Signing up for the NDW100 was more than just the act of logging onto the Centurion website and registering for the race. It was a statement, a statement meant for myself as much as anyone else. A motivator to keep losing weight and to knuckle down to the training required to cover 102.5 miles in under 30 hours.
That was the idea anyway. I pored over the maps of the route and read and re-read as many blog posts as I could find. These two from a runner From Sofa to Ultra and his pacer Pacing the Ginger Whinger really highlighted the take no prisoners attitude to mental weakness that is needed to conquer these things.
Unfortunately motivationally, paying £134.00 didn’t work very well in terms of losing weight in fact following my success at the Highland Fling in April it just slowly crept back on climbing back up to near enough 13 Stone just prior to race day. Not good.
As a result I did feel a little bit embarrassed as we gathered for the briefing in Farnham as there seemed to be a much higher proportion of pencil thin, razor sharp focused athletes than I was used to and the event generally had more of a businesslike and elitist feel than say the Lakeland 50/100.
Anyway it was great to get going with a lovely start through mist shrouded meadows before heading up onto the sandstone hills where on occasion ankle deep sand made it nigh on impossible to run even along the flat.
After 10 miles or so I got chatting to another runner who on hearing it was my first 100 miler, complimented me on not going out to fast. I felt a bit of a fraud for not owning up to the fact that it wasn’t good tactics as far as pace went this was as fast as I could run anyway.
There were some wonderful views as we got up onto the escarpments with the sudden appearance of St Martha’s Church and the view from the top especially memorable.
As time went on I started to feel the heat and got through my two 12 oz drinks containers well before I reached Newland’s Corner checkpoint for a refill. The marshals were very attentive and after a good break I headed onto the next section which being largely tree covered was a great relief.
The drop down to the Box Hill Checkpoint was on tarmac and felt painful and it was mentally draining to make the ½ mile detour up the A22 to the underpass before coming back on the other side of the road. Into the checkpoint, the stewards were talking about winding up and I realised that I must be right near the back of the field. Checking my watch for the first time I saw that I was far outside the time I had hoped and felt a surge of disappointment. I was maybe 2 hours ahead of the cut-offs but that was a buffer which could easily be chipped away at in the next 80 miles. What chance have I got to finish this ?
Up the Box Hill steps I went, I’m reasonably strong on the uphills but the steps just went on and on and on ! Once at the top I mustered an extremely brief run as I spotted an official Race Photographer (see pic at top)
The stunning scenery soon distracted me from the disappointment at how slow I was going and I enjoyed the next section, coming into Reigate checkpoint feeling good after passing a fair few of my fellow stragglers along the way.
I wolfed down my usual gluten free wrap with feta cheese, salad, mayo & chutney and then spotted some GU Gels (vanilla and salted caramel) both equally delicious. Why had I not come across these before ? I grabbed a few more.
Off I went again and I just felt really good, just over 30 miles under my belt and feeling fantastic – COME ON.. I roared at myself enjoying a bit of banter with a fellow competitor who nicknamed me 2pack, rather aptly as I was indeed shouldering an Scott Jurek ultimate vest to hold my drinking bottles which I had been bought as an Xmas present. Very snug but nowhere near enough space so everything else went into a separate backpack worn over the top. Things were going well through Caterham and onto the next section to Botley Hill.
Not far before reaching the checkpoint a poor chap had fallen on one of the steep chalk downhill’s and near enough knocked himself out but he seemed well enough cared for and an ambulance had been called for so I stepped over him and headed on down. The ground was getting harder and flintier and therefore more painful though at least the long climb up to the checkpoint was in the shade.
Onwards onto Knockholt, saving a couple of people’s race by hollering after them when they continued straight ahead when the NDW went right. It was lovely to run through the fields the sun now low in the sky, the final couple of miles though were an interminably long stretch on road and which hurt my feet too much to do more than the odd 100 yd trot.
Finally through the checkpoint door in a time of 18.50, which I felt was not bad going at all.
I retrieved my dropbag with lots of helpful people about offering food and drink. First of all though I just wanted to change my t-shirt and underpants and apply a bit more Vaseline to the areas that were chafing. Both toilet cubicles were taken and so I waited and waited and waited. Eventually a chap came out without any flicker of embarrassment over how long he had been in there. In I went no doubt taking equally as long but emerging feeling much fresher. I went back into the main hall and sorted out my headtorch eating another gluten free wrap and drinking some sweet tea. Feeling much better I got everything together and stood up to go. Not so fast buddy, my intake of food had triggered movement down below and so it was back to the toilets. Here I waited and waited and waited and waited. It was at least 20 minutes before the door of the only working cubicle (the other turned out to be locked) opened the emerging runner nonchalantly crossing over to the washbasin, ignoring my “what the hell took you so long glare” . Business done I headed out nearly an hour after I had arrived annoyed that I had wasted so much time kicking my heels outside a solitary toilet cubicle.
I was on my own as I traversed the fields, enjoying the gloaming though the run into and through a deserted Otford was boring and painful on the tarmac. The NDW100 finally resumed on trail and I headed past the last estate and up a wooded tunnel up and up in the nearly pitch black. It was time to switch on the headtorch.
Not long after there was a bit of a navigational issue as the NDW route lay across a wide open field with no indication of the line to take across it. Off to the right a headtorch flickered as a runner retraced his steps having not found the path. I opened up the Memory Map App on my Phone and bluetoothed to my Garmin Receiver in the top of my pack very quickly getting a fix on the 1:25000 map. We were soon back on track but the camaraderie of our small group soon dissipated as we entered some woods and slowly drifted apart moving at different speeds. There is definitely a knack to moving through the dark, being able to keep an eye on the immediate ground below your feet (to watch for tree roots, uneven ground and holes) whilst also be able to look ahead so one is aware of the line that one needs to take going forward. How anyone can run at pace in darkness even with a state of the art headtorch beats me.
We came to a point where the NDW came off the top of the escarpment to run along the bottom. The drop was brutally steep. My toes were slamming into the front of my trainers as my whole foot just slid about (laces no doubt far too loosely tied) This was really painful I then managed to kick a large block of flint hard onto my other ankle f**k that hurt, recovering from my stumble I immediately stubbed my toe into another large flint and then did it again recovering from the subsequent stumble. I really felt like punching someone, anyone, as tiredness and frustration got the better of me. We were soon on the level on the run in to Wrotham but my mood continued to darken. “This is a pile of sh**te I’m not managing to keep up with anyone, bunch of w***kers with their stupid trekking poles. I’m never going to keep this up for 40 miles and even if I could I would be outside the cut-offs. It’s just stupid to keep going. My feet are absolutely killing me. It was never sensible to expect them to hold up me being the weight I am, I’ve got a ferry over to Europe 8am Monday for a two week holiday, the whole trip will be ruined if I carry on like this as I’m just going to be a cripple…..” and so it was that this negative stream of consciousness took a vice like grip over my thoughts.
Into the checkpoint about 1 ¾ hours ahead of the cut-offs.I half heartedly perused the food on offer not feeling particularly hungry. I grabbed a cup of tea and then (fatally) sat down. The people I arrived with eventually left and were replaced with a steady stream of people coming in behind, some of them irritatingly cheerful. “Don’t they realise there’re just in front of the cut offs and are going to fail !” Still I sat, immovable in the deckchair unable to get up….I had mentally given in, even though one small part of my consciousness still could not believe what I was doing. Finally one of the checkpoint marshals came over and I confirmed I was dropping
It turned out the “death bus” was already parked up at the checkpoint so I climbed in and after a bit of desultory conversation fell into silence and feigned sleep. After what seemed hours we moved off to drive over to Holly Hill and then Bluebell Hill checkpoints. How awful it was to be one of the failures cowering in the minibus outside the checkpoints buzzing as they were with people who were still alive who had a purpose and the focus and self-belief !
Eventually we arrived in Wye where I curled up on a mat in the main hall dozing until collected by my family at about 8.00 am. It was a short trip back to Dunn Street campsite where I had a few more hours sleep. Up around lunchtime I felt sore but did my feet hurt ? Not a bit. Pathetic.
All in all a very salutary lesson on mental strength. I really thought I had this in spades but so quickly did the negativity kick in and so overwhelmingly, that my normal internal talk-back never stood a chance. I can see how a pacer is invaluable. If I’d had someone with me I would never have got myself into such a funk and even if I had been timed out it would have been a hell of a lot further on !
The moment the SDW100 entries opened on the 23rd of August I registered with the absolute cast iron certainty that I will get to the finish of this one come what may.
NDW100 DNF 60 Miles
I have uploaded a Word Document with OS 1: 25000 screen grabs of the whole route, useful for recce’ing etc. It is 94mb in size through. OS NDW100 Route