So that was 2014.

I had really high hopes for 2014. My goal races were the South Downs Way 50, the North Downs Way 50 and the North Downs Way 100. I’d done the two fifties the year before as my first and second fifty, so I was going back to improve on the year before. They would be great training for my first hundred – the NDW100. At the end of 2013 I was in decent shape and really looking forward to 2014.

2014 ended up being the most memorable year of running I have ever had. I got myself into the best shape I have ever been in. I finished my first hundred. I even set a 5K PB. The slight issue was that I didn’t run any of the three goal races I had entered.

The reason for the major change of plan was our house. For a variety of reasons we ended up moving house and doing a substantial amount of work to our place so that we could put it on the market. It pretty much wrecked the first few months of the year and I did very little but go to work and then come home and work on the house. I hardly ran at all from January to March.

Finally, in April the house was done and I started running again. It was far too late to run the SDW50 at the beginning of April (I ended up volunteering instead) and it didn’t take me long to realise that there was no way I would be in good enough shape to run the NDW50 (May) and the NDW100 (August). I pulled out of both and entered the Winter 100 instead, figuring that October would be enough time to get myself ready for my first hundred. Before that I had another hundred to go to first.

South Downs Way 100 – June

I ran less than half of this race but it was one of the most enjoyable, memorable runs I have ever done. I paced my friend Alan Bennett from mile 54 to the end. Alan had run this race the year before but DNF’d at mile 67. This was his chance to go back and nail the bugger. I had offered to help and in the build up to the race we had recce’d the second half of the course together several times so we knew what we were up against. Or at least we thought we did.

We hadn’t quite prepared for being charged on two separate occasions by several tonnes of evil in bovine form. The first was during the night, when Alan exhibited a turn of speed that I didn’t believe him capable of. The second was at mile 95 in broad daylight by a herd of rather lively bullocks. Thankfully, we made it through the two cow incidents (and the race) in one piece as Alan finished in just over 28 hours.

My job was to encourage, sympathise, humour, cajole and kick up the arse as and when necessary. It was an amazing experience from start to finish and I am still in awe of Alan for finishing that race and gutting it out.

It takes a village!

It takes a village!

Mont Blanc Marathon and Vertical Kilometre – June

Two weeks after the SDW100 Natasha and I went to Chamonix on holiday and I ran the VK and the marathon – both of which were part of the world Skyrunning championships. The VK was brutal – ascending a kilometre in altitude over the 3.3K distance. My pacing strategy was horrible as I went off far too quickly then died on my arse very early in proceedings. At least I started early enough that I got to see Kilian Jornet run and show everyone else how it should be done.

The scenery didn't quite lessen the pain.

The scenery didn’t quite lessen the pain.

The marathon was great fun as I took it fairly easy throughout, except for one very long descent half way through that I absolutely hammered. The weather was filthy as it lashed it down for most of the race (it reminded me of growing up in Hull, although thankfully without the smell of fish) but it was a fabulous day out in the mountains.

Firle Half Marathon – September

My training for the hundred was going well. As part of that I ran the Firle half marathon, which starts and finishes in the grounds of Firle Place, near Lewes. The course is mostly on trails and is beautiful. It was a stunning day and a great, low-key race organised by Raw Energy Pursuits.

Winter 100 – October

There’s not much else I can say about this that I haven’t said already elsewhere (http://www.jonfielden.com/?p=54). Thank you again to everybody who helped me do this. It was an incredible, painful, fabulous, emotional rollercoaster and I loved it.

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Eastbourne Parkrun – November

My first ever parkrun and a 5K PB in 20:43! Who said running ultras doesn’t help your speed?!

So that was 2014

2014 didn’t go to plan at all but ended up being far better than I could ever have expected. The first part of the year was a total write off but the second part of the year was fantastic, starting with the SDW100. Pacing Alan for 46 miles showed me first hand exactly what it would take for me to complete a hundred myself later in the year. It was an epic experience – one I will never forget.

The Mont Blanc marathon and VK definitely had the best atmosphere of any races I have ever done. I was never going to run either of them very well, coming so soon after the SDW100, but it wasn’t about that. It was about running in the mountains in my favourite place on earth, savouring the experience and just having fun.

The highlight of the year was without doubt the Winter 100. The sense of achievement after finishing was immense and even now, over two months later, it’s still there. It’s inspired me to push on and has whetted my appetite for more, so roll on 2015!

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The Winter 100 Race Report – 18 / 19 October 2014

The Winter 100 was my first attempt at a hundred mile race. I had prepared well for it. Training had been really good. I’d lost some weight. I had a drop bag that would have fed, watered, clothed and probably sheltered a small family for at least a week (on the basis that they were all tall blokes), which I had access to every twenty five miles. I had the two most positive people I know to pace me for the last fifty miles. I had slept like a baby the night before. I was ready. What could possibly go wrong?

The Winter 100 is organised by Centurion Running and is based in Goring, a lovely village near Reading. The race consists of four spurs, two on the Thames Path (one and four) and the other two on the Ridgeway (two and three). I had recce’d the last fifty miles of the course and researched the first fifty so I had a good idea of what I was letting myself in for.

After registering early on Saturday morning, having a rather marvellous full English breakfast back at our hotel and listening to the race briefing, we wandered up the road to the start. The starting horn was blown and we were off. Only a hundred miles to go until the finish.

I had two goals for this race. My A goal was to finish in under 24 hours. My B goal was to finish within the 30 hour cut off. It was as simple as that.

Spur 1 – Goring to Little Wittenham and back (Thames Path)

I have virtually no memories of this spur. Apparently it took me just under four and a half hours but I remember virtually none of it. Short of being abducted by aliens during this section and having my memory wiped, I am not sure what happened here. All I remember is a lot of mud, some water (which I assume must have been the Thames), some big houses and a road called Jethro Tull Gardens that I ran past. I googled it after the race just to make sure my brain hadn’t completely lost it and the road does exist – they obviously have a very progressive attitude to naming roads in this part of the world. And it was flat. Very flat. Hardly a smell of a hill, let alone one to run up and down.

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Spur 2 – Goring to Swyncombe Farm and back (Ridgeway)

I refuelled at race HQ in Goring and headed out on spur 2. Like all of spur 1, the first part of spur 2 was flat. Very flat. In hindsight this shouldn’t really have surprised me as there aren’t too many rivers that I know of that flow up or downhill and at this stage we were following the Thames. I’m not too much of a fan of flat usually and I live in Hastings, which is without doubt the hilliest seaside town in the world (apart from the seafront, which is flat but I hardly ever run on that). I’m used to hills and I’m not used to flat and I found this section very hard. I got to the aid station at North Stoke and had a good grumble about how flat the course was. The volunteers listened and humoured me until I shut up, had some food and left.

And soon after that thankfully a hill appeared. And another one. And yet another one. I figured out that I was now in Grim’s Ditch. This was lovely. It went mostly up with the odd down from there until the halfway point at Swyncombe Farm. A quick turnaround and I headed back onto the Ditch.

It was even more enjoyable in the other direction with now more down than up. It was damn good fun heading along the Ditch at (relative) speed as night was drawing in, leaping over tree roots as I went. I left putting on the head torch as long as I could as running through the Ditch at twilight was a magical experience.

Headlight on, I headed back to North Stoke in rather better spirits than I had left it. Not far until the end of spur 2 now. I was feeling great.

And then I hit that bloody flat section again.

I really should go back to that section some day and see if someone has left a ‘suck the joie de vivre from Jon’ device there. If they did then it worked. If they didn’t then something did. It was inexplicable. I went from feeling really good to feeling really crap. I know it was dark, but even so I really went downhill in that section. A joyful, easy run turned into a pissed off plod. I wasn’t enjoying myself.

And then Lady Gaga saved the day.

OK. I know this sounds weird but I will explain. I was thinking before the race about taking an iPod with me but in the end I didn’t. I then started thinking that some music would really help here and at that point a Lady Gaga song popped into my head. ‘Born this way’ came first and then ‘Hair’. For those not familiar with this song the lyrics are about being as free as your hair which, considering I have very little hair, is a trifle ironic. Anyway, ‘Hair’ was in my head and it wasn’t shifting. And I was starting to feel a bit better.

I looked around for other head torches. I couldn’t see any. ‘Oh well’ (or something similar) I thought and I started singing – loudly and tunelessly. And I started to feel a lot better. Energy was coming back and my mood was lightening. So off I ran, singing Lady Gaga songs, until I got back to Goring. Spur 2 done – thank you Lady G.

Spur 3 – Goring to Chain Hill and back (Ridgeway)

Back at HQ I met Susie, my pacer for spur 3. It was great to have some company. I had chatted to a few runners along the way but having a really good friend to run with at this stage was fantastic.

I hadn’t really eaten enough until this stage so I had some vegetable soup at HQ before heading out. This spur starts with a long uphill section so we walked up this and chatted. I still felt surprisingly good at this stage, having just run a 50 mile PB. We walked the ups and ran the downs for a bit until my stomach started to feel unusual. We then ran a bit until my stomach felt very unusual, then we stopped and walked a bit until it went back to just unusual. We repeated this process through Bury Downs aid station all the way to Chain Hill. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pleasant but we were still going.

Chain Hill aid station appeared like a cross between an illegal rave and a low-flying UFO with a penchant for 70s disco lights. It was a lovely sight, but not as lovely a sight as the ginger cake they had there. It was the first thing I had wanted to eat for a long time and it was divine. Three pieces later (and a piece that Susie took along ‘for the road’) I was off and feeling much better. I started running again without discomfort. It was fantastic. I was moving again. Admittedly I wasn’t breaking the land speed record but I was moving.

We went through Bury Downs again and we were heading back to Goring. Susie was encouraging me, chatting to me and keeping my spirits high. Things were going really well. For the first time in a long time I looked at my watch and realised that sub-24 was on. Fuelled by ginger cake, I could do this.

And then my left knee started to hurt.

I have had trouble with my IT band on my left knee on and off for a long time. I knackered it completely when I ran my first half marathon years ago on no training. Since then it is fine for a bit then it is not so fine for a bit. I have tried various things over the years to sort it – acupuncture, custom made insoles, massage, strengthening – all with various degrees of success. I figured if anything could stop me finishing then this could do it.

It had been a bit grumbly (like me) earlier in the race but it wasn’t too bad. Now it was getting rather painful. We agreed I should walk a bit and then have another go at running. I walked – not too bad – then started running. Not good. It really hurt. I started walking again.

I talked it through with Susie. I decided that for as long as it felt fine to walk on then I could keep moving forward. I had bags of time. If I couldn’t run then a sub-24 finish was not going to happen but if I could keep walking I could still finish. It wouldn’t be pretty but I could do it. So we walked back to Goring.

Spur 4 – Goring to Reading and back (Thames Path)

We got back to Goring and I met Natasha, who would be pacing me on the final spur. We’ve been married for 14 years and there is nobody I would rather have pace me for this section than her. I wasn’t in a great place mentally at this point. I was in a good deal of pain and I had badly underestimated just how hard it would be. I sat down and had a little whinge to myself.

Thankfully at that stage James Adams and James Elson came over to listen to me whinge and helped put me straight. ‘It hurts’, I grumbled. ‘It’s hard’, I whinged. ‘I know’, they said. ‘It’s a hundred. It’s supposed to hurt.’

I wasn’t giving up. ‘But it really hurts and it’s really hard’. And neither were they. ‘It’s a hundred. It’s supposed to be really hard.’ I wasn’t going to win here so I accepted what they had to say, grabbed my walking poles from my drop bag and headed off with Natasha towards the bright lights of Reading.

We arrived at Whitchurch (the intermediate aid station on spur 4) having just passed a sign for an alpaca farm. We were both intrigued but had work to do so kept on until we got to the aid station. At the aid station we met Guy Travers, fresh from his own detour to the alpaca farm. We had a very surreal conversation with him about the alpacas, how one rides an alpaca and whether at this stage it would be possible to ‘borrow’ a couple of them and ride them to Reading. On balance we decided against it, partly because the consensus was that I would be a bit tall to ride an alpaca. It would likely also be frowned upon by the race organisers.

My last memory of this aid station is of Guy (obviously a man who understands black humour and irony) giving me a love heart that he had picked up here. It said ‘chase me’. A rather unlikely prospect in the circumstances.

We left Whitchurch and headed for Reading, thankfully without an alpaca. It was still dark and by now it felt like it had been dark forever. I really needed the boost that comes with the sunrise but I was not getting it. We walked through a housing estate. No sunrise. We passed the ‘Welcome to Reading’ sign. Still no sunrise and no Reading either that I could see. My feet and legs were becoming increasingly painful and I was really slowing down. I kept going. Slower and slower. It stayed resolutely dark.

It finally started to get light just before we reached the Reading aid station. The combination of sunlight, reaching the aid station, the most perfect lemon drizzle cake I have ever tasted (thank you so much whoever made that), a cup of tea and a visit to the toilet worked wonders. I was back in the game. We headed out of the aid station and back towards Goring. Twelve and a half miles to go.

Those twelve and a half miles were one of the rawest and most emotional experiences I have ever had. I was shattered. I am not the most emotional person around (I was brought up in Hull where emotions are generally seen as a bit effete and southern) but those twelve and a half miles were a constant struggle not to completely lose it. We were on the home straight but it was a very very long home straight.

We plodded on, away from Reading and back towards Goring and the finish. One foot in front of the other. Keep going. Hold it together. Don’t lose it. We can do this.

We made it back to Whitchurch. Cup of tea, seventies disco, piece of marble cake then head out. Don’t bother the alpacas. Every step forward was another step towards Goring and the finish. We can do this. Just keep going.

And then we were back by the side of the Thames and I knew we had less than a mile to go. It was getting harder and harder not to lose it now as it finally dawned on me that I was going to finish this. Natasha continued to encourage me, cajole me and keep me moving forward, as she had done throughout this spur. I could not have done this without her.

Finally, we saw the bridge. I knew this bridge led to the village hall in Goring. The finish. At this stage all the emotion that had been bubbling around me for the last twenty five miles came rampaging to the surface. I sobbed a bit to myself and kept moving. We got to the bridge, turned right for the village hall and saw Susie, who was waiting there for me to finish. I sobbed a bit more to myself. I hugged Susie and grabbed her hand in one hand and Natasha’s hand in the other and walked to the finish.

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The Finish

I did it. I finished. For a northern bloke I had done a pretty good job of getting in touch with my emotions – far more than I was expecting. I got my belt buckle and my t-shirt. I had done it. I had finished the W100. Me – the fat drunk. Now rather slimmer and sober. I had somehow run and walked a hundred miles.

I could not have done it without Susie and Natasha’s help and support. They were both amazing. They kept me going, they put up with my whinging and they were so positive and encouraging throughout.

The volunteers were incredible. Natasha and I have volunteered at several Centurion races over the years and I know how rewarding it is. The volunteers really do make your race so much easier with their encouragement, humour and kindness. And, of course, their cake which saved my race on various occasions. Thank you. You are all, every single one of you, incredible.

Thank you to James, Nici and everyone else at Centurion for putting on these fabulous races and for giving all the runners such a great experience. You guys are superb at what you do and you really care. It shows.

Before I started this race I really thought I was well prepared for the W100. I was in good shape. I had recce’d the course. I had read lots of race reports. I had read a lot of books and blogs about ultras and hundred mile races. I was ready. And then I started running and things started happening and I had to react and maybe I wasn’t quite as ready as I had thought. But somehow, with the help of a lot of people, I kept going.

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Taper Madness

Like virtually all runners, I hate tapering and I am crap at it. I am currently tapering for the Winter 100 on 18 October, which is my first attempt at the hundred mile distance. I did my last long run last Sunday, two weeks out from the race. 24 hilly miles on the South Downs Way. It went superbly. I felt great. I felt ready. It’s now four days later and I am worrying about phantom niggles, whether I have all the kit for the race, what is going to happen and a thousand other things. And I am not a worrier by nature. What happened?! Taper madness.

I remember my first bout of taper madness like it was yesterday. My first marathon. Berlin in 2008. Natasha (my wife) and I had trained for it, following a plan that recommended a three week taper. Three weeks. I won’t be doing that again. I got nervous. I got bored. I got drunk, because it stopped me getting nervous and bored. I got a cold. I got drunk again. Several times. Unfortunately it didn’t shift the cold, which was still there on race day. Race day was fabulous, but the taper was awful.

After that I vowed that I would never taper for three weeks again. It’s just too much for me. I was a nervous, drunken, cold-ridden wreck after a three week taper. That decision has helped a little as two weeks of nervousness and phantom illnesses and niggles is at least better than three weeks of nervousness and phantom illnesses.

Over the last few years most of my tapers haven’t gone all that well. The Stockholm marathon is a particular highlight (or lowlight). We got there a couple of days before the race – the taper hadn’t gone too badly until then. Alcohol is fiercely expensive in Stockholm. Our hotel had a free bar for two hours every afternoon. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to work out what happened there. Starting a marathon with a hangover is not an experience I would recommend. It really wasn’t pretty.

And did I mention eating? I don’t think I’ve been through a taper yet when I haven’t put on weight. Sometimes a lot. It’s surprising how much you can pile on in two weeks when you aren’t running very much and you’re nervous. Some more tortillas and guacamole to go with that pizza and beer? Why not.

So I am now tapering for the longest race I have ever attempted. I already have a snuffly nose and a niggle (phantom or otherwise) but thankfully I am still sober and haven’t as yet eaten my body weight in pizza, crisps and dry roasted peanuts, so there has apparently been some improvement over the last few years. I am fussing about kit, but at least I am only fussing about gloves and shorts / tights / manpris at the moment. The rest seems just about sorted. For now.

When I line up on the start line a week on Saturday I hope I will have put all this nonsense behind me. This period should be one for quiet reflection. I should be organising everything methodically for the race. Looking back on my training. Learning lessons from it for the future. Preparing mentally. Planning my race. The rational part of me says this is the way to go. The other part of me is running around frantically screaming ‘You’re running 100 miles in a few days! You’re not ready! And why does my knee hurt so much?’

Taper madness.

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The joy of the early morning run

I usually tend to run in the evenings during the week as I get to work very early and there just isn’t time to run before work most of the time. However, on the last couple of evenings my planned runs hadn’t happened for a variety of reasons. The only way I could think of to try and get most of the lost mileage back was to get up early this morning and run before work. I know a lot of people tend to get their runs in this way so I thought I would give it a try.

I figured I could get in 13 miles before work if I got up at five. That way I could get the 5:37 train out to Battle and run back home to Hastings on the 1066 country path. This is one of my regular training routes – a bit overgrown in places but it is on some beautiful trails. It has a few hills but nothing too scary.

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Having leaped out of bed like a scalded cat when my alarm went off, I was out on the trail before six running into a breathtaking sunrise.

imageIt was glorious – one of those moments you feel overjoyed to be alive. I also felt great throughout the run – really relaxed at a good, easy pace. Definitely a running gods day.

I nearly had a cow incident at one stage, as I had to cross a field full of cows and calves. Never a good thing, especially as me and cows have a lot of previous. We generally have a hate – hate relationship (except when they are on plate in front of me). On this occasion as I entered the field every single cow in the field turned their head and stared at me. It is rather disconcerting when that much tonnage of beef is staring right at you as you enter their field.

Thankfully, they resisted the urge to charge me en masse (or even one at a time). Except for the odd moo, staring at me was as bad as it got. I can handle dirty looks from cows. I’ve had worse.

Anyway, I finished the run, got home, got showered and dressed and made it into work at two minutes to nine – perfect timing and an amazing way to start the day. It really does show how running can change you as a person. A few years ago there is not a cat in hell’s chance I would have done this. A few years before that the only way I ever saw five am was from the other direction. The thing is that I am much happier now than I have ever been and doing stuff like this is one of the reasons why.

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Chamonix VK

I was thinking about how to start the blog and my first post and I figured why not start with this? The Skyrunning world championships in Chamonix earlier this year. Running in the same race as Kilian Jornet in one of the most beautiful places on earth. It doesn’t get much better than this, right? Surely a highlight of my running career?

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The course

The course is a brute. It starts in the town centre of Chamonix and heads out of town then goes straight uphill under the cable car until you have gained a kilometre in height. The course is around 3.4K long. It is rather steep.

My preparation wasn’t ideal. Two weeks before I had paced my friend Alan Bennett for the last 46 miles of the South Downs Way 100. Amazing experience, but probably not the best preparation for running up a mountain. Oh well.

The race is a time trial. Runners start every 20 seconds. I was a bit concerned I had overestimated my abilities and underestimated my finishing time. My concerns proved to be correct.

I got into the starting tent. The starter counted me down. The light went off. I was away. I headed out of town towards the bottom cable car station. In hindsight I got a bit carried away because even this bit is bloody steep. I got to the bottom station and headed up the trail on to the switchbacks. Unfortunately I was knackered already and I had just done the easy bit.

Rather than distance markers on the course they had altitude gain markers every 100 metres. I didn’t realise this until I saw the first one. Oh crap (or words to that effect) was my first thought when I saw it. I am dying on my arse and I have just completed one tenth of the course.

Somehow I kept going. I am still not sure how. It was bloody painful and I was struggling to breathe. I was getting passed by a lot of people. My illusions of skipping up the mountain like a mountain goat were being stomped on, shattered then stomped on again – harder.

Still just about smiling!

Still just about smiling!

I dragged myself up this mountain, cursing and grumbling (when I could draw breath). I got through the via ferrata section in one piece without falling off the mountain. I went through the top cable car station. I just about managed a shuffle / run thing up the last section. I had finished! For the first time in my life I needed a lay down after a race, so I had one.

When I started to breathe again, for some reason I started thinking that I had enjoyed it. It’s amazing how quickly we forget the pain but only hold on to the good bits when you have finished a race. I suppose otherwise we wouldn’t do this stupid stuff ever again.

So that was my first vertical K. I have a horrible feeling it won’t be my last.

 

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