I've been building up to this one all year, gathering kit, training on average 70k/week and testing out my fuelling plan. My big goal for 2023 was to breach the 100km mark & I was determined today would be that day.
Up to this point my longest distance was 89k along the Taff Trail; tough for sure but also relatively flat. I've done hilly ultras like the EDDUM, but not combined the hills with the distance like this course would prove to involve.
The Cotswold Way has always held a special place in my heart: I was born and bred at its midpoint of Stroud, where my folks took us for plenty of walks around the beautiful countryside there as we grew up. The route would take me through some familiar old ground like Bulls Cross, Standish Wood, Ebly & Coaley Peak, then go over places I used in 2021 to train for my first ultra like Wotton and Hawkesbury.
I wrote a longer post on how I'd planned to tackle this here, however the summary is:
Super slow, controlled pace, lots of breaks and making sure I ate properly.
On the fuelling front it definitely fell apart, however a lot of this would save me later on. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
I was doing this event with Ultra Challenge; a large organiser who put on 14 events across the UK. Most of their events are 2 days, with the cut off being the end of the Sunday, and they attract a range of folk from ultrarunners to long distances walkers to folks doing shorter point to point portions of the route.
Having now run with them I can highly recommend them as an organiser: the aid stations were fantastic with plenty of hot food, fruits, and little surprises like pick n mix stations, a selection of baked breakfast goods, heck even pizza later on. The routes were also well waymarked with signage every 50-100 meters, I only went off course once and that was me not paying attention and missing a turning sign.
Friendly marshals throughout too with lots of smiles, jokes and checking you were ok. I mean I wasn't, I was NOT ok, but it was nice to be asked so often. Also big shout out to the folks on the finish line who gave lots of advice around recovery and made sure everyone rested, especially if they didn't have supporters there to drive them home.
The Start Line
Well signed easy to find car park at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, then it was on to registration.
We were given a lanyard with a card to scan at each checkpoint, which would update the tracking information on the website, a guidebook and a sign to pin on.
There was some grub and teas/coffees at the start too, along with water.
A quick briefing and (screams internally) a group warm up then we were off onto the trails at 07:30.
Stage 1: Cirencester to Edgeworth
First stage and my main focus was to ensure I kept at 06:00/km or slower and didn't gas myself too early. To that end ran in a pack, didn't go for any ill advised early overtaking, and kept things happily slow.
Route went through a few fields then along a canal for a fair stretch.
We quickly caught up with the walkers from the 07:00 start wave and sheepishly passed on the narrow trail to shouts of "well done" and "you're all mad".
Wanted to try and get a smiling photo at each 10km point; being that my goal for the day was to finish smiling above all else, so at the first 10k:
The checkpoint came in sight in what felt like no time; here they had breakfast baked goods and I chowed down on a custard danish
So far the weather was all overcast, a little warm but not uncomfortable. That would change soon.
Stage 2: Edgeworth to Painswick
Onto more fields and woodlands as we approached the Cotswold Way itself. Hit the first big climb up through Bulls Cross. A sneak preview for later. Spirits still high here
Hit the second aid station where a packed lunch was being served; had a sandwich and a banana, along with a sit down. Part of the "take your time at each aid station" strategy to keep fresh and get those calories in.
Stage 3: Painswick to Coaley Peak
Here the sun came out in force, still a few clouds in the sky but when it hit it was hot! Nicely timed with one of the big climbs: up to Coaley Peak. 200m of pushing up the hills to the next station.
By the time I'd clambered through the woods to the aid station I was absolutely shattered. The heat had knocked me for six and I started to feel exhausted. My fuelling had began to fall apart on that climb too so on reaching the station I made a point of resting and waiting to recover a little, forcing myself to eat (Clif bar, pick n mix, melon, coke)
Thankfully each station on route had a tent for shade to rest in.
Massive props on the pick n mix stall too, gave me a big smile.
Took my time here and decided to take it easy on the next stretch. I don't usually get stomach issues until after the marathon point, so was conscious that I needed to be careful now.
It would turn out to be the hardest stretch of the day.
Stage 4: Coaley Peak to Wotton-under-Edge
It all started so well, the views at Coaley Peak are gorgeous, definitely recommend checking it out
After there's a long downhill through thick woodlands which kept the increasingly hot midday sun off us for a bit.
Then we hit what I'm going to refer to as the 3 Absolute Bastards.
The first was the Cam Long Down climb, a hill so steep this photo won't do it justice. It kept going and going, then when you got into the woods, more climbing.
From the top you can make out the Tyndale Monument, a tower off in the distance we would pass before getting to the midway aid station.
Then it was downhill into Dursley before the second Absolute Bastard: the climb up to Stinchcombe Hill Golf Course. Again incredibly long, steep and never ending.
No photos here, only swearing. Got chatting to a walker doing the quarter distance who gave me a pep talk after noticing the 100k sign on my back. We chatted up the hill which helped a good deal, before parting ways as it flattened out.
The final Absolute Bastard was the climb up to the Tyndale Monument itself, another long, steep, spirit breaking path that was thankfully in shade.
However before hitting its base my stomach finally rebelled and up came the melon I'd ate at Coaley Peak. As always, felt a lot better afterwards, though it was short lived.
Lay on a bench at the top of the climb and took a moment to reset.
From the monument it was mostly flat as we approached Wotton, before a nice descent to the midway checkpoint at 53km.
Here: I could have ended the race, gone right and got a 50k finisher medal, got the bus back to the start and been home for dinner. The temptation was strong.
By this point we'd had 1,550 meters of elevation gain over 53km in 22-25c heat. The stage had been the hardest I've ever done by far and I was, mentally, in a real bad place.
Sat down and rested here for about 30 mins. Drank 2 pepsis then forced myself to eat a plain bread roll and a blueberry muffin (which went down surprisingly well).
Poured a few cups of water over my head, very effective.
Then sat down again and tried to wrangle myself into leaving for stage 5.
Stage 5: Wotton-under-Edge to Hawkesbury
Managed to get my bag on and keep at it, the next bit was a lot flatter and we had a little cloud cover to help.
In the distance you can see the Somerset Monument, which I knew was just before Hawkesbury, the next checkpoint.
By this point I was jeffing; alternating between running and walking, using the waymarkers in a little game I'm calling "jeffy signage" where I'd run til I passed one, then walk to the next one, then run again and on like that for as long as I could. Helped keep the mind off the distance.
However by 60k the sun was still hot, I'd not ate anything since Wotton and was struggling with both water and getting salt tablets down me. Walked from here to the next aid station and collapsed into the village hall for a long rest.
Had some wonderful messages of support from my family, friends and the Running Punks that I read here whilst trying to gather myself. It was definitely my lowest point, rather nicely outlined by this average pace graph:
And I was seriously considering pulling out here. In fact whilst I was there another runner came in telling the medic they'd like to DNF due to knee issues, and all I could think was "damn I really want that right now".
Was only the thought of all those lovely messages of support, of "you got this" and "you can do it" (include a video message from Zoe, Ellie and Charlie), that stopped me and made me find the will to keep going.
Stuck it out, tried to get some liquid calories in me, rested a fair while as the temperature of the day started to drop, let my body go through the adrenaline shakes, then off we went.
Stage 6: Hawkesbury to Westonbirt
Told myself that no matter what I was finishing, but I also knew I had little running left in me, what without being able to take in fuel, so stuck to a power walk pace for the whole of stage 6, didn't run once...
Got a message from the Bristol Punks group that Gary Lea (who took that excellent cover photo) was waiting at the Westonbirt checkpoint to say hi.
I had a really weird British moment; it felt rude to make him wait too long, yet I knew I was a fair way out due to the walking pace. The sun had mostly gone down and my body, stomach especially, was feeling a little better. Downed a salt tab and Gu gel, both settled well, then got to a jogging pace to click down those KMs faster.
Near the checkpoint I bumped into two fellow 100k runners who I'd talked to at previous stations. We chatted away for the last click which helped raise spirits for the final third of the challenge.
Had a good chat with Gary in the supporter area, then in to the tent for another long sit down.
Here I was feeling much better. They had hot food: pizza, bacon and sausage baps, and some lovely cold cans of coke. Forced myself to eat a full sausage bap and felt a million times better for it.
Amazingly, was starting to smile again, and as I left the aid station with my head torch on, things started to look up.
Stage 7: Westonbirt to Rodmarton
It was getting properly dark now and, big credit to Ultra Challenge, I was very much appreciative of the glowstick marked signage for the remaining stages.
Still walking here, but a solid power hike pace. I knew I needed to give my stomach time process the food, but wanted to get the distance done now.
This stage did however feel neverending, and not a little creepy. Pitch black, middle of nowhere, on your own with just a headlight and the odd hedgehog for company.
I'd started thinking of the last stage, 8km to the finish, and made a promise to myself that I'd run as much of it as I could.
Was the only person in this station bar the two friendly marshals. No longer wanted to stop. Grabbed 2 cups of coke and refilled my bottles, then left at a jog.
Stage 8: Rodmarton to Finish
Last 8km. Along the canals and fields we've come along 17 hours previously. I was determined to do this last bit at a good pace, and the combination of letting my stomach settle, power hiking and the fuel I'd managed at Westonbirt, meant I hit a much needed second wind.
Passed a few folk as the lights of the Royal Agricultural University got closer. So proud of myself for managing to get moving at a good pace towards the end.
It was weird seeing the finish line. The usual elation was there but...muted, probably by sheer exhaustion at this point. Still managed to do a little sprint (waddle) finish to cheers of support from the lovely marshals.
Over the line in 18:00:43, at a total of 104 km distance covered and 2,268 meters elevation gain. 39th position out of 463 (though the majority of those were walkers).
Well getting home was completely irresponsible. I finished at 01:30 (originally thought I'd be home by midnight 😅) and had little choice but to drive for an hour to get back to Bristol. First lesson: next time book some accomodation nearby (they even offered rooms on site at the finish 🤦♂️).
After a long bath had to choose between going to bed (03:30 😬) or trying to get some calories back in me. Chose the former, stomach still wasn't right but despite the tiredness it was a fitful few hours kip before being up at 05:30 starving.
Well the day after the 100k was the Running Punks All You Can Eat Buffet. I wouldn't miss it for the world, so back in the car after eating all I could fit in my tum tum and off to Cardiff.
Managed to get a few laps in before feeling the tiredness hit, yet amazingly no real issues with my legs. Blister free, muscles all still working, it was more aches and fatigue.
Stairs were a struggle the day after for sure, got flashbacks to all them hills.
Have a long red mark across my back that's sore from where the pack rubbed, think it was keeping a water bottle in the bottle across my back that caused it to move too much. I did vaseline it half way but that didn't fully stop it.
Huge shout out to the Altra Lone Peak 7s; they handled all that distance without any pain, blistering or tendon issues, even over lots of hard surfaces (quite a few country lanes towards the end). After the hassle I had with the Speedgoats during the VOGUM I am very glad I chose these for the big day.
Had no need to adjust them or re-lace after starting, and to my surprise didn't wish for the increased cushioning of the Hokas, great times all round.
Was also using some brand new Injinji Ultra socks which I think helped with the comfort. I've always worn these socks on the ultras and this is a good vote of confidence for them going forward.
Absolutely haven't nail running in the heat; struggled with it last year and thought I'd found a way past it, but nope. Reading around the subject it sounds like the issue may have been not taking on enough salts. I had capsules and chews, but was only taking in 200-300 mg an hour, whilst the recommendation is 500-700 mg an hour, higher than that again when especially hot. Will experiment with different volumes and see how it changes things.
Not putting a time target out there and instead taking my time at aid stations saved the race for me. Recognising I needed to rest, reset and force myself to eat meant I could keep going. There have been other races where I pushed through each checkpoint quickly, and ended up suffering more in the long run.
Power hiking for the win, allowed my stomach to recover ready for that second wind nearer the end.
Yeah I'm good for 100ks for a while, went to enough dark places that I'm not keen on repeating just yet.
This year I've still got the SW Coast 50k with Scott, then the RIDUM with Pegasus, both distances I know I can do so will focus on enjoying them as the adventures they are.