September has all been about putting the miles in, with three weeks of high mileage which felt like IT WOULD NEVER END! The first week was dandy, but I started to get tired during the second week and the third week became a case of grinding out the runs one at a time. Still, it’s done now, I’m in a 3 week taper with volume reducing on a weekly basis until race week when I do just a couple of short runs before the big day.
With GMU being right at the end of August, the first week of September was about recovery, just three runs totalling 44km. This also served as a pick-me-up, an aperitif, for the three weeks to come.
I took advantage of the high mileage on the plan to get some route recces done. I met Keith Miller in Goring early on Saturday 11th and together we ran the hilliest leg of A100, out west on the Ridgeway to Chain Hill and back again. Keith is a bit of an old hand at this ultra lark and was a mine of useful tips for idiots like me attempting their first 100 miler. Chief among them was about pacing. Keith was in charge of how fast (slow) we ran, when we walked and so on. I still haven’t fully locked in on my “go all day” pace, so it was very useful for me to hold back to what often felt to me to be a dead slow pace. It’s not that Keith is a slow coach or something, rather that he knows what it takes to string it out over the course of 24 or more hours, and I don’t. Yet. Anything even vaguely uphill we walked, including some slight inclines I would consider runnable, and when running we were bimbling along considerably slower than I normally would, even when trying to go slowly. This combination meant that most kilometre splits started with an 8, plenty with 9 and even some 10s. Looking back on it now that seems super slow, and I guess that’s the point. It should be super slow! The total time for the full leg was 5:45, actually less than the timings I have set for myself for the race, taking into account I’ll be on 50 mile legs by the time I run this leg in the race. So, big lesson learned, SLOW.THE.FUCK.DOWN! I’m much obliged to Keith for giving me the benefit of his ultra wisdom, and also for the Calippo he bought me at the end…
This peak mileage block was all about the big back to backs. Typically 40km on the Saturday, followed by 30km on the Sunday. As well as just banking the miles, this was intended to get me used to the feeling of running on tired legs, or as close to it as we can get without running it all in one hit. I wanted to get some hills in too, so the day after Keith’s Ultra Pace School, I headed out towards Stonor Park, on top of a pretty good hill, completing a loop back to the car to cover the prescribed 30km. It was a lovely day, and the views from the top of the hills were superb.
I am also using these long runs to finalise my nutrition plans for the race. Centurion aid stations are well stocked, but I want to control at least some of what I eat to ensure I get in enough carbs. As a tall chap, well padded in places, I weigh in at over 100kg, so with the rule of thumb being 1g of carbs per hour per kilo of body weight, I need to scoff 100g of carbs an hour. Every hour, for 24, or even 28 hours. I’d heard that potatoes were excellent ultra scran, so I’ve given them a try. Salad or new potatoes are best, I’ve found, they stay quite firm when cooked. 100g of new potatoes (about 1.5 potatoes) contains about 30g of carbs, so 2 or 3 pieces of spud an hour makes a good contribution to carb cause. Well salted, they go down a treat too, I’ll definitely be adding them to my race grub plans.
The following weekend was a repeat of the 40:30 back to back pattern. For the 40 I’d planned a nice loop from home up into the Chilterns, taking in some Chiltern Way extensions, a bit of Shakespeare’s Way, and coming within sniffing distance of the Ridgeway before turning off and hitting local bridleways and footpaths. It was a lovely run, following in part the route of CW50 that was happening that day, so I got some experience following their race markings, which were frequent and very clear. Coincidentally, the next day’s job was to remove the same course markings (I was down as a volunteer for CW50 and sweeping the course was my job), so I had to resist the urge to tidy up as I went!
The next day I was out in the sticks, ready to do my volunteer duty. I had been asked to do the 3rd section of the CW50 course, about 28km from Swyncombe down to the finish at Goring. Whoever did the first sweep on race day did a very thorough job, I only spotted about 10 pieces of tape, and no arrows at all. So while I was concentrating throughout, I was mainly just getting my miles in as I would have anyway – an easy duty!
The final week of the peak block got a bit jumbled, some of the mid week runs were sacrificed to the recce cause. On the Wednesday I had planned a dark-o’clock preview of Leg 4, south from Goring along the Thames through Reading and back again. My pacer for the last leg on race day, Patrick, joined me for this as he wanted to see what he was letting himself in for. We set off in the fading light at about 6:45pm, but once we were in the trees it was more or less dark so out came the head torch. I have a LEDLenser MH10, which until now I have only used on early morning road runs in the winter, where the first hour or so might be in the dark, but have never used for hours on uneven trails in full dark. With a couple of long night trails runs under my belt now, I very much recommend this head torch. On max brightness (600 lumens) it’s like having your own personal sunlight attached to your head, the trail surface is very well lit and really I was running it no differently than I would in daylight. On full beam it should go for 10 hours on a full charge, and I’ve just bought 2 spare batteries for a tenner, so I should be good for whatever the mid-October night throws at me on race day.
The run itself was great, we ran/walked most of the run, taking it fairly easy, occasionally skipping a 2 minute walk break if the going was good. It was still too fast, about 1 minute faster per km than my pace lesson with Keith. My post hoc justification for this is that we needed to finish at a reasonably civilised time as we both had work the next day.
It was funny to see the Welcome to Reading sign, infamous among A100 veterans as a big mental banana skin. Since the final leg is notionally to Reading and back, you could be forgiven for thinking the turnaround must be be close, but no, there are still 8km to go to the turnaround point, and by this stage of the event that might as well be 88km! As I live in Reading, I am hoping I am immune to this, particularly now I have run it in the dark, but who knows how I’ll feel about it on the night. The return section was uneventful, although I began to wonder whether we could finish before midnight, so the last four or five kilometres was done too fast, while the last section along the river to the weir was done at half marathon pace. I strongly doubt I’ll be able to repeat this on race day, but I did finish the recce at dead on midnight. Boom!
I had one more night recce planned for the Saturday. Leg 3 again, on the basis that I’ll almost certainly be running it in the dark on the day. I had hoped to join up with a couple of runners from the Twitter running gang, but injury and illness scuppered that, so I was on my lonesome. I lopped off the first few km which are on roads out of Goring, starting instead at the trails where there is a handy parking area, leaving me with 33km to do in total.
I didn’t see another soul on the Ridgeway until fairly close to the turnaround when I saw a car coming towards me. That’s interesting, I thought, surely cars aren’t allowed down here? As the car approached it became clear that it was in fact two head torches, with runners attached. We stopped for a quick chat, they were also on a night recce mission ahead of A100, having DNFd at 75 miles last year. Wishing eachother the best of luck, they went on their way back to Goring and I continued on to Chain Hill. I got it into my head that I might be able to catch them up, so all pace discipline went out the window, helped somewhat by the return section being mostly gently downhill. I didn’t catch them, but this run was about 2 minutes per km faster than my run with Keith, with splits starting with 5s and 6s mostly. Oops! This instinct to race is going to get me into mischief if I’m not super careful. I have one more long run before the race, I need to have a stern word with myself and get a grip on my pace.
I have been thinking a lot about this race, my first 100 miler, for about a year. Lately I have been obsessing about it more and more. If I wake up in the night, I’m going over kit, pace plans, nutrition, wondering what it’ll be like on the day, what might go wrong, are my shoes the right size, will I have stomach issues, how much will it hurt, will I get injured, am I strong enough. You name it, I’m turning it over in my head, for what feels like 24 hours a day. I really need to get this race out the way!
I am pretty pleased with how training has gone over the last six months. I have some good ultra experience under my belt, and now it’s nearly time to tackle the big one.
I’ll be back in a few weeks with the A100 race report…