Friday, 26 July 2019

Western States 100 2019 - Race Report

Western States 100 2019 - Race Report

Build up

Well where do I start? Its been a while since my last post and I'm already matching last years post count of one!

A good place to start is maybe way back in 2015? I'd heard of Western States through the book Born to Run and the legendary film Unbreakable (best running film ever?) and as I was trying to run 100 miles I'd obviously heard of the race that started it all.

Originally a 100 mile mountain horse race in America this changed ultra running forever in 1974 when one competitor had to run the whole course in sub 24hrs because his horse was lame. The event is now recognised arguably as the most prestigious 100 mile event in the world.

I'd had my first attempt at the distance in 2013 but it wasn't till finally finishing Thames Path 100 and stating "never again" was told this was a qualifier for the draw for WS100 and of course I had to enter.

I completed the online entry and waited till December for the live draw. with 5000+ people entering a race with less than 400 places it wasn't a surprise when my name wasn't picked... Oh well best look at what qualifying races I could do next year! South Downs Way 100 followed but the same draw result in 2016, North Downs Way 100 in 2017 same again and Lakeland 100 in 2018.....

We had a tradition by now in its 4th year that the family would visit the local Christmas displays and on the way back listen to the draw live via the web... This year was no different. I was driving so wasn't taking in the stuff in the background but when Katie said I was in I told her to quit joking.

But sure enough I checked the draw results and I was in the race! Later that evening I started to get messages from various people that had heard the news including Tim Lambert who I first met at SDW 100 and who had also got in after waiting even longer then me.

Another guy who got in was Tremanye Cowdry who'd run it a couple of years before and as fortune would have it got in again. Tremanye would prove to be a massive help and I'd like to say a special thanks to him who as well as my family probably had to listen to countless questions.


Pre-draw result I'd previously decided to focus one last time in 2019 on a fast road marathon and had already started to try increase my base speed with previously non-existent weekly speed sessions. Well I wasn't going to miss States once I knew I was in so fast marathon training also incorporated 50 mile ultra marathons as well as usual Tempo runs, not really ideal.

Well Manchester marathon came and went and I did manage 3:27 which was a PB but I knew months ago that I wasn't going to be fully focused on the tarmac but I was pleased with the result anyway. What it did remind me was that road racing isn't really for me as I much preferred the trails.

As well as upping the miles now I was trying to run in the hills as often as possible and also as the race would hit 100 deg F I was now in weeks of heat training in daily saunas (20 mins never seemed so long). But towards the end generally the training had probably gone as well as it ever had in the build up to a 100 miler and decided rest was critical so I had a 3 week gradual taper over my usual 2.

Time to fly

June was soon upon us and soon I was packing kit, then unpacking and repacking about a dozen times as I couldn't decide on exactly what to use so I took everything! We by now had a small group of about 8 Brits that were also doing the event and most of us met up at the airport the Tuesday before the start as we flew to San Fransisco.

What I haven't mentioned were events over the last weekend before the race. Me and Mrs B had a rare night out in London but she was take really ill with what was later diagnosed as a stomach bug and was sick for days. Well you guessed it, the night before my flight I started feeling sick. Not that bad and I crossed everything it wouldn't be as bad as Kelly as she really suffered.

I boarded the plane and I didn't feel like eating or drinking anything even though I had bought loads of food. After 11 hours we landed and I'd somehow managed to hold it together for the whole flight but as we stood in line at immigration I started to get waves of serious nausea. I told Tremayne I needed to go to the toilet asap and that was the last I remember as everything went black.

I came too on the floor surrounded by strangers and the first thing I thought was if I get seen by officials they're not going to let me in the country! Everyone asked if I was ok and I jumped up and said I was fine even though I really wasn't. I couldn't tell anyone in my group the real reason I was in bad shape as I didn't want to jinx anyone so blamed it on the heat and after 2 hrs we cleared customs to my relief.

See you in Squaw

We had one night in San Francisco and the next day we travelled to Squaw Valley about 3 hours away. We drove straight to a BBQ near-by which hosted all the international runners and it was here I met my pacer Julie for the first time. Julie was a local who knew the course well and had helped at the event for years. She was helping again on race day at Devils Thumb but would meet me later to pace me hopefully to the finish. Also at the BBQ were a few race legends including the man that started it all Gordy Ainsleigh by running the route with his horse.

We eventually got to the hotel and everyone was keen to have a few beers and some food but I still couldn't eat much. I was feeling pretty sick but it wasn't getting any worst and I knew it only really lasted 3 days as Kelly had improved then so I hoped I'd be feeling better before the start. I really hoped no one else started to get it though even though there was nothing I could have done.

The next day I went for a walk around the beautiful resort of Tahoe City. Despite the name its a small town right on the lake surrounded by huge ski resort mountains. Was I taking some picture of the lake and guy passed me and said if I wanted to take a cool picture I should take on of the bear. Bear? There must be a statue of a bear close by but oh no about 20m away was a baby bear walking around and I was looking for mama bear but luckily she wasn't around!

Later we drove to the start and the place was amazing. It was built to hold the 1960 Winter Olympics and it was super impressive. I couldn't believe I was actually here in the place I'd only seen in movies and I was part of it. We had a briefing from the race RD and we took a really slow walk from the start for the first 4 miles of the race straight up a ski run. What was a little strange was that in places the ski run was till in use as high snow fall still refused to melt and race day would be

I'll be honest with the week I'd had I wasn't looking forward to this climb as I was nervous how I would feel with almost no fuel in the build up but me and Tremayne took it really easy stopping every now and then to take in the views and we were soon approaching the top and wow it was worth it. We were buzzing. Im not sure if it was elation or altitude but we were jumping up and down like kids. I noticed one of the few at the top was ladies elite runner Camile Herron. She was also bouncing up and down as I took a selfie of both of us, an amazing experience.

The rest of the day was spent walking around the resort again bothering ultra running royalty for more photos. Eventually we drove back to the hotel and started one final kit pack ready for registration and check in the next day. Then it was Friday the day before the start and I was feeling a lot better. I still had little appetite but I wasn't feeling as sick now and no one else in the group looked like they were going down with anything more importantly.

We again drove to the start and we were first in line to register for the race. This was a series of stands that start with your race photo being taken by Luis Escobar the famous race photographer and big part of the Born to Run story. I shook his hand and he seemed like a genuinely really nice guy who was loving it. Best bit about the stands? The swag! I came out with loads of Western States branded goodies, now all I had to do was finish the event so I could use them!

Next our drop bags were handed in. I'd opted for 3 race bags and a finish bag. Two of the race bags were only Tailwind fuel and a larger bag for 62 miles with new shoes, socks and headtorch etc. I'd decided to carry a tiny emergency torch in my race vest just in case as well as my main headlamp despite States having no formal kit list and this turned out to be a decent decision.

Well that was it we were ready. The body had sorted itself out and the kit was packed. We had one last meal that night and it was early to bed for a 2:30am alarm call. I slept pretty well and got myself dressed and ready for the drive to the start and we got there just before 4am with the race due to start at 5am. We were all huddled in one small room and people were trying to have one last coffee before the adventure ahead. I was a little nervous but really just wanted to get started. I said good luck to all the GB runners one last time and took myself off to a corner ready for the start.

3,2,1.... BANG

With minutes to go the starter gave a speech about the journey and don't forget to turn around and look around every now and again especially at the top of the first long climb, then countdown and a shotgun start and we were off. People started running but I was determined to start super slow and not run one step on the first climb. I felt ok but the walk seemed a lot harder than it had a couple of days ago and I looked at my watch as I was doing something I'd never done in an event before and that was run to heart rate. I'd been told that the most critical thing was to not head out too fast but save something for the "easier" 2nd half of the race.

I looked around still nowhere near the top and I was a little worried that there didn't seem a lot more people left behind me. I wanted to take it easy but I was concerned I was too slow. One of our group Sharon tapped me on the shoulder and told me I really was taking it easy! This set off more alarm bells and I pushed on a little and eventually reached the top of Escarpment the first climb finished. I've never been so relieved. Now I had visions of a nice 30 mile easy downhill recovery but I was in for a shock.

The High Country

Just before I started running I remembered what the starter said and I stopped in my tracks turned around and looked at the view and wow it was amazing we were above the clouds looking down on the lake with the sun rising. I quickly turned around and started to run at a reasonable pace on the single track as I passed a dude blowing a huge alpine horn. I started feeling better but soon the clear trail turn into 6ft high banks of snow and ice that had to be climbed up and then slid off.

This seemed to drag on for miles but eventually the snow eased as we approached the first aid station Lyon Ridge that was really tiny I remember. I was feeling shattered too early and didn't know why but tried some Cliff Shot blocks that were on offer but they just didn't sit right on my stomach and decided to stick to Tailwind and gels only not risking solids. We were now in high country and even though I was in a dark place I forced myself to look up at the absolutely epic views of the Sierra Nevada's.

I realised I'd forgotten to check my progress by looking for the cut off signs at the last stop and as I was still using HR which was through the roof in zone 4 I kept backing off to try and get it lower. Eventually I managed to stabilise myself and tried to enjoy the rolling trails more with what seemed endless switchbacks either up or down. All I can remember at this point was where was it all downhill after the first climb? Nearly 16 miles of tough running and we get to Red Star Ridge aid station and the amazing helpers filled my bottles while I try to compose myself for the next section running from one stop to the next was all I could handle.

But we had an issue! This time at the aid station I did look at the timing signs and it wasn't good news. They gives you sub 24, sub 30 and cut-off times so you can check your progress and I was 10 minutes slower than sub 30hrs pace (the cut-off for the whole event). That meant unless I got quicker Id be out. This was totally alien to me, I didn't understand how this was possible? I knew I was suffering and slow but I was sure I was making progress in the pack? With this in mind I started to try and push the pace a little more but now the snow was beginning to melt and I could sense the big issue approaching.... The heat. Nothing boiling right now but it was almost like every step forward was one closer to the fire.

More epic rolling trails through the woods and actually I started to feel better as I got myself onto a train of runners at a similar pace and coasted for a while and Duncan Canyon aid station 10 miles later was soon upon us, at least I was settling into the race and I could do some serious running? This was the first large aid station as the others were so remote and there was a party going on. Loads of people filling bottles or putting ice in bandannas for runners. Again I didn't want to stop too long and tried to follow my new found friends out of the stop but had to slow as again the body wasn't having it. I soon lost sight of the train and I was on my own again. The words on the helpers at the last stop echoed... "2 miles down then 4 miles up". 6 to the next stop, how hard could that be? Well the word Canyon should have set off alarm bells if my head could take anymore as we dropped 2 miles off a cliff then climbed 4 miles up the other side. It was so hot that any running water on the course like the streams at the bottom of these drops meant a stop and a soaking.

The up just never seemed to end and it was the first time I think I noticed people passing me as we hiked. I looked at my fingers as they felt strange and was shocked to see them twice the size from the heat but also the altitude and this was something I had totally not prepared for. I was almost at a standstill and it took everything to place one foot in front of the other, again my heart rate was 170+ and either this climb had to finish or I'd be finished. Could this be the end of 4 years of work in less than 30 miles? Eventually I could hear the faint cheers that could only mean the next stop and I stumbled into it as a helper who was trying to fill my bottles was saying something but it seemed muffled as I stumbled around. "FOCUS, FOCUS, look me in the eyes man". Then something clicked again and I was back in the game. I had a drop bag with Tailwind that I grabbed and they told me the next section was all downhill. I hoped this was what I needed and I walked on.

I honestly nearly stopped at the last aid station but like Gordy the races creator said I could still take one more step so would keep doing that till I either finished or was told to stop. Then it happened, the slight climb out of the aid station on a dirt track started to drop and it felt like being on an airport travellator as we shuffled along everyone around me seemed in the same boat (trains, boats... plane hopefully anyone?) We had 10 miles till the start of the real canyons and heat and now there were aid stations every 5 or so miles so this was a welcome change. As we dropped altitude I noticed I was feeling better and better and the pace was getting quicker and HR dropping so I felt in a good place. Again I managed to run with some others and without saying anything we would help each other along the trails taking it in turns to lead and push like a bike race. I knew what was to come though below us.

The Canyons

I was somehow on my own again as I got to another set of downhill switchbacks and for the first time tried to run them quick as possible to get some time back as I was slowly getting out of the red. These turns were mega steep and seemed to last forever and I nearly reached the bottom before finally getting caught. At the bottom was the famous swinging bridge and a natural pool where you can recover for a few seconds. I was boiling but the climb down to the pool looked huge so I started the long hike up the Devil's Thumb and the 50 mile point where my pacer Julie was working. This was one of the biggest climbs on the event and although only a mile it had something like 25 switchbacks and was a 1000ft of up. This I heard was a nightmare and I'd been told stories of people laying on the floor of the aid station like a war zone! Hiking up I had to give everything but strangely it wasn't that bad. One thing I'd practised a lot in training was hills and hiking and now it was paying off as I stuck to a pace and even passed people who had ground to a halt halfway up. It was brutal.

When I did get to the top that was the first time cramp hit me. Everything locked up crawled into the help area on my knees. I saw Julie as everything cramped and couldn't even hold my water bottle to my mouth as my arms locked too. She dragged me to the table of food and drink and I was given a cup of pickle juice to down and told it would help. I've nothing against pickles but let's just say I take them out of burgers! Again I didn't want to stay long as I managed to get moving, I grabbed a famous ice lolly and jogged on. Due to the change in terrain I was now about an hour ahead of the 30hr timings and I wasn't a million miles from Michigan Bluff and Foresthill where the course is more rolling than big hills? More ups and downs followed and again I started to feel better but exactly like last time I had to drop into a huge canyon then climb 2 miles and 1800ft out. At the top was a huge motivator Michigan Bluff aid station though.

As I ran into the stop I passed the friend of one of our Brit team runners who I'd seen earlier and a pacer who was waiting for Tim Lambert, it was so good seeing people I knew. Even though every helper and aid station was amazing, this was special. There was music, decor and absolutely loads of people as this was a major crew point and everyone cheered you on. I filled bottles again and this time no ice in the hat or bandanna as the evening was coming in and I was into my next race now against the darkness. Although still light as I hiked the never ending road out, I still had a few miles to cover till I got to pick up my pacer and more importantly my main headtorch. The trails leading to the steady climb into the town of Foresthill weren't to bad but went on forever and with a mile to go I had to dig out the tiny backup light I had luckily as I jogged along the road into the aid station as it was pitch black.

The Back Half

The helpers shouted my race number and right there was Julie waiting for me. I said I needed my drop bag but she already had it and she introduced me to her friend that was also helping another runner. We ran through to a group of others that Julie knew and I was told to take a seat as they looked after me like an racing pit crew. I changed my shoes and socks, put on my main light took some salt tablets as I was still getting cramps (need to use these now even in UK) and off we went as I shouted thanks to these people Id never met before but looked after me like family. Soon we were on the Cal Street section and 16 miles down to the Rucky Chucky river crossing. I can't remember too much about this section apart from I again tried to get some time in the bank as I was still running ok and was determined not to automatically get into a death march through the night like I always tend to do. But I felt good. mentally I was on the "easy" part of the course and taken it as steady as I dared in the front part to save the legs for now.

In fact the main thing I remember about this part of the race was the wind. I'd like to say the wind off the river but no, lets just say the days building up to this and the toll of the hours so far resulted in a far amount of "internal combustion". I kept apologising as I played my own special tune along the trail in front of a lady I'd only just met but she told me to stop saying sorry bless her (the things pacers have to put up with!) Anyway back to the race. By now as we approached the river I noticed the quads which had given up with 40 miles to go at Lakeland last year were starting to fade fast. I was still managing to jog but the pain was building. As we got the the river and the boats that would carry us across I had to be helped down the bank as the legs were so sore. Out the other side we hike the climb to Green Gate at 80 miles and it looked like I now had over 2 hrs in the bank again on 30hr cut and with 20 "easy" miles left talk occasionally turned to "when" not "if" we finished.

The problem now was the quads as usual. I'd had sore quads before and this was nothing new but I wasn't ready to walk still so again did what I could and latched onto other runners and did everything I could to keep up through pain as 20 miles of slow walk could be hours and I could easily lose the advantage I worked so hard to get and I was determined not to scrape the finish. Again the aid stations seemed closer together and after a couple more we were greeted at dawn at an aid station at just over 90 miles run by Hal Koerner multiple time winner of the race. Truly humbling to speak to him, imagine Paula Radcliffe sponging you down mid race! With less than 10 miles left and over 2.5hrs inside the cut now I knew without disaster I was going to finish and the legs pretty much gave up. I'm not sure if it was the legs or the mind but running really wasn't happening now and I was starting to feel a little tired for the first time despite my new found friends cola and mountain dew sorting me out.

We walked past the infamous "Stop Jim" path junction where Jim Walmsley failed to take a turn and lost the race (never seen so much tape) and we hiked up to Highway 49 and Pointed Rock aid station where I was all smiles. I was told it was all down hill to the famous No Hands Bridge then one last climb to the finish. Only issue being I couldn't walk downhills let alone run. As I shuffled sideways crab-like I was now getting passed regularly and the close downhill aid station seemed to take ages to appear but when it did wow! It was just like all the films. Lots of helpers, music, flags... Amazing but a slight shame I didn't get to see the light show in the dark but dreams of sub 24hrs went after the first stop. We hiked the huge climb to the last aid station Robie Point with a mile to go and jogged the streets to the track which again seemed to take ages to get to.


And that was it... There was the track and the finish line and I could already hear the announcer calling my name and we sprinted the line to get sub 28hrs. My first goal was to finish, the next finish comfortably and the dream was sub 24. Well as I said I knew with a couple of hours gone the dream wasn't happening but that didn't matter... A buckle is a buckle, silver or bronze and I'd left everything on the course and more! This was the dream!

The list of people I'd like to thank is endless... Firstly my family for supporting me on this crazy adventure and then to Julie my awesome pacer and friend. I wouldn't have finished without you and you held me together when things got dark in all meanings of the word and all the Brits in or supporting the event. Again the everyone was amazing. So is that the end of the story? Box ticked move on? I'm not sure, I'm now in the draw if I enter for next year and who knows?

See you in Squaw?

Monday, 15 January 2018

Tough day in the "office" - Cold Christmas to High Easter 50k

This photo sums up everything about my day

So it's been a while since my last post but I felt I needed to record the events of the day for future reference as for me it was strangely significant.

I'd carried an Achilles injury for most of last year but hadn't stopped as it wasn’t getting any worse but as I finished my last event of 2017 I decided to rest it up and seek some guidance. A few weeks before Christmas I visited a local physio who I knew did Shockwave treatment. This I'd read as a relatively new but effective treatment that could help where traditional methods had failed (apart from lengthy rest which was never going to happen).

He actually didn't say what the issue was specifically apart from there was a great deal of inflammation that was being caused by "something". I was a little uninspired and asked if they could just start Shockwave but he said he needed to seek advice and get back to me. A couple of days later and I got the message that I should start.

By this stage I'd already taken a couple of weeks off rest from running  and the foot was actually feeling ok so what did I do? Yep 20 miles along the Saffron Way with the boys from Little Baddow Ridge Runners! I thought this would be a nice slow jog/walk and a decent test for the ankle. So as we started the obvious feeling was a loss of fitness but I'd expected this and it was almost like I was starting again in my early running days.

Anyway, I thought the run was great but as we approached Danbury and neared my home I decided to call it a day as the Achilles was starting to ache. I'd kind of hoped I wouldn't need to seek further treatment but I got home and booked the first session.

Fast forward, 4 sessions down (and a large hole in my wallet) and there's a noticeable improvement. It's nowhere near fixed but it's a bit better for the first time in months. After another week off and a stone heavier I went out for a couple of short runs and apart hopefully some superficial pain in the foot all was ok.

I'd booked an event in the first week of Jan which was 26 miles. I was going to walk this with Katie originally but she hadn't put the training in as she'd been ill so I decided to jog around with Darren and a couple of his friends who were new to the longer runs. The day went ok but again what I really noticed was the fact I was "hitting the wall" a lot more than usual and more specifically a lot earlier.

I came off that event ok and decided to go ahead with another event the following week, an off-road 50k. Writing this I'm already thinking that a few weeks off and a couple of back to back long events would probably result in a slow pace but the head didn't realise this at the time! I had no idea how to pace this event as if I was on form I would have pushed at the start and tried to hang on but as soon as we started and the people I normally ran with pulled away I knew that wasn't going to happen and settled into by back up plan which was find a decent paced group and let them pull me around.

I saw a guy I'd seen at a few events in the past that I knew was pretty steady and he was running with a couple of others including the current first lady so I tried to keep them in sight and also try and benefit from some opportunity to relax on the navigation and follow them (well you can guess what happens next). Well we reached the first CP at almost 9 miles and I'm feeling great, I followed the group out and took the next left pushing the pace a little to keep together. Well we soon realised that this wasn't correct. We stopped, looked at the instructions had a look around and decided to turn back. It wasn't that bad a delay and it was a silly mistake as the paths were numbered.

At this point alarm bells should have been ringing. The delay had meant I was now running with this group which was nice as we all started to chat about races we'd done and injury's we'd picked up. What I wasn't doing at this time was following the route description close enough and if you do this at a key point you then you can be in trouble. We kept running on this wide track until we saw a runner walking towards us. It was James a guy I knew who said the path ahead just stops at a road that's not on the instructions? At this point we all ran on to see and stopped and looked around. I notice a hidden path off to the right and guide everyone onwards on the correct route but 30 seconds later the path ends and again we are lost.

After another bout of standing around we decided to run back to the last point we knew was correct picking up runners who were making the same mistake. It was then that I saw Andy from my club who jogged up to me, jumped through a fence and ran up a faint path on the hill. I looked at the instructions and sure enough it was all there but we'd missed one sign and then ran in auto pilot. Extra distance and time wasn't what I needed.

It was nice to run with Andy and James for a while but I really wanted to keep my pace up so I stuck with the group I was with and we pulled away. We settle into the pace again but we were still stopping every so often to question turns when if I was on my own I'd probably just keep going and it all adds up on the clock. Coming up to the 2nd CP I was starting to feel significantly tired. I was fueling as much as possible on the run but the legs were getting heavier and I was glad I was in the pack as they pulled me into the stop.

Splash and dash and we were away. It was great to see a number of familiar faces at the CP but we pushed on along the Flitch Way now keeping the pace. This section went on for sometime and now I was really starting to feel it having to stop a couple of times to stretch off. I was still hanging in with the pack though but as I stopped to answer the call of nature I fell off the back of the pack some distance. I pushed as fast as I could but didn't feel I could catch them as I had nothing left. We were at 25 miles and with at least 5 maybe 6 miles to go I was concerned I was going to have to back right off, what I should have been telling myself was this was a dip and I needed to keep pushing through it.

Well I gave it everything I had and upped the pace and managed to catch the group as we reached a farm and crossed multiple fields. The issue now again I was only half following the instructions as I recovered and I was relying on them to make most of the decisions. This is a common issue and no one person is ever at fault as over time everyone will lead the group the wrong way most times and people shouldn't just follow. We got to a section where everyone up front had stopped including some other runners. I overtook them as I realised I'd actually ran this section on another event and they asked did I know where I was going and I confidently answered "of course".

We got to a church, took the path through a hedge opposite and turned left (in hindsight we were already wrong). We got to another section where things weren't adding up completely so we stopped again. We went back to the point we knew was correct which was the path opposite the church gate and we carried on making the direction fit (another rookie move). What I know now was we'd all actually taken the wrong route probably a mile previously but the description led us by coincidence back on track to the church gate but we approached it from the wrong direction and as a result every direction from this point was opposite.

Eventually again we all stopped as things didn't make sense. We were now well off course and looking at the map we could see the next CP in the distance and the main path which took us to it. We managed to quickly get back on course but had lost at least 20 more minutes and ran more bonus miles. We eventually got the the next stop with one more to go and my watch told me I should have finished the race distance now. We quickly refueled for the last push and again we managed to stop and question directions. Eventually we settled into the course and I fell off the group but kept them in sight as I trudged to finish.

Not sure I've ever been so glad for an event to be over. I was pretty frustrated for a number of reasons but actually I got exactly what I deserved and the result wasn't that bad. I think I finished 16th out of 90ish people.

A great event on a good course with nice weather, at least I got my moneys worth!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Saltmarsh 75 - The best yet?

Ian Brazier's 2017 Saltmarsh 75 Report

Here I am in the lead just before Burnham
(Pic by Saltmarsh75)

Things started well as the mayor set us off and we sped along the sea wall. Things were going well and I was in the lead pack somehow.  Reality kicked in immediately as a reminder that I should know my place as I tripped on a stone and face planted an inch away from a rock that could have easily split my head like a coconut!

So what did I do next? Slow down and settle back into the pack for the long game? Noooooooo way. I decided everyone was going too slow so I'd push on. The talk in the group was we were going too fast but I honestly thought they were bluffing and just waiting to make their moves so as we approached CP1 as Mr Saltmarsh Colin Harper joked to me "you'd better be first so we don't hold you up!" I made my move.

I think everyone must of thought it was a bit of a laugh as I sped off (and I think I did too) but then I thought lets see how far I can pull away before they catch up? Bit by bit, they were getting quite a way away as I passed walker after walker who congratulated me on leading the race! I honestly didn't think it would last but I was having fun but they didn't come. 

Part of me thought for a second that like the Tour de France, the Peloton had mistakenly let me go and I'd pull away to the finish.... but the reality was more like it would probably end in tears! Well it would be a talking point I thought as I'm sure my watch told me 7 minute miles (well it felt like it).

Well this continued past Althorne and up the Creaksea Mountain and soon we were approaching Burnham Marina. I could see the group on the bend behind now so I knew the end was near but rather than accepting defeat, I pushed even harder as I ran along the waterfront. Before long I was making the turn into the CP and everyone was congratulating me but fully focused I simply filled an empty bottle and ran out of the aid station leaving people in my wake. 

This is what it must of felt like to be a winner? This is what it must be like to be quick and you know what? It felt alright  :)

Friday, 2 June 2017

2017 GUCR Report

GUCR 2017

Ian Brazier

Well I'm sitting in bed writing this at 4am two days post event as the body still thinks this is is a normal time to be operating. What's the biggest thing I've learnt from this process over the last few months? Although the body is important, it's the head and the heart that rule.

What is GUCR? Well a couple of years ago that was something I asked. I'd been running distance for sometime and every now and then people would mention their bucket list events and these four letters would occasionally come up?

The Gran Union Canal Race! This year would be its 23rd year and in this time its became ultra running folklore. Small in scale compared to the large commercial events that now appear everywhere but huge in stature as 100 people every year attempt to run the 145 miles along the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to Little Venice in Paddington London.

I'd hear stories from people I knew that had taken part and even though the distance by today's standards isn't that long (a 615 mile event was taking place at the same time this year), events that go on much longer than GUCR start to become something else in my mind. Absolutely respect all events but any longer and the simple race format starts to change after.

You would see people wear the GUCR finisher hoodies with pride at other events and you'd naturally have to nod in respect as you knew they belonged to an exclusive club, So when did my GUCR story start? Well actually you could say 4 years ago when I did my first ultra Country to Capital 45 miles that includes in its second half the actual finish of the it's "big brother", so that least I'd recced the finish!

The actual story starts end of last year when I was looking for an main event for 2017 and it was coming up to ballot time for this and I thought "why not" probably won't get a place as it's over subscribed every year so I put my name in the hat. The night of the draw came and lovely Gin Lawson who'd actually traveled up to watch it kindly messaged me to say I'd got a place... Poop was my first reaction if I'm honest.

I next needed a plan for training. Like any other running event you need to put the miles in before hand or race day won't end well most times. I started like usual plotting key build up races slowly building distance up then planning training runs in between. The first of these buildup events was in January and it took five long cold months before I towed the start line.

So how did I train compared to previous 100's? I did more 50 mile events and tougher long runs but I also ran faster generally than before determined to give myself the best shot possible, what I also planned was waking practice as I'd lost time previously when run/walking/hiking as my pace was slow (never managed walking training).

The other big difference to the norm was this time I had a crew. The GUCR splits the entries in two groups "supported and unsupported". I'm not sure if it's true but I thought as it was difficult to get a crew for these events, maybe I stood a better chance in the draw? Anyway I put out a message on social media and amazingly got some offers of help and Team Brazier was born!

At about this time started to search for as much information on the event as possible. I also spoke to a few friends that had done the event and Colin Barnes from my Race Kit in Southend even gave me his detailed race plan spreadsheet from previous years he'd taken part this was going to prove critical as it formed the plan for my whole team. The plan was based on a finishing time of 34 hrs but to be honest my only real goal was to finish and to finish in daylight in the second day as mentally a second night would be tough.

So who was in the team? I needed I figured I needed at least 5 people's help ideally. One to crew support following me between checkpoints on route feeding me as required Saturday day, one Saturday night and one Sunday day. I'd also like two buddy runners (not pacers as assistance isn't allowed) to keep me company in the 2nd half.

                                                                      The Crew

Dan who is part of the admin team for a local running event was the first shift, Gerry who as well as a decent runner is Mr Parkrun Chelmsford was night shift and lastly was Len, ultra runner and again an experienced event director. For running company I had Brian who's paced me successfully on every 100 I've done and Darren who I train with regularly and is probably one of the most solid all round ultra runners I know.

What was most important though was I could trust them all literally with my life. I knew this would be the hardest event I'd done and I knew they'd be times when I couldn't think straight and these people would be my safety net if all else failed, I need to trust them totally (cue dramatic music).

Anyway after weeks of running and meeting after meeting my bags and boxes were packed and it was the day before the event and I was waiting for Dan to take me to Birmingham in his camper which as decked out with everything you could need for an event like this (including the kitchen sink!)

                                                        The Kit (not including food)

After a chilled out ride to Birmingham we somehow managed to stumble on the hotel where registration was taking place and the bar opposite where most of the runners were eating.
I booked us into our hotel 5 mins walk away and I lined up with some of the who's who of ultra running to sign on the dotted line.

Over the road it was again an all star meet up with people wearing race shirts from some of the most exclusive events around the world. I felt a little out of my depth but it was nice to see some familiar faces such as Fiona, Jo, Baz and Colin. Me and Dan had a couple of beers and some food then went back to the hotel for an early night as it was a 4:45 alarm call.

Unlike some who'd stayed at hotels right in the centre we had a quiet night and I got up just before the alarm and sorted my kit for the last time before tucking into a tin of cold baked beans and sausages, just like being in the army again! I grabbed my kit and met up with Fiona, Joe and Chris and walked to the start around the corner where it was good to see more people I recognised.

                                                              The Premier Crew

We were asked to walk to the canal side and after a short speech by Dick Kearn the original race director who in the last years handed the reins to Keith Gooden, it was the countdown and we were all running.

The first thing I noticed was I was near the back of the 107 starters with everyone I knew nowhere to be seen. I didn't want to go out quick especially as it was due to be steaming hot but it was still early and cool so I guess it's run while you can, so I stepped up the pace to try and find people I knew. Luckily I caught up Colin and Paul Adams who I knew through a couple of events and were soon jogging together.

Felt pretty good jogging along trying to stick to 10 minute miles for as long as possible which was a minute and a half faster per mile than planned. As a result I was building up time in the bank that I was going to need later as it turned out but still not trying to go too fast that I burnt out before even halfway. This was my biggest concern pre-race and I guess I was going to suck it and see.

I'd asked to meet Dan before the first official stop even though I didn't think I'd need him but just in-case I had some kit issues that needed sorting quick but all good so far so we pushed on and soon we got to the first stop at 10 miles, I filled one of my bottles and was offered something to eat by Emily of Paul's crew.

The three of us were running well together and although I was kitted out and prepared to run alone it was nice having company especially Colin who had already completed this a number of times. We carried on like this as it got warmer and the early storm rain that had cooled us had long done and it was mega humid.

The pace was steady for at least 30 miles but soon Colin needed some admin time so we jogged on but didn't see him for a while and we were down to a duo. The crew support was amazing with Paul's team being at one point and mine at the next. Dan had the bottles I needed and some food in a small pack and I'd let him know for the next stop if I wanted something different. Crewing isn't easy but it was all going to plan.

By now the day was really warm and the pace earlier was showing so we started to run/walk allowing the body time recover I think we were on 25 run 5 mins walk and this was working well as the overall pace was slower approximately 11 min/miles but we were saving energy. 

The next milestone was 45. At this point we would be less than 100 miles left and was described as where the event really starts from! We kept this going past 50 and what I called the first race of three completed. I don't think you can go and think about the complete distance so I said it's 2 x 50 milers with a 45 mile at the end. So I was on part two and all good.
Coming up to 55 miles and we are in yet another country section where the Canal just cuts through the fields and nothing else, it's nice but hours of the same backdrop was starting to get a bit repetitive. Luckily we were approaching the point where a work friend lived and said she'd pop down to say hi. We were actually bang on 34 hr pace still so there might be a chance to see her. I'd already seen a friend Caroline and it's a real boost and then in the distance I thought I could see Suzanne and her family and friends coming up and yes it was them, they'd made banners and had loads of snacks etc. They'd probably been waiting a while for me and it was amazing.

By now we were preparing to reach the 70 mile point of the race and nearly halfway and more significant for me is the fact that I'll be switching crews to Gerry for the night section and also picking up Brian as a buddy runner. Dan's shift was over. He'd been amazing, he'd managed to gauge my needs throughout the day and been there when I'd needed him. Top guy!

Talking of top guys, as I was running into the aid station on Navigation Bridge where I was heckled from the pub by the one and only James Adams! I'd like thank him (I think for the motivation), I'd also re-read his GUCR sections in his book prior to the race and the advice was invaluable.

I took the opportunity to change my kit for the night and wondered if the new UD Timmy Olson race vest I'd used so far would take all the kit I needed as it was pretty lightweight but it did fantastic carrying a jacket, two mobiles, two water bottles, space blanket, battery charger and some food and more!

I also had by now blisters on both little toes and this was just annoying and even though I'd Vas'd them and wore toe socks this always happens on super long distances, maybe I'll tape them next time but for now I thought I'd take a chance and change shoes from Trailrocs to a pair of Altra's as they have a massive toe box and thought I'd give them a go as the feet swelled. Talking of footwear for a second. I'd been asked a few times on the event why no running sandals? Well I didn't want to take the chance if I was honest as I'd never worn them on any 100's but next goal is NDW100 in Luna’s maybe?

Running into the 70 mile CP

Anyway, we set off again but now with Brian my new member of the team in toe. We met our crews more frequently as the light faded into darkness and we were still managing to run / walk at a steady pace but it was obviously getting hard work as the day was starting to catch up with me. It's has been said I do sometimes like a moan when running at nights and although I always warn people of this and friends know what Im like when Im tired, I do honestly try and keep as much inside as possible.

Me and Paul had struck up a really decent partnership in the day, taking it in turns to lead and set the pace where we could and this worked well but soon I noticed my turns at the front were getting less and less and I was being pulled along. I know what this is like and I eventually told Paul I was sorry I couldn’t set the pace now. Paul was cool but I struggle when I try and run someone else’s pace so I started to think about my next choices?

I said to Brian that I needed to stop at some point and sit down. I know people say “beware of the chair” but I’ve never had an issue getting back up and sometimes I need to rest the legs and the mind for a for minutes and I feel this sometimes helps you continue after resetting yourself. We approached a check point at 85 miles and I told the guys I’d need to stop soon and chose 90 miles at Leighton Buzzard. When I eventually got there I said goodbye to Paul and thanked him for his support including his wife Emily and the whole crew and Gerry emptied the back of his car and set up a bed for me to try and sleep. I asked him to wake me in 20 minutes and under no circumstances move the car or I’d be DQ’d and I shut my eyes thinking I’d drop straight off but not a chance. The body was so twitchy that I couldn’t go off so I lay there with my eyes closed just determined to relax.

My bedroom for 20 minutes

Suddenly the tailgate opened and Gerry said it was time to get up. Well now I was spaced out like a rabbit in the headlights and the body was shaking violently due to the change in temperature. I put my kit back on as quickly as possible and me and Brian set off into the night. We carried on the run walk but the run sections were noticeably shorter but I tried to increase the walking pace to compensate but we were slower now and the large amount of time I had in the bank from earlier was rapidly disappearing and the 100 mile point seemed to never come.

At around 4am, the sun began to come up and I had a little mental boost and kept pushing and eventually we approached the Pub by the canal at just under 100 miles but my watch had me covering 102 miles already. Even with the major slow down I managed to get to 100 miles in 22 hours 20 minutes, actually a 100 mile PB by 1 hour and 23 minutes. This was great but as I said I feared now as the new day set in that I’d start the dreaded “death march” and what I initially called the last race of 45 miles could take a very long time.

Day 2

We left the 100 mile point and walked along the canal path knowing we were approaching the M25 and places that were familiar. One of the strangest facts so far in the event was how I had absolutely no idea where I was at any time. I try not to look at the watch too much or the time on really long events as I find when you try and tick off miles they never come quick enough especially 24 hours in.

As the sun came up fully and the heat started to cook me again, I started to really flag and the race was now a full time march with running forgotten. I could barely walk in a straight line and Brian needed to keep on the water side of me just to make sure I didn’t take a dip. All I could think of now was getting to 115 miles and the crew / buddy runner change.

As anyone who has run a long ultra will know, managing the head is a huge part of the event. I’m getting better the more I do as I used to moan loads. Now I tend try and keep the moaning inside and this time they’d been a lot of it. Some time on any long run you’ll have low points. This is due to fatigue, lack of calories. I normally try and smash as many calories as I can as soon as I notice this and also shift my focus onto something else but there are times when all you can think about is stopping. This has been covered loads of times before but I was telling myself 100 reasons why quitting would be ok. I’d PB’d 100 miles so that’s a great achievement, I’m not enjoying this so just stop, I have a niggle in my ankle that’s getting worst, and so on.

What you need to do is ignore these demons. I thought about all the time I’d put into training and all the things I’d missed with my family so I could do this. Running is selfish at the best of times but then doing 5 months of training to bin it when the going gets really tough would result in me not being able to look my family and friends in the eye. The other thing was my crew. They invested their time to support me and I’d promised them that I wouldn’t quit. Little things like I had the race event shirts already and what the heck was I going to do with them if I didn’t finish? Plus ultimately I didn’t want to come back (unless I wanted too). I’d listed the “pros” and “cons” and continuing won.

As we approached the lock at 108 miles I saw Gerry and the crew plus some extra people? Len and Darren had noticed I was struggling pace wise and come forward one leg to change over teams early and it was just what I needed as I was walking dead and slumped on the floor for a minute to compose myself.

Brian and Gerry were amazing and words don’t actually cover how I feel about all these guys. Actions were required now and I knew I needed to get this done for everything they put into this. I ate a few things, switched bottles and this time is was Darren’s job to keep me out the canal. Brian on the handover had told Darren that we’d not ran for some time and I felt bad as I know how strong a runner he is and I felt like I was letting him down by being so slow and keeping him by my side and he couldn’t even push the pace or loosen his legs by sprinting forwards as this would be assistance.

After a while he suggested we try a little run just for a short while and only because the legs could probably benefit from some different movement every now and then. So I started to shuffle. It felt so slow and I thought that I was moving like I’d messed myself (which I probably had being honest). But it was faster than walking and morale wise it was good.

The jog didn’t last long but as I started to slowly wake up I was jogging more and more. I was also getting frustrated how long it was taking to get further down the course and I needed to get a move or the 2nd night was a real possibility. We kept meeting Len who was now supporting with Dan who was back in the game.

We even started to overtake some people which felt very strange and it was nice to see others especially a few I knew but a little jaded as some were obviously battling their own race and that’s the thing with these events, you never know what can happen but I hoped we all would make it to the finish.


We eventually reached the 120 mile check point and I sat down again to eat probably the best bacon sarnie I’ve ever had (sorry vegan friends) with less than a marathon to go. I was trying to eat as much as possible even though the appetite had long gone and I think I’ll need to look into liquid calories in future events as I was also feeling sick and wondered if it could be the large amount of Tailwind supplements I’d consumed? I had no idea but despite the extreme heat on both days, I’d not actually crashed to a standstill yet some a little sickness is ok by me.

We pushed on and suddenly something just clicked in my head. On a running section I decided to start pushing the pace again and soon I realised I could actual run pretty well. I was 125 miles into a race and doing 9 mm’s sections again, the pace was really starting to pick up and now we were passing even more people. What was amazing talking of people were the public. Everyone seemed to know what we were doing and clapped and cheered every time we passed. Young, old, anyone seemed to be in awe of what we were doing and that really helped. What I also started to do was believe for the first time I was barring any disaster going to finish, it was now just down to how long?

The biggest landmark that I knew on the whole course and the final pat on the back that you’d probably be ok (cut-off depending) for me was Bull’s Bridge where you turn left onto the Paddington spur of the canal and 13 miles to the finish. This sounds like its in the bag but what I also knew from Country to Captial was that this could be the slowest, hardest 13 miles ever. 13 miles would normally take a couple of hours at most but this could take 2 or even 3 times that. We pushed for one more mile and arrived at the last aid station where Len and Dan were also there as usual. That was it. No more aid stations until the finish and 12 miles to go. .

We continued up the canal and I was telling Darren that we’d soon start seeing the signs of the finish like the railway lines, the posh apartments then the supermarkets and flats but they never seemed to appear? Eventually after what seen like an age we did get there and I even managed to sprint finish and I crossed the finish line 36 hours 44 minutes and by my watch 147 miles later and we were done. Of course Len and Dan were there!

Paul Adams and me at the finish

All that’s left to say is thanks to everyone. My crew, fellow runners and their crews, my friends that supported me on the way, race organisers and finally my family. You are all amazing!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

TP100 2015 Race Day

Game on - Go hard or never come back!

Well it was the morning of the race and ....... and all well! Everything I'd worried about all week had gone and I'd even managed to sleep well.

I got up a 5am and had a bowl of porridge.... Kelly got up at 6am (love you) and in getting ready I lifted what was the heaviest kit bag in the world into the car ready for the ride to the station.

Joking aside, I was actually slightly worried about pulling my back again it was that heavy but managed to man-handle it around London just. The train was on time (it's a miracle!) and I carefully chose a seat nearest to the toilet "just in case".

I had to change at Stratford and it was here I met Darren Coates a friend who was also running who had got dropped off and we took the overground via all what seemed like 100 stops to Richmond and the start. By now I was starting to feel the pressure of all the fluids I'd taken on. I'm a nightmare at the best of times but now I was bouncing off the walls dancing around trying to avoid an accident!

Just as I thought "wee'd" nearly be there, the train would stop in-between stations and just sit there as if to tease me. Finally we pulled into Richmond I ran to the loo's which were of course closed. I ran up the stairs out of the station and straight into Costa kicking down the door with the sign "toilet for customers only" on it.

After what seemed like an hour my bladder returned to its former size and we got to the start venue. There were runners everywhere in different stages of readiness. I had my kit check then picked up my number saying hi to some friends and some "virtual" friends but needed to sort kit and hand in bags so cracked on.

It was here that the organisers commented on my size (not a good thing in this case) of my bags. I'd asked about bag size and really had pushed the limits but they were ok once they'd stopped winding me up (deserved) and soon I was ready as I'd ever be.

I had a rough plan of slowish first half followed by an even slower second (well this was my plan). Darren would probably end up faster as he's the quick one but I planned 51 miles to Henley in as close to 10 hrs as possible then hike the rest through the night if I had to.

Ultra guru Traviss Wilcox's words of wisdom were ringing in my ears though.... "no one has ever finished if they get to Henley slower than 12:15. So step on it Ian (relatively).

Well after a brief chat from James Elson RD, we were off... Well until a gate stopped almost the whole field but we were soon off again on what was a perfect day along the Thames. We were all laughing and joking but before I knew it we were doing 8:xx minute miles and alarm bells were ringing for me. I decided straight away to ease off but Darren carried on as he seemed in the groove but I really wanted to "pace not race" as someone had told me previously.

I was forcing myself to run approx. 10 minute miles and I bumped into Colin Barnes from, I told him I was going too fast and he totally agreed as we jogged slowly along the river. Even Colin's slow pace was a little quick for me so I said bye and backed off even more. We were moving with no issues and there were little to no need for nav. checks yet as I had recce'd the whole route so many times on the internet and I knew we were going to have to cross the river for the first time shortly (later found out some people didn't?).

First crossing complete as we approached Hampton Court Palace and I said hello to another "virtual friend" "Luna" Peter G Smith from FB... He's now elevated to "real friend" status! (this would happen a few times). As I crossed the river again I was impressed how good the paths were and made a mental note to take the family back here another time as the backdrop of the river with it's rowers and wild life was impressive along with the local architecture, everyone goes to the centre of town when visiting London but this was impressive.

After a few more miles, I could see Darren ahead walking? I guessed that he'd realised finally what pace he was running and decided to slum it at the back with me for a while ;) I told him I wasn't going to push it and he agreed and we ran together into the first CP at 11 miles.

This was stocked in usual Centurion fashion with wraps, fresh fruit, gels and as usual anything would be no trouble. These event are nearly always manned by fellow runners and not just by mere mortals like you and me but often you'll find your drink being topped up in the middle of the night by the person who'd won the race previously and everyone is treated the same. Several times during the event we questioned why we do this and I think this is one huge part of it.

I asked for my single bottle to be filled and added a hydration tablet. I refilled my "roo pouch" a small bum bag that I fill with nibbles and use to graze until the next CP, downed a few snacks then we were off again. Probably in and out in less than 2 minutes?

I turned on my phone and updated FB with "CP1 done" and turned it off again. The fact it was beeping mad told me something was happening in the social media world. The weather continued to be glorious, I fact maybe a little too warm really and I was wondering if my decision to only carry one 500ml water bottle to hand was the best? But like a lot of things that were to happen, I wasn't going to stop to sort it.

We kept the pace even as the views along the river continued to be impressive. We approached yet another bridge and the group we were in insisted the path continued on the same side we were currently on. I was sure this was a crossing point and said this but they carried on taking Daren with them. I turned right over the bridge but had a hunch I would see them again soon. Well a matter of minutes later I turned and the whole group were crossing the bridge and catching me up. I thought I'd make it a little more interesting for them and every time I lost sight of them on a twisty part of  the course I'd up the pace slightly, this actually opened up a small gap.

Eventually I settled back into a steady pace as I joined the river again and eventually I could hear Darren talking to another guy approaching. He was with a guy called Rashaad from Bangladesh. Rashaad was running really well and trying to be the first person from his country to officially complete a 100 mile race (he smashed it).

Soon me and Darren settle down again and we jogged along the riverside as the capital disappeared replaced by larger houses complete with private jetty's. We passed under the landmarks that were the M3 motorway and eventually the M25 (not so impressive) so I knew we couldn't be far from CP2.

Soon I could see then Centurion flag in the distance and spotted the lovely Fiona McNelis controlling the clipboard. Once again I followed my usual routine of quick in and quick out of the aid station and we both walked out with food eating like we'd discussed previously for a few minutes. On this day which was now pretty warm and sunny, many others looked like they were taking the chance to cool off a little too and for a moment several pairs of ultra runners strolled along the river, slightly surreal.

Before too long we all set off again running and I was surprised that Darren looked to be suffering slightly. Nothing serious but he did look like he wasn't in a happy place. We ran though a small village and soon we followed a string of other runners back to water as now we were passing Windsor Castle in the distance as if it was a backdrop in a medieval movie. We crossed a bridge and ran through a crew area with people waiting for their runners to pass. Everyone cheered all runners though as we passed and occasionally I even got offered some refreshment which as really nice. It was also I'm slightly ashamed to say nice to see we must have been in front of someone still.

As we passed Windsor Race course and came close to CP3 at Dorney at just gone 30 miles we met up with Traviss Wilcox. Traviss has not only run more marathons than most of us but he's probably run more 100 milers than most people have run marathons! What he doesn't know about the 100 mile distance probably isn't important so where I can, I tend to listen to him if that's posting on FB or directly on his website Traviss recognised me which was cool and we ran together into Dorney CP which was outside a rowing club.

Again time was important and soon we were walking along the water again finishing our supplies. So far everything was going to plan. The pace was still decent running at 10 mm's but with now a few walking breaks thrown in that meant the average was still under 12mm, bang on plan for us to get to Henley CP and the 51 miles point in 10 hrs leaving 18 hrs to cover 49 miles in the dark which worst case could be walked if it all went wrong.

It was just after 30 miles that Darren said he thought he needed to run faster as he was struggling. I know this sounds strange but he's a quick runner that is comfortable running fast so this pace for him was difficult. I said I was fine and he said he'd see me soon anyway but I honestly didn't think I'd see him again as we said our goodbyes again.

I focused on where I was on the route I tried to guess the landmarks that were approaching to help tick the miles off. Another bridge to cross, another chance to say hello to the crews of other runners and then more water to run next to.... rewind and repeat... Soon it was difficult to pick out where I was at all?

I was now just running on autopilot, chugging along the river bank trying to keep with the few runners I could see around me as even at this early stage there's safety in numbers and it's easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the water. Eventually the path finished and turned left inland sharply as we entered some woods? This didn't happen very often and I guessed we were approaching the village of Cookham and the next CP. Yes, we left the woods and turned onto a road and soon we were approaching CP4 and 38 miles.

I ran into the CP feeling good with a chap called Peter who I'd recognised from the start due to Darren pointing him out. Darren had said he was some kind of ultra guru and even though this guy looked a little older in years (sorry), well looks can be deceiving as he was running this, then a short 40 miler next week, a marathon the next .... oh then the 150 mile Grand Union Canal  race the following week!

As we ran in I could see Darren leaving and we waved. I was quite pleased by this as I knew he would be stepping it up but I couldn't have lost too much time to him if I was seeing him still. At this stage I'd like to say THANKS in case I forget later. Thanks to everyone that volunteers for these events. Nothing special really happened here for me, was I going to throw in the towel and got talked off the cliff? Noooo but they were just so friendly every time. They made running to the next CP enjoyable and something to look forward to. Even though they probably started in the day earlier than me, I never saw one person not smiling and I never heard any of them say no for anything to anyone. So if I forget, thanks!

I left rapidly and was getting excited as I knew that we were getting close to halfway and that there were a few places I would recognise off the map. We were soon running into Marlow and here the Thames Path diverts into the village through a series of tall walled alleys and soon I was walking as if in a maze as you had to really look to see the the red marker tape on the course. I was now joined by another runner who was equally confused and we swung left to the river only to find no path? Suddenly a small crowd outside a pub shouted, "here guys", so we walked over and they pointed to another hidden alley with a piece of tape tied to a post next to it. We thanked them and soon we were back on course.

We ran through another crew section in the village with everyone cheering again and before you knew it.... yes more river bank! Before the start in the race briefing James the RD mentioned two diversions on the course. One at Reading just past the halfway point and the other just west of Marlow where we were. This was a minor detour due to a footbridge repair but I was determined not to get lost so tried to keep within view of a couple of other runners just in case. Well I waited for the path to be closed ready to take action...... Then waited a little longer, and a bit longer getting ready to divert right.... Nothing? Result!

Before I knew it I was running into the next CP at 44 miles. This was a small aid station set in what looked like a large tent but it had the atmosphere of a campsite at a mini festival on a summer evening. Everyone again was full of positive energy (apart from the handful of runners sat on chairs) and it was nice to see Colin again briefly. I refueled and purposely took another minute before setting off to eat some lovely fresh fruit and take in the surroundings. I'd been so focused so far that I hadn't looked around for more than a few seconds for the whole race so far and this was almost too perfect and to not take it in would have been a crime.

I left the CP and as I did I overheard on of the staff saying "we're now starting to see the main field coming in". On these events you need to take the positives out of anything and I told myself that I must be doing well if they were only just saying that now? (they probably said that to everyone all night lol).

As I crossed a metal footbridge I jogged past a father taking his young child for a walk in a stroller. As I skipped down the the steps on the other side I thought I should really ask if he needed help carrying his pushchair down so called out to him but he said he was ok and I pushed on somewhat relieve as I was getting a little tired now.

More grass and more paths along the river and occasionally we'd cut inland for a short while. At one point we ran through the grounds of a house that I decided must be owned by royalty? It had everything boathouses, tennis courts and even a full size cricket pitch! (later found out if was owned by a Swiss banking billionaire!) I was slightly impressed.

I normally quite like running on my own but I'd noticed my pace was starting to slow slightly so just as a fellow runner passed me I decided to try my best to stick with them. We ran together for a while chatted about nothing special before we both said this was our second 100 attempt and that nothing was going to stop us but never again (spooky). We laughed and we both agreed that running long distances was as silly idea and we couldn't understand why people want to do it. I likened it to wanting to climb Everest. It's amazing but would you want to climb it every week?

My pace quickened as I wanted and I was feeling better as we started to see more civilisation and that could only mean Henley. I looked at my watch and as the 50 mile point ticked over I said to my new friend whose name I can't remember (funny we both said we'd forget) that I'd just run a 50 mile PB!

Finally we passed a large house on the far side of the river with what sounded like a rave going on in the garden? This was slightly strange in the middle of nowhere but hey, if you've got the money, why not! Once again we crossed the Thames as we entered the famous town and within a few minutes I'd be reunited with my first drop bag.

Woooooah, we're halfway there!

Actually not quite as it looked like the CP would never come as I ran out of Henley without seeing the aid station? But finally I could see it and I ran into it shouting my number to the staff.

Well up to now I'd again followed the advice of wiser people than me and never sat down at a CP ever. Well I knew I was going to be here for a little while so I fell into a tent which was just full of seats and slumped into one, it felt amazing and I soon realised why chairs were the work of the devil as I could have stayed there forever.

People I knew started to come up and say hello including "Mr Piece of String RD" James Adams (he's got a book you know). It was nice to see him again even if he did refuse my request for him to narrate his book to me as I ran as the audio book wasn't available.

I was then approached by another fellow runner/helper Glyn who I knew from many events and who'd even ran one of our Frolic events. He asked if I had a drop bag and went to collect it for me. (still can't knock the service) and as I looked over there was Darren! It was great to see him and I wondered how long he'd been here? (less than 2 mins I'd later find out).

In my drop bag I had everything I thought I'd need for the long night section. I also had new shoes and socks in case I needed them. The feet were a little sore with I remember one small hot spot so I decided to change socks only along with a new baselayer and put on my heavier rain jacket ready for what I saw as the long march ahead. Also an important factor was the weather. Heavy rain was forecast but so far we'd had nothing and I wondered if we would get lucky but no one wanted to say it out loud.

I tired to eat a couple of things and also picked up a charger pack for my GPS watch and got out my meal I'd prepared, left over Chinese take away from the day before (crispy roasted belly of pork and rice, yum). It was also getting dark now so I removed one of my small torches from my pack and replaced it with the new Icon. In hindsight I now know I don't need half as much stuff and my drop bag should really have been a lot smaller.

Another runner came up to me and said hello (sorry this is really, really bad as I couldn't remember his name either but I was sure I knew him). For the purpose of this tale he will be referred to as "Bob". My new friend asked how I was and I said not bad considering and he said was it ok if he stuck with us for a few CP's as it got dark, I told him more the merrier as we again walked out of Henley into the night with me eating Chinese.

Darren was now back with me and "Bob" and we started to jog again trying to use the last seconds of twilight to good effect. I reminded everyone that as I got to Henley in the time I wanted I was ready for my long walk but no one seemed to listen and we started to run again but every now and then we would stop and walk a little but only for a short while and before too long we'd be skipping once again.

Thinking back, the next few miles were a bit of a blur? We'd jog into a town then we'd be in the middle of a field next minute? "Bob" led the way and I think me and Darren were more than happy to follow.

By now the one hot spot was two large hot spots on each foot. I could feel the pads of my feet squelching like water bed and I knew this wasn't going to end well. I'd had bad blisters in the past years ago so I knew what was to come and I also knew they would never get better. I'd missed the opportunity to sort them out earlier and now I was going to have to live with that decision. Oh well push on....

Thanks to our new formed gang, the miles flew and in the distance I could see the lights of Reading and we were soon climbing the stairs into the aid station at 58 miles. This was the furthest I'd ever run in one hit and only a few miles until I hit the magic 100k which is the longest I'd covered walking/running in a single event (Trailwalker years ago).

In the CP were lot's of people and was staffed by virtual friends Paul Ali and Susie Chan (both super runners and now real friends). I  refueled as quick as possible and again I could see a line of the dreaded chairs which were fully occupied and I really hoped that this warm haven in the night wouldn't claim them as I found this last time was the kind of distance you would think about giving up.

"Bob" thrust a coffee with about 12 sugars in it and I followed this with a couple of full fat coke chasers. I'd not had caffeine for over a week in the build up to race day on purpose and now I was downing it like a junkie and high as a kite!

We left pretty sharpish as all the indoor CP's were dangerous and it started to drizzle heavily as the expected weather finally hit us. Within a few minutes we passed an even louder beer festival with live music that I remember mentioned in the previous years race report, we all decided that next year we'd all go to the beer fest and cheer runners as they went past. This was also location of the second detour. The path stopped and we headed into town and it was here I was kind of grateful of the heavy rain because it meant the ravers weren't hanging about.

Things were starting to get a little tiring now. I was still eating and drinking continuously but I was shattered and also I was feeling a little sick. Nothing bad but enough to make eating not enjoyable and I was taking a mouthful spending and hour with it in my mouth chewing then finally forcing myself to swallow. This was hard work but I knew I couldn't stop as that would have serious implications later.

Eventually we crossed a field into a car park after what seemed like the longest leg ever and turned to cross the river and I recognised this as Whitchurch and the next CP. I also knew that the path into the CP wasn't obvious as I'd tried to follow it on Google maps and got lost then and the real world wasn't much better as we entered someone's drive and were joined be a bunch of others looking for the right way (included local top Essex female ultra runner Naomi Newton-Fisher).

Within minutes we were in the aid station and "Bob" was again making sure we were ok and I was starting to feel that this "arrangement" was looking slightly one-sided but he didn't seem to mind and it was less than 4 miles now until Streatley CP and my pacer Brian Poore would be there I hoped. I had an issue on my previous attempt where I was worried about meeting times for pacers etc. Well this time if he was there then great but if not then it was carry on.

Once out of the warmth again we hit the only hilly section of the course and had to walk up the hills so the pace was dropping again. People who say the Thames Path is easy as it's flat haven't run it before a like other flat events I've done, you don't get the natural walking breaks you'd get on hills and also the muscles get no rest as you negotiate as the terrain, it's painful!

Anyway, after what seemed like days I saw the bridge that meant Streatley and Brian! Brian was in good spirits considering it was nearly 01:30 in the morning and lord knows what he'd been doing while waiting and I didn't care, what was important was that he was there. This sounds harsh but this was something I'd learnt that worrying about crew and pacers wasn't allowed. racing is selfish from the time spent training to the actual event. Everything needs to revolve around you during that time and there would be plenty of time to readdress the balance later post-event. I'd obviously briefed Brian on this before hand so he knew to expect grumpy Ian.

As I entered the building Brian grabbed my second drop bag and once again I noticed how little of the stuff in to I actually needed. I turned around to thank "Bob" for the amazing effort he'd done for us over the last 20 miles keeping us in check and moving when we were on an obvious low but I couldn't? "Bob" was nowhere to be seen? He'd directed us to safety and then gone? I asked the staff but they knew no "Bob" and there wasn't even a "Bob" in the results I'd later find out? Was he real? or did I imagine the whole thing? Was he "Saint Bob"? The Patron Saint of Ultra Runners? Anyway, whoever you are, thanks!

Brian took the lead and Darren decided to forge ahead again as I had told him I was definitely walking from here and he was meeting up with his own pacer later on. I had told Brian that I was due to get to meet him at 3am as this was what the Centurion sub-24hr plan said. Well what I hadn't realised was the plan simply took the whole race distance and the cut-off time and gave you a flat steady pace for each CP. Trust me there wouldn't be many people that would run the same pace from start to finish. As a result I was an hour and a half ahead of schedule but I was going to slow before the event finished.

After a bit of run/walk I told Brian that I'd really wanted to walk soon. Unknown to me Brian had slightly increased the running sections we were doing and was slowly building my time in the bank in case we needed it later. My issue was 2-fold was I was running on empty even though I would struggle to eat more than I was and the feet were a real mess. Both feet were fully blistered as were the toes and I could feel where my feet had swollen the big toes were now smashed too. The bubbles had literately burst hours ago and the pain was significant now and the smooth going had been replaced by the first bit of mud on the whole route and was also rutted.

I was now at the stage where I honestly didn't think they could get any worst and stopping wouldn't help now and as I hinted to before, there was nothing that was going to stop me unless something went snap or I was timed out and the latter looked like it wasn't going to happen. We trudged into a town and the next CP which as a tiny rowing club again staffed with some of the friendliest people you'd meet. At this time it was almost annoying as I didn't understand how anyone could be so upbeat but I forced a smile and thanked everyone again. We also bumped into Darren and pacer friend as they left and after another bottle refill and cup of coffee we set off too.

Brian led a small group of us now as we came to a dead end as it looked like we'd managed to miss the turning onto the river. I could have been frustrated as I didn't need bonus miles but I was too tired to moan which was good as in reality we'd missed the turn by about 5 metres (man I was losing it big time). A few minutes later I said to Brian I'd got a stone in my shoe and I needed to stop and sort it. I did this and after poured my foot back into the shoe but the stone still seemed to be there. I decided that I had worst things to worry about so continued and I did wonder if it even existed?

This next section I described later to someone as living in "Ground Hog Day". We were running/walking just about on a curved grassy river bank that never seemed to never get closer to anything? Also this wasn't helped by the fact that the distance to the next CP ticked over on my watch and still nothing, not even the bridge? Eventually the bridge appeared seemed to just appear from behind a hedge and I knew we were close as we jogged past a smiling marshal directing us up the road.

We followed in another couple of runners into the hall and one of them said his feet were also blistered and and asked a medic to have a look. I again decided I couldn't fix anything now and just refueled. I looked around and tried to take in the fact we'd covered 85 miles with only 15 to go and I had to laugh when I noticed the communal large pot of Vaseline complete with disclaimer standing on it's own table in the corner!

I stumbled downhill with Brian leading and he was now updating FB for me to record where we were as I couldn't even manage that. We rejoined the river path and I saw Ultra legend Peter once again in front I gave everything I had and passed him and I wanted to try and see if I could flip a switch and power the next few miles to Abingdon then we could almost see home from there. Well that was the plan. Brian commented that he was impressed with my new found speed but it wasn't to last. Within minutes I was burnt out and on the next walking section I told Brian that was it, I had nothing left. Brian checked his kit and started to feed me with energy gels to try and keep me going. I knew we'd finish now as I was still moving forward and nothing would stop that but the wheels were falling off.

Ultra Peter passed me followed by a handful of people that looked like they had timed things a little better than me (this included virtual/real friend Kate Jayden). I even started to look at a map for the first time in the whole event to try and see how far I had next stop which was a huge no no but I was desperate. I even did this without Brian seeing as I knew he'd tell me off. Yet again eventually we did get there.

This was the penultimate CP at 91 miles and the staff sorted me out and told me if we ran for it we might get sub-24 (21 hrs 19 minutes to here). With 9 miles to go I couldn't imagine being able able to run this and I told them I was happy with any time as long as I get a finish and even if I crossed the line in 24:01 I'd be happy.

We ran off as I thought maybe it was mental and I still had something left in the tank but after 400 metres I knew it was real and as the going got sloppy we were back to a march for the 4 miles to the final stop. Looking back I actually think we walked this whole section in the mud and all I could do was try and increase the marching pace to as quick as possible and after another age we walked into the last CP at.... yes a rowing club!

The people here again were amazing, they said once my bottle were filled that we needed to "bugger off sharpish" as sub-24 might still be possible. By now I had no idea about times and just wanted the whole thing to be finished. We walked out of the CP but within a few metres we were met by a runner limping back in the opposite direction? Confused we asked what was up and he said he needed to pull out as something had gone snap. Ouch, we were absolutely gutted and asked couldn't he struggle the last 5 miles but he knew what was best and later said he'd be back (top man).

Brian kept telling me that the path going soon going to be flat as we entered Oxford and as we approached a lock in the river we were greeted for the first time in ages with flat tarmac and I ran! I'd like to say this inspired me to sprint all the way in but as the lock went it took the tarmac with it and we were in the mud again and the pace dropped.

As we passed under a large road bridge Brian again said that the finish wasn't too far and now the path did actually get better. Psychologically I wanted to see signs of the finish but there was nothing? No people, no balloons, no banners and definitely no blue finish arch! This continued for every corner when I expected to see something but then nothing. Brian now wasn't saying anything and I was starting to worry that we had miles left?

Then I saw two people in tracksuits walking towards us in the distance. I knew we had time for sub-24 if the finish was close. As we approached them they said the finish was 800 metres from the bridge? Suddenly it was game on and I upped the pace. But then I thought "800m from what bridge?" I asked Brian and he like me wasn't sure? We'd just passed a bridge just before we saw the couple but was it that one or was it another bridge around the corner as we couldn't see anything?

We turned the corner and.... again nothing? No people no signs and my heart dropped a little but then something through the trees caught my eye? Was that really a flash of Centurion blue? YES! There on the other side of the fence was the finish, we'd made it! even then though I couldn't see the entrance to the field and I told Brian I bet it's a mile up the path! Finally I saw a banner and we took the left turn following the tape to the finish. 23 hours 41 mins. 100 miles One Day buckle in the bag.

I gave Brian a hug and shook the hand of James Elson and got hugs from the lovely Karen Webber, Nici and it was great to see Fiona and with Sue Albison who were crewing. I did feel a little emotional but I think most of all I felt relief.

Job done...

Never again?