On the 2nd November 2019 whilst sat in a coffee shop, my phone pinged to inform me I’d received an email. It was one I’d been waiting for, so I opened it immediately. I’d received confirmation that I’d been successful in winning a ballot place for the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR) ultramarathon; a 145 mile, non-stop foot race from Birmingham to London. A dream had become a reality after several years of trying to secure a place in one of the most sought after UK ultra-marathons.
My face said it all, I was elated and soon I started to formulate my six month training plan. Initially starting the next day, burning off the cake I’d just eaten!
My training plan would involve various races and events to mark milestone achievements, that would help psychologically put me at ease knowing I could achieve certain distances. It was also used to focus my training and force myself around the courses rather than going out for long, solo runs, which can become tough. Running ultra-marathons requires mostly mental attitude and ability but being physically fit certainly helps.
Training would involve three weeks of building (35-40 miles, 40-45 miles and 50+ miles) with a recovery week of around 30 miles; this helped to rest the legs but tick over comfortably.
The start of 2020 was wet and windy. Winter training months are never easy but as you head towards spring, it becomes a lot easier. Unfortunately, a few events early on were cancelled due to dangerous wind conditions. Not an ideal start, but not much I could do.
The next series of events were from March, including a half marathon, full marathon and a couple of longer weekends of training. Sadly, this was also the time when sporting events and other public gatherings started to get postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
By 20th March, Britain was in lockdown! Many major events were either cancelled or postponed, including the London Marathon. My next milestone event, the South Downs 50 was also postponed.
The UK literally ground to a halt and any exercise was restricted. I’d regularly head out for a 5-10k run, avoiding anyone and everything! As the weeks rolled on, we were near the end of April and the inevitable happened; I received an email from the GUCR organisers to say the event had been cancelled. A tough decision but a very wise one. I was absolutely gutted. The tough winter training months had been nothing more than a test of mental endurance as the physical side had become pointless.
Thankfully, an email arrived at the end of April from Centurion Running, a great company who put on the best ultra-marathon events. Having postponed a few of their events, they had come up with a new initiative to encourage the nation to keep active – the ‘One Community’ event.
Centurion Running One Community is a virtual event which takes place over 7 days, starting at 0001 GMT on Monday 25th May and ending at midnight GMT on Sunday 31st May 2020. The event is for everybody, anywhere in the world, of any age. Furthermore, you could select a distance of your choice (5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, 50k, 50 mile and 100 miles). You had a week to complete the distance and the time would be accumulative. You’d receive a designed wooden medal for all distances apart from the 100 miles, for which you’d receive the coveted Centurion buckle, especially designed for this one off event!
Naturally, the 100 miles stood out to me. A week to complete it too suddenly seemed very manageable. That said, it still comes with issues, such as trying to fit in the mileage around work and family time.
It then raises more questions:
- What’s the minimum distance required per day?
- How long will it take per day?
- Where is safe to run?
- How can I avoid injuries?
Before I signed up, I did a few test weekends, running a half marathon per day over the first May bank holiday weekend. It seemed ok but it would be 1.2 miles more per day (14.3 miles a day for 7 days). My legs felt tired by day 3; 4 more days would be tough but doable. I wasn’t being timed as such, as it was an accumulated time rather than individual combined times.
I then completed another half marathon each day the following weekend to see how I felt. Again, I felt ok. Doing just over a half marathon per day seemed manageable, not too time consuming, so would fit in around work and family commitments. Times would no doubt slow but would be reasonable, unless an injury put a stop to it all.
I signed up, took it easy the week before, although by now had already accumulated over 120 miles for May.
The start was on a bank holiday Monday, the natural (and sensible) thing would be to try and cover at least a marathon on the Monday. This meant I’d finish a day early, could have a rest day or reduce the rest of the weekly mileage. The weather looked good for the week ahead, possibly a tad too hot to be out running but I would rather that, than the wind or rain I’d spent months training in.
I loaded my running pack with food and drink, got myself set for an early start on the Monday ready to head out on my 26 mile jaunt. I opened the front door just gone 8am on the Monday and was immediately greeted with a wave of heat, like you get when the plane door opens abroad. Crikey, I hadn’t anticipated that!
I set off, slow and steady but within an hour, the heat was pretty intense and my energy levels were depleting a lot quicker than I’d have liked. I went from Hastings over to Cooden Beach by which point I was absolutely melting. I passed a fellow runner also doing the same event, who agreed it was stifling and energy sapping. I moved off the roads and on to the trails to head towards Crowhurst, the rutted ground caused a blister on both heels, not ideal given it was Day 1. I made a minor stop in the lovely village of Crowhurst, grabbed something to eat, tried to cool down and set off once again.
By the time I reached home, I’d clocked a respectable 30 miles, however, the last few were slow, hobbling miles, my legs were shattered, my feet agony and I felt drained of life.
I closed the front door and feared this may end sooner than planned! Only one thing to do, start to hydrate immediately, eat some good food and sit in a bath of cold water. I cleaned the blisters, one was exceptionally unpleasant and made walking painful due to being right on the ball of the heel.
I stretched my legs, used a foam roller to iron out the muscles and chilled out with the family.
Tuesday I was back to work, thankfully, I’d opted to work half days for the remainder of the week. This meant I’d clear my work, get the run done and still have the latter part of the afternoon and evening with the family. It literally couldn’t have worked out better. My very supportive wife and daughter would ensure they were busy whilst I ran, so if I took a bit longer, they weren’t waiting about for me.
I used Compeed and taped my feet. As I was running from just after midday, I had to ensure I’d eaten enough and remained hydrated in the morning before venturing out. So each day would involve an early breakfast of two bagels, around five pints of water and a mid-morning breakfast of a large bowl of granola.
I’d set of into the hottest part of the day, my legs felt heavy initially and I had to adjust my running style to try and prevent landing on the blisters. This isn’t ideal as adjusting your running form/style can lead to other issues. I had no choice! Within a couple of miles, I’d settled back down and slogged out a further 18 miles. I’d liked to have made 20, as I’d have been half way but I’d run out of water and the heat was too much. It was still only Day 2 and I was already pushing myself more than originally planned.
I got home, repeated the same ritual as the previous day and actually felt quite good given I was 48 miles in.
Day 3, the double breakfast was hard to stomach, I felt bloated from water but needed to ensure hydration and fuel were as best as could be. The blisters had eased and shortly after midday, I was back out on the pavements and felt great. My overall average pace dropped, I went through the 50 mile mark and even through the 100km mark. Clearing another 20 miles for the day.
This was a massive boost and knowing I had only 32 miles left to complete in four days was a great feeling. The Centurion Running One Love Facebook page was alive: everyone was encouraging everyone else; the positivity was absolutely buzzing and I felt alive.
I decided to have an easier fourth day, covering a half marathon in under 2 hours. My overall pace had once again dropped and I enjoyed a trip to the beach with the family afterwards. By the evenings, I was absolutely starving and demolished any food I could find. Good job I was running the next day, I was certainly packing it away!!
Into Day 5 and 19 miles to go with three days remaining. A few others had finished their 100 miles; some were still working through their personal goals and the encouragement was electric and incredibly addictive. I decided I felt good enough to head out and finish this earlier than I’d planned. After the usual double breakfast, I set out into the heat once more. Today my legs didn’t want to know; 80 miles in four days of heat had taken its toll, I pushed on with a 9 mile run out to Cooden Beach, 9 miles back and a steady 1 mile cool down. I possibly pushed too hard on the first leg, come the turn around I felt tired. I introduced a few walking breaks to ease the legs, ate some food on the go and suddenly felt ok. It’s surprising what a little food and a quick walk break can do. I finished the 100 miles 14:48pm on Friday 31st May. What a great feeling that was!
I finished the 100 miles in 4 days 6 hours 41 minutes and 48 seconds accumulatively and 17 hours 5 minutes 44 seconds non accumulatively.
The rest of the day was spent with the family, enjoying the well-deserved break.
Saturday arrived, I felt great and decided to enter the 5k. I rather fancied the wooden medal and figured a 5k recovery run would be a good idea. A means to stretch the legs and go out with a bang!
I set off, my legs held so I decided to push the pace, clocking 22:56 for a 5k! I was elated, especially given the 100 miles I’d just completed. I’ve never run 100 miles in a week, so this in itself was a great feat. I also managed to finish the month with just under 227 miles recorded; something I’ve also never done before.
Will I do it again? Maybe. I’m currently looking for my next challenge! Needless to say, if you put your mind to it, and you want it enough, you can certainly achieve anything you desire.