It’s Sunday night.
I’m heading into race week.
“Race? What race?”
I’ve not shouted about this one, I’ve not talked about it publicly, I’ve not mentioned it in my training runs on Strava or in my Insta posts. When asked ‘what next?’ after SDW50 I’ve been rather evasive. But everything I have done over the past six months has been working towards this race.
Every mile run.
Every hill climbed.
Every 5am start.
Every weight lifted.
All for this.
At 6am Saturday morning I am attempting to run Centurion Running’s SDW100. 100 miles from the start of the South Downs Way national trail in Winchester to it’s end in Eastbourne.
When I said in my post SDW50 blog that I had never worked as hard for anything as I had for that, it wasn’t quite true as I have worked even harder for this. As crazy as it sounds, SDW50 was just a small part of this much bigger journey, a warm-up for the main event if you like.
I’ve kept this race on the quiet, very much like I did for my first marathon & my first 50 miler, primarily out of fear. A fear of failure because in all honestly I was never sure I would actually get to this point. 100 miles is a bloody long way & I didn’t know if I would make it to race week & the start line, never mind the finish line. If people didn’t know I was doing it, I wouldn’t have the pressure of their expectations weighing me down & I wouldn’t have to explain when I failed.
But that is completely the wrong attitude to have.
Rather than being fearful of failure, I should be proud of trying. I am challenging myself to do something hard, exploring my own strengths & weaknesses & pushing myself way, way outside of anything resembling a comfort zone. I should be proud of not just the result, whatever that may be, but also the process of getting there.
Training has been an amazing adventure & I now feel ready. I feel ready to tackle 100 miles & good or bad, I want to share the final part of the journey because firstly, I’m excited, & secondly I know the support & encouragement of those around me will be invaluable.
So, here goes…
“On Saturday I am running 100 miles.”
This isn’t the start of the story, & to be honest it probably isn’t the end either, race day is simply going to be the victory lap for the six month journey.
I don’t want to tempt fate but my training has gone well. Really well. Unbelievably well in fact.
I don’t have a coach, I don’t have a 100 mile training plan, I don’t really know what I am doing. I mean, how do you train for 100 miles? I’ve made it up as I’ve gone along, trying to train intuitively by listening to my body & gearing my sessions around how I feel whilst trying to get the balance between challenging myself but not pushing myself too hard. Training has simply been preparing myself to the best of my abilities & giving myself the best opportunity to get to that finish line in Eastbourne.
I looked at different challenges within the race, the difficulties & obstacles I may face on race day & whilst training worked towards overcoming them.
Challenge 1: Knowing the route (aka not getting lost)
Over the past four months I’ve run the whole trail from the start in Winchester to the finish in Eastbourne, some of the latter sections time & time again. Whilst the course will be superbly marked, I will also be running somewhere I know on paths that are familiar to my feet. I know the terrain, the elevation & where the tough sections are. I know when to push, I know where I can let go a little & allow myself a little speed. I know where I will need to walk, where I may struggle & where I may want to give up. I also know where the views that make it all worthwhile are.
I know that I really, really dislike the hill coming out of the Boltops check point & that every time I have run it (in races & training) I have mentally struggled. I know this, I can prepare for this. I will make sure I have have a good selection of snacks, I may pop my headphones in for a little distraction. I know that the struggle will pass. I also know that once I have overcome those few miles I will be rewarded with a beautiful view over the South Downs.
Challenge 2: Running through the night
As an insomniac people often joke that it’s good practice for being awake during the night at an ultra. I may regularly see 2am, 3am, 4am but I am usually lying very still & not trying to run up a hill… The night time section will be one of the toughest sections. It’ll be dark, cold, I will be tired, & I will undoubtedly be hurting. I am having pacers join me through the night & the company during these lonely miles will be invaluable.
To prepare, I ran a part of the trail that I am likely to be running overnight in training. Starting at Falmer at 11:30pm & finishing in Eastbourne just after 5am, two of my pacers joined me so that they are also familiar with the route. A brilliant run in it’s own right, there is something very therapeutic about being out on the trails in the dark & quietness of the night, it was a useful learning exercise. I learnt that in some of the open fields it is difficult to see the path by torchlight & it’s very easy to veer off course. Whilst the route is well marked with reflective signs, the navigation on my watch will be a good back-up during the night miles.
I also learnt that cows eyes are very bright when you catch them in the light of your torch. And that sheep, despite having an entire field at their disposal, like to sleep on the path.
Challenge 3: 12,000ft of elevation
It’s not just 100 miles that’ll be the challenge, it’s also the 12,000+ ft of climbing over those 100 miles. The equivalent of one third of the way up Mount Everest.
I have run hill rep after hill rep after hill rep (autocorrect just corrected that to hell rep which actually is quite apt). There’s a hill across the road from where I live that is 0.2 miles & 95ft bottom to top. I have run up it close to 100 times so far this year. Up & down, up & down. Again & again & again. In wind, in rain, when it was icy (that was interesting) & just two weeks ago in full midday sun.
I also ran up & down Box Hill 10 times. The hills are NOT going to defeat me. I plan on hiking the majority of them on race day to conserve energy, but I want to hike them feeling strong & powerful. If 103,000ft of elevation in training so far this year doesn’t do that, I don’t know what will!
Challenge 4: Running tired
100 miles is a very long way. It’s impossible to train to 100 miles in the way you might run 23 ahead of a marathon. I simply don’t know how I will feel once I tip over 100km (previous longest race). How can you train your body for the second half of the race? For the hours on your feet, for the tiredness, the pain, the low energy?
I did what I could.
I ran long & longer still clocking up three 50km’s & a handful of 25+ mile runs in training on top of a 50km race & the SDW50. I ran back to back long runs, 20 miles Saturday, 20 miles Sunday. I would run the second long run fasted to get my body used to running depleted.
During my peak training week, five weeks out from race day, I ran 98 miles finishing the week with 26 miles from Petersfield to Amberley on Friday & 31 miles from Amberely to Falmer on Saturday. I wanted tired legs, I wanted to hurt, I was trying to mimic as best as I could those last few race day miles & I wanted to make my legs run when they didn’t want to.
It was actually one of my best weeks of training. I felt good. I felt strong. I felt comfortable. I focused on recovery between sessions. I made sure I ate well, drank well & slept as best as I could. I practiced my race day pacing. I practiced my race day nutrition & I ended the week with a quiet confidence that maybe, just maybe, I could do this.
I’ve practiced my pacing strategy (do NOT start too fast) time & time again. I know what my target feels like.
I’ve practiced my fuelling, something I always struggle with in races.
I know what kit I’m wearing & I’ve run endless miles carrying my mandatory gear so that I’m used to running with the weight of a bag.
I don’t want this to come across as me shouting ‘look at what I’ve done’, this is me, giving the 100 mile distance my full respect & putting absolutely everything I have into training & preparing for it. I can blag a 10km with little to no training. I cannot blag 100 miles.
If I am to get to that finish line in Eastbourne I want to know that I have given it my all. It might be that 100 miles is too far for me, it may be a distance beyond my capabilities but if I don’t make it to the finish at the weekend it will not be through a failure to prepare.
So with training done, how am I feeling?
Terrified. I am nervous, anxious & scared. And rightly so. I am going deep into the unknown & I don’t want to be going into this with complacency. It’s 36 miles further than I’ve EVER run before, that’s an ultra in it’s own right.
Being completely honest, I am still fearful of failure. I am fearful of (my own) disappointment. But I think my fears just indicate to me how much I want this. I always say that fear & nerves are a good thing because they show you care about what you are doing & if you don’t care, why are you doing it?
Worries aside, I’m also excited. I’m looking forward to the challenge, to see what this body of mine can do. I’m looking forward to running along the South Downs Way, of spending a whole day (and more) doing the thing I love in a place I love, surrounded by friends, old & new. It’s such a privilege to have the opportunity, the health, the fitness & the ability to do this & one I am so very thankful for.
The training is done, my body is ready. The next five days are all about preparing my mind for the challenge ahead.
SDW100, I’m as ready as I am ever going to be.
Let’s. Do. This.
100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne along the South Downs Way. Starting at 6am on Saturday 8th June, I have 30 hours until midday on Sunday 9th June to complete the course.
I also plan to use my Insta Stories throughout the race.