Last year I took part in an event called the Thunder Run – a 24 hour off-road race on a 10k loop in Derbyshire. You could take part as a solo runner, or run as part of a relay team consisting of 2-8 runners. I ran solo – so no surprises there!
I loved the event and covered 75 miles, (12 laps) in just over 24 hours. However, I got my nutrition disastrously wrong which sent me to bed after 12 hours to sleep off the excess food I’d consumed. Basically, I’d just eaten too much and the undigested food was backing up in my stomach.
Run 24 – same format, 24-hours on a 5-mile off-road loop. I’m 6 weeks away from the North Downs Way 100 so it’s ideally placed for a 100-mile attempt to give me some confidence at the distance and dealing with sleep deprivation.
- 6 cans of full fat Coke
- 24 500ml bottles of water
- 24 GU Double Expresso gels
- 4 rice pudding pots
- 1 Bag of pretzels
- 225g bag of Doritos
- 125g bag of Mini Cheddars
- 3 packs of Nairns Oatcakes
- 1 Boost chocolate bar
- 1 Soreen malt loaf
- 1 pack of Custard Creams (36)
- 2 bags of mixed nuts
- 1 Date and Walnut flapjack bar
- 1 pack of Jaffa Cakes (12)
- 1 Halva Sesame & Honey bar
- 1 Maximuscle Viperboost bar
- 3 Mars refuel drinks
- 1 bag of crystallized ginger
- 3 sachets of Morning Fuel powder
- 1 Peanut butter and jelly, (jam in the UK) sandwich
- 1 Cheese sandwich
- 1 Sloppy Guiseppe Pizza from Pizza Express
I added up the calories in this lot – over 15,000 – probably about the amount of calories I eat in a week. I can’t believe that bag of Doritos has 1140 calories in it – I’ve been known to scoff one of those in a single sitting, but that’s another story.
Anyway – I managed to fit all the food into my little car and made my way to Reading on Saturday morning, there was a special solo runners camping area and I managed to park backed-up to the course so I didn’t have to come off to resupply. I didn’t put up my tent or unpack my chair, (beware the chair) I was on a mission – there was to be no sitting down or sleeping until I’d done 100 miles or the race was over.
While I was hanging around at the start a friendly face turned up from Cardiff, Natasha, (from the Croups) has done loads of the same races as me and I’ve chatted to her a couple of times.
The race started at 12:00 – Natasha and I were going to RUN the whole first lap, then settle into a more modest pace! After a scorching 46:05 (9:13 / mile) lap it was time to slow it down and do some walking.
Laps 1-5 (25 miles) were all about learning the course, finding the walking opportunities and settling down into a groove. I really liked the course, gently undulating on well groomed trails and grass, there were 3 noticeable uphill sections which were definite ‘walkers’ including a nice bit at the start which allowed you to eat after picking up food from the car.
Somehow – despite all the different food I had, I got into a custard cream rut and pretty-much survived on 5 custard creams / lap. I might have had a pot of rice pudding at one point, and possibly a Mars milkshake – but apart from that, it was custard creams all the way!
I always go through a bad patch at around 4 hours / 20 miles – no matter what the distance and today was no different. I put this down to the mind finally realising what you’re trying to do and yes, it’s going to be difficult. It’s short lived though, and you just push through!
Laps 6-10 (50 miles) Natasha and I continued running together, chatting about ultras and other non-running related stuff. She had a friend coming to meet her at 7pm and he was bringing a portion of chips with him! CHIPS – after 7 hours / 35 miles, they were amazing – unfortunately the catering tent didn’t sell them. I left Natasha to run with her friend and set off on my own again.
The first goal was 50 miles in under 10 hours and before dark. I went through 50 in 9:45 so almost perfect pacing and I was still feeling very strong. I swallowed a couple of pro-plus, strapped on my head torch and headed off into the dark woods.
Laps 11-15 (75 miles) My love affair with custard creams was over – I could feel my stomach complaining so it was time to change my nutrition. The new strategy was a slice of pizza or sandwich at the start/finish and then a gel at the mid-point water station. This was a revelation, where I couldn’t force down another biscuit – cold pizza / sandwiches just slipped down! I’d done some reading about eating fatty food in ultras, something along the lines of if you eat fat, it’s easier for your body to use fat as fuel – and let’s face it, after 10 hours, my carb stores were likely to be pretty low. I used this strategy all the way to the finish without any issues – lesson learnt.
Another low point hit me at around 60 miles, just after midnight. This one took a bit longer to get through but eventually things got easier, I have a myriad of coping strategies for these times, but I generally just end up stomping around swearing and being grumpy for a while – it always gets better!
These were also literal ‘dark hours’, I’m a lot more confident in the dark after several night runs over the last 12 months so the dark trails didn’t faze me, unfortunately there were no hallucinations this year – I don’t think? The Jolly Green Giant does live in the woods around Reading doesn’t he?
Laps 16-20 (100 miles) Another crushing low hit me at 75 miles, I almost quit – and if the tent had been up I’d have been in my sleeping bag. I reminded myself that this was now the longest and furthest I’d ever run, it’s all new territory from here. I’d also promised myself my iPod when the sun came up, which it finally did. Once again, I got through it and started counting down the laps.
Over the night I’d steadily moved up the leaderboard which was displayed at the start/finish on a big TV. During the final 5 laps I moved up from 11th to 3rd place, I passed the 3rd man halfway through lap 20 at 97.5 miles. He told me the top 2 men had stopped at 20 laps and he was going to as well.
I started my final lap at 08:33 and finished at 09:38 to a big round of applause as the commentator announced my 100 mile completion. I still had time to do another 2 laps and go for the win, (as long as you start the lap before noon it counts) was I tempted? In a word – No… I handed in my chip, (mmmm chips) and announced that I was done – thank you very much!
So – how did I feel after running for 100 miles, (and apart from walking the hills – I did run it all) I wasn’t tired, but I was in a lot of pain! Everything hurt and was painful to the touch, arms, chest, shoulders and especially my quads. I put this down to the different gait when running at night on an uneven surface. A few tablets of Vitamin I, (Ibuprofen) seemed to help – and 24 hours later it’s just another Ministry Of Funny Walks Monday.
Natasha had safely won the ladies race at 20 laps/100 miles in 22hrs 53 – she’d walked the last couple of laps. Good work!
I got an email from the winning man last night – he was the chap I passed at 97.5 miles who said he was stopping at 100 miles! He said he couldn’t believe that I stopped at 20 laps as I would have won easily even if I’d walked another 2 laps, (but he was thankful that I didn’t)
Now – what am I going to do with all this food – anyone for a custard cream?