Now I’m back home in sunny Stoke, I’ve had the chance to sit down and reflect on my weekend in Perth and decide how I really feel about my run. In all honesty, I am actually quite pleased despite things in the latter stages not going to plan, but that’s the thing with these long races – 100km is a bloody long way and anything can happen!
Andy and I drove up to Perth, and on arrival it was great to see all the familiar faces that I haven’t seen for a while – the other Andy Smith, Chris Finnell, Allen Smalls, Angie Sadler, Paul Fenandez, the crazy but “loveable” Heather, and of course Karen who has been an absolute star since turning to ultra running last year. There were also a couple of other chaps – George, Harry and Phil – who I hadn’t met before, along with Eleanor who was the England Ladies Team Manager. The pre-race meeting the night before was also a good opportunity to catch up with friends from the other home nations before heading off for some tea and then to bed.
The 100km race was due to start at 7am on Sunday morning, and with the start of British Summer Time, it meant that we lost that vital extra hour in bed, and were literally up at the crack of dawn.
By 6.30am, we had already parked up in a very foggy and chilly Inch Park and got our feed stations set up. I was taking no chances – jaffa cakes, flapjack, Cadbury Shorties, Mini Cheddars, dried fruit, malt loaf, Belgian buns, bananas, brioche breadrolls, and mini choc au pain – washed down with a mix of flat Coke, water, energy drink, and apple and blackcurrant fruit shoots – oh yes, and the customary energy gels (YUM!). I knew I wouldn’t eat everything, but I’ve learnt that it’s far better to have the choice rather than crave something that you haven’t got when you’ve been running for 5 or 6 hours.
With the nerves and anticipation almost at breaking point, we had a few quick team photos and I had my last big hug off Andy before lining up on the start line.
I always get emotional at this stage – standing there in my England kit, knowing that I’ve got just over 62 miles of running ahead of me, not really knowing how things will pan out, and just hoping that I don’t let people down. No matter how many times you do this long stuff, no matter how well you’ve trained, you still don’t know what to expect, and for me it really does come down to physical and mental strength. All I knew was I had 42 laps of the park to do, I was aiming for 11 minutes per lap, and that I had to go through half way (31 miles) in around about 3 hours 51 minutes.
The first lap felt quite slow, and I found myself at the front with quite a large group of men – either I was going too fast, or they had started VERY slow! It turned out to be the latter, as we went through lap 1 in about 10.50 – just slightly quicker than planned, but nothing to worry about just yet.
The park was really quiet and actually quite eerie as the fog was still lingering, and having not seen the course, I had no idea where we were in relation to the feeding area. However, as the sun started to break through, I could make out the river bank and could see that the feed station was across the playing field, and I found it much easier to pace myself once I knew where I was heading.
For the first few laps, I was out in front in the ladies race, but I’m not naïve enough to think that this is how it would remain. I’d been drinking water like it was going out of fashion for the past few days to make sure I was hydrated, and it wasn’t long before I needed that desperate visit to the loo. Without going into too much detail, I was in there a little longer than expected, a combination of drinking lots of water, and having plenty of vegetables for dinner and tea the day before! After my second visit to the loo a couple of laps later, team mate Heather went past me, followed closely by the current British 100km Champ Emily Gelder from Wales. By this stage, we had probably done about 10 miles, I was still feeling great, had my nutrition spot on and was knocking out consistent 11 minute laps, give or take a few seconds. I overtook Emily again shortly afterwards, and then settled in behind Heather and concentrated on knocking out the laps.
After a while, I had completely lost track of how many laps I had done, and because we weren’t allowed to wear a Garmin with it being a championship race, I had no idea how far I had gone. The sun was now shining and things were warming up quite considerably, and the dog walkers and families with children were starting to fill the park. On the fields, the local Sunday lads and dad football league was in action, and at one point I was nearly knocked out by a stray football which resulted in bit of a grumble from me, and a few choice words from a Scottish athlete on my behalf!
By now, I was approaching half way, and up ahead I could see that Heather was starting to slow. I was still feeling really good, and at the start of the 22nd lap I took the lead again, passing through pretty much on target in 3.50.45. But yet again, I didn’t take things for granted, knowing full well that there was still another 31 miles to go.
I’d been running for about 5 hours when I felt the urge to loosen the lace on my right shoe as it felt a little tight, probably as a result of my feet swelling due to the increase in temperature since we’d started at 7am. A couple of laps later, and I felt my right ankle/foot/shin going in spasm, and although it wasn’t particularly painful, it was getting quite stiff and I was running with a bit of a limp. I kept going a little longer, but the discomfort meant that my pace had started to drop, and Emily then came past me looking really fresh and going strong. She asked me how I was doing and I answered honestly – I felt like crap – and at that point I really started to wonder whether I should carry on.
A couple of years ago, I did a 78km mountain marathon in Davos, Switzerland. I had a crisis there, ended up in the medical tent, and once I’d recovered I ran like hell for the rest of the race to make up for lost time. The result was that I ended up with a badly injured foot due to plantar fasciitis, and it cost me dearly in the World 100km Championships in Italy that year where I ran a disastrous 9 hours 20 minutes. That really knocked my confidence, and I didn’t run properly for several months after that. I have only just started to get some of that confidence back – over 2 years later - and I didn’t want to go through all of that again when I am just getting myself back to fitness.
As I approached the feed station with about 17 miles still to go, I stopped in my tracks and explained my situation – my foot was hurting, it was tight, and I wasn’t sure whether I should carry on or not due to the risk of long term damage. It was a dilemma that nobody could resolve for me, and as I hate letting people down, I took a couple of painkillers and decided to try just one more lap and make a decision next time round.
At the end of the next lap, the race physio came over and had a prod. The foot felt bruised and quite tight so he gave it a bit of a massage, and got me to jog a short way to see how it was. It still hurt, but he suggested running another lap at a run/walk pace to see how it went. I gave it a try, the painkillers seemed to be taking effect, so I kept going. I now had about 14 miles to go, the GB Team A standard qualification time was 8.17, the B Standard was 8.33, I was now lying in 4th place, so I had everything to go for. Heather was just 2 minutes ahead of me, and I wondered whether I would be able to catch her and come away with a medal, and for the next couple of laps I speeded up and was beginning to feel positive.
However, as the painkillers wore off, the foot was tightening again, I was starting to feel tired, and I slowed quite considerably. The GB team standard for automatic qualification for the World 100km Champs later in the year was slipping away, but with 3 laps to go and approximately 6 miles to run, come hell or high water there was no way I was going to drop out now.
That last lap was a welcome sight, and I think I actually ran it at a decent pace. As I approached that finish line carrying the England flag, I felt so relieved and happy. I managed to run 8.32.33 – nowhere near my PB of 7.54, but far better than my performance in Italy – and given the pain I’d encountered, I’d still got round and met the B standard for the GB team. I was happy!
It would be unfair of me not to mention some of the performances of the rest of the team. Allen Smalls had a fantastic run to win the silver medal in the men’s race, whilst Karen had a brilliant run to win silver in the ladies race on her debut for the distance and in addition, achieved automatic GB team selection. Heather maintained her 3rd place to win bronze, whilst other members of the England team won the veteran titles in their age groups. A special mention should also go to Emily Gelder and the Welsh ladies team. Emily won the UK championships last year, and went on to win again this year in a new Scottish All-Comers record of 8.00.36, smashing her PB by 15 minutes. Not only that, but for the first time in the history of the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km Race, Wales won the ladies team title.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend with some fantastic people and some fantastic performances. All that remains now is to thank England Athletics for selecting me to run for my country and to thank the England Management team – my Andy included! – for the brilliant support, encouragement and dedication you showed to the athletes – thanks to all of you.
Right then, what’s next? Oh yes, the London Marathon in 3 weeks time :-)