I’d been thinking for a while now that maybe one day I’d like to give a 100 miler a go, but I saw that ‘one day’ as being far, far in the future and something I definitely wasn’t ready for yet. Then after finishing the Race To The Stones 100k for the second time in July 2017, Traviss (one of the Race Directors of the amazing Saxons, Vikings & Normans races) suggested that maybe I should give the Viking 100 a go next. Now anyone who has ever met Traviss knows what he’s like (he says he just sows seeds but he’s a bad man!), and needless to say I was signed up shortly afterwards! Training began at the start of October for the race which was to take place over the weekend of the 10th – 11th of March 2018. I started doing marathons or 50k runs every two weeks and then built up to my first 3 in 3 at the end of November. More marathons / 50ks followed into the new year with the big push being a 4 in 4 towards the end of February. I felt that my training had gone well but was very slightly worried that I hadn’t done enough. But as the big day approached I realised that I felt ready, which in turn meant I started to get excited about the challenge ahead. I was naturally a bit nervous too but mainly I couldn’t wait to get cracking.
The SVN Viking 100 mile endurance run is 16 x 6.25 mile laps around farmland in the Herne Bay / Reculver area of the Kent coast. Now laps might not be everyone’s cup of tea as it can get pretty dull and mentally challenging running around the same route over and over again but as a first 100 miler I could see a lot of plus points. There was no navigation to worry about, there would always be other runners close by, I didn’t have to carry much as I had access to all my gear every 6.25 miles, and most importantly for me it broke the distance down into manageable chunks. The thought of running 100 miles is almost overwhelming but broken down into 16 laps made it all seem a bit more doable. I’d been told before hand how helpful it is to have a pacer through the night and I was so lucky that my legend of a twin brother had agreed to those all important duties. I felt a bit guilty about him having to lose a nights sleep just to spend x amount of hours trudging round a farm with me as I inevitably got less and less fun to be around but I also knew I really needed him there.
I packed my bag the night before and struggled to fit everything in. There were lots of ‘just in case’ items which I knew I almost certainly wouldn’t use but seeing as the beauty of a lapped race mean’t they could just sit at base camp, I bought them along anyway …erm … just in case. Traviss had said that I’d probably underestimate just how cold I’d get during the night when I would inevitably be running less so I packed a LOT of layers. And as rain was forecast for much of the weekend I also included a complete change of clothes so I could at least start the night section fairly dry. I almost always have stomach issues when I do long runs so this was my main worry. I have in the past stopped being able to take on calories as early as 18 miles so I wanted to be as prepared as I could to delay the point when I would no longer be able to eat. When things are at their worst I somehow always manage to force down some Mini Cheddars so for that reason I bought about 15 packs with me! I also took quite a selection of small nibbly bits in the hope that I’d be able to get something down. The other important item I took was a chair which in the end came in very handy more times than I would of liked!
Even though it meant getting up stupidly early my superstar friend Tony had really kindly agreed to drive me down to the start and after picking me up at 6:30am we arrived at the farm an hour later. I was really pleased that Tone said he’d wait with me until the 8am start as although I felt surprisingly calm about what was to come it was still nice to have a friend there with me. We set up my mini aid station in the massive barn which was ‘base camp’ and waited for 8am. After a brief speech from Traviss, a countdown from Rachel (the other RD of the SVN races) and a big hug from Tone we were off! I think my brain had subconsciously decided to deny all knowledge that this was a 100 mile race as it just felt like all the other marathons or short ultras I’ve done. Which was good as it stopped me from stressing and spazzing out. I’d obviously been a bit apprehensive in the build up so it felt amazing to finally be underway. As me and the other 88 runners left the barn and turned left onto the road we were faced with a short downhill then a short but steep uphill. I was unsurprised when, even though we were only 60 seconds in to the race, nearly everyone started walking the hill. I normally try to run the hills for as long as possible but when you know you’ll be running for over a day, you need to save energy where you can … and there were some very experienced ultra runners in the pack so if they were walking, I was walking! The route was roughly 2 miles up to a mid-lap aid station nicknamed ‘Jellybaby Junction’, a 2 mile loop around a farm back to Jellybaby Junction, and then roughly 2 miles back to the barn at base camp. My race plan was pretty basic: walk every hill, run the flats and downs for as long as I could, and eat something at the end of every lap. I knew that last point would be easier said than done but I also had loads of Tailwind with me so knew the calories from that would at least help a bit.
The first few laps went really well and although it was due to rain all day it was currently holding off and the weather was perfect. I got to chat to some of the regular SVN runners and meet some new people as well which was great. I was managing to get solid food down at the end of each lap and felt happy that I’d got through 2 bananas, a piece of cake and a sausage roll by the end of lap 4. Even though normally at mile 20 of a marathon I’d be starting to get tired, today I felt fine. It felt like I was only just getting started … which I guess I was. After driving back home Tony had collected his wife Vicky and they’d driven all the way back down to support me and as I approached Jellybaby Junction on lap 5 they were there. They asked how many miles I’d done and were really shocked when I said 27. They said I looked totally fine and like I’d only just begun which is exactly how I felt. We chatted a bit and they said they would wait there while I did the 2 mile loop around the farm so I got to see them again on the return leg. They were heading in to Herne Bay for some lunch and a few beers (lucky buggers) but said they would pop back on their way home. A few other people had said they would come by and it was so nice to have the support of friends and gave me something to look forward to. As I approached Jellybaby Junction on lap 6 (almost 34 miles) Alex and his son Ollie were there with a massive sign they had made for me. I’d never had anyone make a sign for me before, it was awesome! We had a chat and they headed off as it had started to rain lightly. I really appreciated the fact they had spent the morning making the sign then had a 2 hour round trip just to see me for a few minutes.
I was enjoying the route except for one section that went through a field. It was a slight hill that you went down and then back up again on each lap and it was pretty muddy right from the start. Along side the 100 mile race there were 6 hour, 24 hour and pacer challenges so I was worried that the large number of runners and the imminent rain would make the field much worse. Turns out I was wrong about this … it got much, much, MUCH worse! By lap 3 you couldn’t really run on it and by lap 5 you could barely walk on it. The mud was so thick and was a sort of clay mud so was extremely slippy. You had to really carefully place each foot down where it would instantly slip away from you, it was just so draining and meant getting through the field took 10 minutes each time instead of 90 seconds. I began to dread this section so much and started to feel angry and upset each time I approached … a clear sign my brain was already not functioning properly! It was so hard passing this bit in daylight, I couldn’t even imagine how difficult it would be in the dark. I couldn’t believe I’d managed to stay upright so far and was confident a swim in the mud was in my future.
It was still raining as I started lap 7 but wasn’t heavy so I didn’t bother putting my waterproof jacket on. The temperature was pretty much perfect and I didn’t want to get too hot. As I got to Jellybaby Junction Tone and Vicky were back and it was great to see them as I’d started to feel a bit ropey. I had already begun to struggle getting food down and was now feeling sick. I was only 40 miles in and really hoped I could shake it off. My legs were starting to feel sore but they weren’t too bad and other than the sickness I was pleased with how I was holding up. Again they hung around while I did the farm loop, waiting for 20 minutes in the rain. Superstars. I headed back, through the field of dread and on to the barn. I couldn’t eat so topped up my Tailwind and tried to find the courage to get back out and face that god damn field again. Traviss tried to get me out the door saying I only had time for one more daylight lap so it would be great to get it done before Dan arrived and to be at the 50 mile point when I picked up my pacer. So I put my headtorch in my pocket and headed out. My friend Nicola’s parents live in Herne Bay and had said they would pop by at some point but it was starting to rain a bit heavier now and was getting late so I didn’t expect them. But 2 miles in to lap 8 there they were! I was feeling really rubbish now so when I spotted them I got a bit emotional and apparently when they spoke to Nicola later they said I looked in a terrible state! We chatted a bit and they waited for me while I did the farm loop which was so nice. As I got back to them they were so kind saying if I needed anything through the night to just call them as they were only 10 minutes away. And if Dan or I needed to sleep for a while before heading home at the end that we could just go to their house. It’s a good job it was getting dark at this point as if they’d seen the thick layer of mud caking my legs they probably would of said I’d have to sleep in their garden! But they were amazing and seemed genuinely concerned about me, it was so good to see them.
Dan was due to arrive at 6pm and I had been looking forward to seeing him for the last 20 miles! I was going through a pretty rough patch and the thought of him arriving was all that was getting me through it. I was now not only feeling sick but had started to feel really dizzy and light headed and was fighting to keep my eyes open, they felt so heavy. As I headed back to the barn I knew I’d get there at about 6:45pm so hoped that Dan had arrived a bit late (pretty standard for him) and hadn’t had to wait too long for me. As I approached base camp Traviss was there and said ‘no Dan yet’? My heart just sank as I was feeling so bad at this point and really needed him. I said ‘please tell me he’s here’ but Traviss said he hadn’t seen him. I walked over to where my chair was and sat down for the first time in the race. I really couldn’t decide whether to pass out or throw up so just sat there with my eyes closed. Mark and Noel (SVN regulars who I’d shared some miles with earlier in the day) came in and tried to get me back out with them but I’m not sure I could of stood at that point so just said I was waiting for my brother who was arriving any second. They were doing the 12 hour challenge and probably wasn’t feeling great themselves so it was really nice of them to try to help me out and get me moving again. There was a runner sitting opposite me who was shovelling food in his mouth and one of the volunteers walked past and said he looked a lot better. He said he didn’t know what had happened, he came in feeling sick and light headed and couldn’t eat but now felt loads better. That was exactly what I was going through so I just opened my eyes and shouted across ‘how did you fix it’?! He said it just passed after a while which gave me hope. I’d felt like this at the 50 mile point of Race To The Stones so it wasn’t unexpected and I was confident that all I needed was to sit down for a while and to get some food in me. Hannah, another SVN regular who had run a marathon earlier in the day and whose husband was doing the 100, overheard me saying I felt sick and came straight over with a ginger shot for me in the hope it would settle my stomach. It was so sweet of her and every time I saw her for the rest of the event she checked up on how I was feeling and offered me more ginger shots.
Dan arrived shortly after and looked pretty worried when he saw me. He rushed straight over and asked if I was ok. When I shook my head he probably thought my race was already finished! I had asked him to bring McDonalds with him in the hope I’d be able to eat it and although I felt like I really couldn’t face food I knew I had to get some calories in me. I started with the fries and after forcing about 5 down I started to heave. I put them aside and tried the cheeseburger instead but the heaving continued and Dan put the empty McDonalds bag on my lap for me to be sick in. I asked him to get a bucket and he rushed off in search of one, returning with a bin bag. I remember thinking ‘I can’t throw up in that’! In the end I was sick 4 times but without going in to too much detail lets just say the bag remained empty and I kept hold of the all important calories. Traviss came over at one point to see if I was ok and I tried to sell him the spare, now cold cheeseburger for a fiver. Unfortunately he wasn’t interested! I didn’t want him, or Dan thinking I would quit as I was still confident I’d be okay. After a while I got up to change my wet top for a dry, warmer top for the night section. I swapped my wet gilet for a dry one, put my waterproof jacket over the top and swapped my cap for a wooly hat. I think all in all I was in the barn for about 50 minutes but I finally told Dan I was ready so we put on our headtorches and headed out into the dark. Lap 9 had begun.
I warned Dan about the field of dread but he was probably shocked by how bad it actually was. It took even longer to get across it now it was dark and I can’t believe we both stayed upright. Once past it we started running and I think Dan was a bit surprised and expected me to be walking from that point on! I was definitely feeling a little better so it was good to be back out on the route and felt AMAZING to finally have my brother with me. We were soon in our usual routine of chatting rubbish as we ran, taking walking breaks when I needed them but still running more than I think Dan expected us to. Before we knew it we were back at the field of dread trying to slide our way up the hill. We were chatting to SVN regular James and he said he’d heard a rumour that the route was being changed to miss out the field. For some reason I instantly thought he was joking and didn’t even consider the possibility of it being true at all. But when we had made it to the top there were some marshals standing at the gate saying we didn’t have to go through the field again and to see Rachel when we got back to the barn to find out the new route. I was so happy I could of hugged every single one of the volunteers! It really gave me a massive boost and I was suddenly feeling great again! Because the new route was slightly shorter it meant instead of doing 16 laps for the 100 miles we now had to do 16 and a bit, the length of the extra bit being dependant on how many ‘mud’ laps you’d done before the reroute. But that was fine with me, I would have done an entire extra lap if it meant I didn’t have to go through that bloody field ever again.
I was still feeling pretty good and Dan and I headed back out fairly quickly. It felt amazing to bypass the entrance to the field and to keep heading up the road. I remember thinking that the route should of been changed much sooner but having spoken to Traviss about a week later I realised what a stressful situation it was for him. The new route went up a country road that had no pavements so meant running in the actual road. I imagine this road is pretty quiet in rush hour so at midnight the traffic was non existent. But all it takes is for one driver not paying attention or one mistake from a runner who has been on their feet for well over 12 hours for disaster to happen. I was still on a bit of a high from having Dan with me and not having to face the field again so Lap 10 went well. I think it was as we got back to the barn on this lap that one of the volunteers commented how much better I looked. They must of seen me during my spaz out at the half way point. This is the perfect illustration of how amazing everyone involved in SVN races are. It was the middle of the night and this person didn’t have to be here at all but nonetheless they were going out of their way to give support and encouragement to me and it meant a lot and helped loads.
We headed out on lap 11 but I was starting to feel a bit rough again. I was barely touching my Tailwind now and still couldn’t really eat. The symptoms were as before which was feeling sick and lightheaded. We walked a fair bit on this lap and I knew I’d need a bit of an extended rest at the barn upon our return … although I didn’t know how bad it would be! Dan was so amazing on this lap. He was amazing on every lap to be honest. It was weird as even though I knew what I needed to try to feel better my brain just didn’t seem to be going there. But as soon as Dan suggested something it was like ‘of course’! I told him how I was feeling and said I’d need a bit of a sit down at the barn and he instantly suggested me trying to eat some pasta (I guess because it had worked so well at RTTS). I asked if he could prepare it for me while I rested, thinking I’d just be sitting in the chair but as the lap continued I realised I REALLY needed to lay down! This was a worry but I’d learn’t by now to just go with what your body needs. I asked Dan to get the pasta ready while I layed down and on the extreme off chance that I fell asleep, to wake me after 20 minutes. I was starting to feel worrying bad and when we finally made it back to the barn I just hit the deck, laying on the floor in front of my chair. Dan was a total legend and I felt him covering me with clothes and then going off to prepare my food. I didn’t sleep but just laid there with my eyes closed until my legs started to hurt and I began feeling really cold. Dan was sitting in the chair and as I sat up I asked him how long it had been as it felt like longer than 20 minutes. But as he got up so I could have the chair he assured me it had only been 18 minutes. I shovelled the pasta in my mouth as quickly as possible before I could decide I didn’t want it and I was surprised to finish the whole pot. That may have been the act that meant I actually finished the race and it was all down to Dan. This was my second wobble so far but it was nowhere near as bad as the first one. When I entered the barn I was about 17 hours into the race, at mile 68.5 but thankfully only spent 30 minutes resting this time before heading back out.
I’d gotten cold laying on the floor of the barn so I added another layer (a cheap quilted coat that I’d bought in Primark for this very occasion) and at about 1:30am I began lap 12. I really didn’t want Dan running more than 5 laps with me for a couple of reasons; firstly I didn’t think he had trained well enough to do serious mileage, and secondly I didn’t want to make his injured knees any worse as he was running the London Marathon in 6 weeks time and I didn’t want anything to jeopardise that for him. So although I really didn’t want to run on my own I talked him into sitting this one out. The fact that I’d managed to eat a nice sized portion of pasta gave me a bit of confidence that I’d start to feel better soon and the lap did actually go quite well. There was one muddy, dark stretch of the route that went through some trees and I knew I’d find it a bit creepy at night if I was on my own but in a massive stroke of luck I found myself in a group of about 5 runners as we went through this section which I was really grateful for. Before I knew it I was back at the barn and back with Dan. I’d warmed up a bit now as I was running so I took off my quilted jacket and we headed back out on lap 13. It felt amazing to have Dan back with me!
I really didn’t want Dan running more than 5 laps and this was already his fourth with me so in my mind he would sit out the next one, run lap 15 then sit out the final 16th lap. If he felt up for it he could then do the last mini add on lap and we could finish together. It was still further than I wanted him to run but he was having none of it anyway! I think he was a bit worried about me so wanted to stay with me as much as possible. He agreed to sit out the 14th lap but he wanted to do the rest. Lap 13 went pretty well to start with but as we got just over half way through it I started to feel rough again. I was in a fair bit of pain by now with my feet causing the most problems. I was lucky that I couldn’t feel any blisters at all but it felt like a red hot poker shooting up from my feet every time I took a step. But I knew the pain wouldn’t stop me from carrying on, I was much more concerned about the sickness, dizziness and light headedness. We made it back to the barn at about 4:30am which was 20.5 hours in to the race with 81 miles covered. I definitely needed to sit down again but although this was my third wobble so far it thankfully turned out to be the last and wasn’t as bad as the others. After about 15 minutes Traviss came over to see if I was ok and saw that I had started shaking uncontrolably. He immediately went and got Rachel’s dryrobe and put it on me, zipping it up. It was so sweet of him to get it and for Rachel to lend it to me and I was really grateful as it had just begun to rain again and sounded pretty heavy from the noise it made on the roof of the barn. Traviss knew the best thing for me was to get moving again so he encouraged me to head back out and although we had planned for Dan to sit this lap out Traviss said he felt it would be better if Dan was with me for this one to make sure I was ok and due to the fact that it was still dark. Dan obviously instantly agreed (legend) and we headed out into the rain.
I felt a bit bad that Dan was now having to do another lap with me when he was supposed to be resting in the barn, and that guilt was made worse by the rain as he was now getting wet too! Rachel’s Dryrobe was amazing though, keeping me really warm and dry, and as I was still able to run sections my body temperature rose pretty quickly and I stopped shaking. The lap went ok and as we made it back to the barn it was just starting to get light. I gave Rachel her dry robe back as I was really now hot and headed back out as quickly as possible, this time leaving Dan in the barn to sit this lap out. Although this was lap 15, the penultimate full lap, and although a was in so much pain by now, I felt like I flew round. I definitely spent more time running than I had done for a while but I think the thing that got me round so quickly was that I just wanted Dan with me again. Dawn was fully upon us now and I’ve often heard people say that after running though the night everything will seem better once it’s light, it’s almost like a rebirth or second wind. And after having a pretty tough night I was looking forward to this happening but if I’m honest I didn’t notice any difference once the sun came up. Oh well. One thing I did notice now it was light again is how much quieter the route seemed. It’s hard to recognise people at night when their headtorch is shining in your face but now I could see again I began to notice runners who no longer appeared to be on the course. I just figured that most of the runners had finished already and I was simply one of the slower ones towards the back of the field. I made it back to the barn and Dan and I headed out on lap 16.
This was it, the final lap, but I don’t remember feeling happy or excited by that fact. I had probably perked up a bit but by that point even a single lap seemed like it was too far to go and would take an eternity. About half way through I started to get a bit upset and teary which I think was just because my brain had stopped working. I didn’t cry though and it made Dan laugh that I was being an idiot! I remember saying to Dan, even though there was only about 4 miles to go, that I didn’t know how I would finish. It was very strange as obviously I would finish but I just couldn’t seem to get my head round that fact, it was almost like my brain was in denial and refused to believe it. We made it back to the barn and found out from Traviss how far we needed to go for the extra add on to make up the mileage after the reroute. We headed straight back out and managed a fair bit of running on this last section. The route seemed even more quiet now and I think we only passed a couple of runners and their pacers. As we got to the very last bit of road just before the barn Paul was just leaving. He’d finished 2 hours before but his partner Karen had volunteered through the night (and was amazing and so supportive) so they’d hung about for a while. As they passed us they stopped the van and Paul lent out to fist bump me and Dan and say well done, it was really sweet. Another runner, Sam, who was doing a 50k that day also passed by and said well done. I told him this was the home straight as he ran ahead and when Dan and I turned the corner to approach the barn Sam had waited for us to clap me in which again, was super sweet.
Lots of people were clapping as we entered the barn and I finally got to ring the bell to say I was done. Rachel and Traviss both hugged me and then Traviss handed me my first ever 100 mile buckle! I’ve never been that bothered about race medals and hadn’t even thought about the buckle but as soon as it was in my hand I could not stop looking at it! It just felt amazing to be holding it having earn’t the right to own it. Traviss also gave me my finishers t-shirt and a goody bag. I instantly pulled the bottle of beer out of the goody bag and asked for a bottle opener. I think one of the volunteers thought I was joking and asked if I wanted a cup of tea but after I responded that I just really wanted a bottle opener Traviss opened the beer for me and I drank it in about 90 seconds. It’s weird that after feeling so sick durning long races I always seem to crave a beer at the end. It was possibly the best beer I have ever had! Dan’s other half and the kids had come down to pick us up and after a brief sit down to take my trainers off (so much mud!) and put on some jogging bottoms and a pair of flip flops, we said goodbye to and thanked everyone there then got in the car to head home.
Of the 89 people that started 53 finished the full 100 miles. That’s a 59% finish rate which is lower than the usual 65-70% finish rate and shows just how tough the conditions were. And although I would of preferred if all 89 people finished the race it definitely made my finish feel a bit more hard earned. In the days that followed my sleeping pattern was all over the place and felt a bit like jet lag. I was also very jealous of all the other runners talking about how much food they were now eating as my appetite failed to return properly for a good few days. But my body seemed to recover much quicker than I expected and although I ached a fair bit, I felt ready to run again after about a week. The only real issue I had was a pain in my foot that ended up taking at least 6 months to heal. But after a couple of weeks of rest the injury never actually stopped me continuing to run … which is probably why it took 6 months to heal rather than 6 weeks! When I look back on the race now the memories of the pain involved are already fading and I mainly remember what an amazing experience it was. I’m so glad my first 100 miler was an SVN race as the support from Traviss, Rachel, the volunteers and my fellow runners did so much to get me through. But one thing I am 100% sure of is that I would not of finished if Dan wasn’t there with me, looking after me every step of the way. Thanks bruva.
DATE: 10 March 2018 DISTANCE: 101 miles TIME: 26:58:08 ELEV GAIN: 722m