was struggling to get to the start in time as it was so far away and as a point to point race I would be miles away in the end with no easy public transport links to the start.
The main issue though which I was reminded of several times by many other runners was the cut off time. It was 13.5 hours to cover 62 miles where I'm used to having to cover just 50 miles in the same time. Because of this the usual cushion of time I have in 50 miles races wasn't there. I knew this and there was even an early start option but due to my lift only getting there for the 9:15 start I couldn't take that option. I typed the details into the Cool Running Pace Calculator which gave me a worst case pace of 13 min miles to complete the race in just under the allowed time.
I then took that time and allowed 5 mins for each CP and finished with the 12:30 min mile pace that I should try and average. Anyone that is experienced in the ways of ultra running will already know what I'm going to say next! I had almost no spare pace as I already said and what I hadn't considered was the effect of the recent heavy rain on the mud on the course and the possibility of getting lost. A slow section due to mud combined with a couple of missed turns could take me over the time allowed. I just tried my hardest to keep going and reached CP 1 (12 miles)in decent time. I'd ran so far easy making sure I didn't over do it in the start like I'd done before. I carried on and the runners had now spread out so I was on my own. I followed the decent GPS course provided but on a few occasions the path was redirected and I found myself totally off course having to negotiate my way back which took time.
Finally I got to CP 2 (21 miles)to be told I was near the back of the field and many people had already dropped. I knew I'd be one of the slower runners but I was told I was still 10 mins within the cut off for that CP so I thought I stood a good chance of getting to the next point on time especially as the RD had said times would be extended a little due to them being a little tight. To be honest even though I'd taken the whole week off exercise I was still feeling the effect of last Sundays 30 miler in my legs. For a change I was fighting the mental said quite well but it was the legs that just wouldn't move fast enough.
I'd this leg quite well with only a couple of wrong turns and as I passed a couple of other runners as I approached Long Melford and CP 3 I was feeling confident I'd be allowed to continue as I was still under the max. pace for the whole race. I got my head down as I ran down the high street looking for the CP I managed to miss yet another turn on the watch route (really need to set some kind of audio notification) and did another few hundred bonus metres. As I stopped to refuel I casually asked if I was ok to carry on and the helper said errr no your way over the cut off? I was amazed but accepted this straight away as unless I was 100% sure I would never challenge the CP staff as they have a hard job and someone always needs to be given the bad news.
As I said though I thought I was close and I still wasn't over the max. pace I'd set (later realised that I'd cover a mile extra at that pace and later didn't help) but to be told "way over" hmmm? One of the ladies that had been stopped was a tad upset (she was a lot calmer shortly after) and I have to agree a little with some of her points. I'd not made a note of the actual cut off times for each CP (rookie move) and I was 17 mins over the 7 hours allowed I guess I was frustrated that I'd got lost so often and this easily took longer than 17 mins. What I couldn't work out was the amount of "extra time" we were given? At the end of the day the cut offs are there for safety and so I boarded the minibus to the finish.
Generally I thought this was a decent event run by some nice guys who do care. The CP's were run by some of the nicest people ever with probably the best food I've ever seen, even better than Centurion! I just felt along with other runners that the cut offs should have been longer as they were the same as 50 mile races and a small detail from me was that the RD's should have been a little clearer on timings and actually what was the "extra time" amount? All in all a good event that I'd like to have another go again possibly.