Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Viking 100 Mile Endurance Challenge done - Boom!

Now there's a heading I never dreamt I'd write!

I, Susie Hewer, the #oldbiddyattheback, have completed 100 miles all in one go and well within the 32 hour time limit.

No, I can't believe it either, but it's true, it's really true.

Warning: This may will definitely turn out to be a very long post!

A bit about my preparation


Pounding out the miles

100 miles is a long way and it requires respect and dedication.  In other words, you can't just turn up on the day with little training and hope to get round without mishap!  I read anything I could find about how to prepare for such a massive challenge.

My preparation started back in November last year when I began running back-to-back 50k (31.1 miles) ultras whenever available at the weekends plus extra mileage during the week.  On the weekends when I couldn't find or get to any ultra marathons I would do 2x25 miles on my hilliest routes around home.

I used the hills to practice my run/walk strategy which I would be using right from the start in the 100 mile event. It's a method used by many ultra-marathoners and was developed by an American Coach named Jeff Galloway to help beginners start running.  It's also how I started running although back then I'd never heard of Jeff, it was just a common-sense approach as I could only run for 2 minutes before I got breathless!

I worked on cycles of 3 weeks hard followed by 1 week of cutting back my mileage to let my body recover before pushing up the mileage again.  My highest weekly mileage was 120 and my base mileage was 50.


Nutrition

Pretty important hey! I needed to know what I should eat before, during and after the event so had incorporated a completely different approach into my training long before the event.

I never eat before my training runs and if I'm running a marathon I don't eat breakfast beforehand either; the only exception being at the London marathon when I have to leave home at 4:30am and the start isn't until 10:15 or thereabouts and we have a little ritual of going to the same cafe.

Running in a so-called 'fasted' state has meant that my body has adapted to fat burning and I've never 'hit the wall' which you hear about so often in marathon running.  But this ultra-marathoning malarkey is a bit different and so I'd been practising eating before and during my runs and using Tailwind in my water which has 200 calories per sachet complete with electrolytes.  You just add a sachet (or scoop) to your water bottle and it dissolves really quickly.



Checking my kit

This was really important given that I was going to be on my feet for a very long time so I looked long and hard at my clothing to make sure I had everything I needed from underwear to shoes and everything inbetween.

There were other things consider such as headtorch/handtorch/food/drink and all the other bits and bobs (medicines, small scissors, spare batteries etc etc) you had to have with you 'just in case'!  One thing I found invaluable was a funnel for refilling my water bottles which made it so much easier, especially as I use soft flasks.

I also had to make sure that my feet were well prepared and so I took a look at my guru's website for advice.  Now Traviss knows a lot about ultra-marathons as he's done 34 x 100 milers, half of which were in the USA.  Wow!

Now if you're at all squeamish about feet, please do not click on the next link about foot taping for ultra-marathons or look at my photos below, just scroll down a bit further!

I practised the taping part beforehand but didn't add all the other bits:


It's very stretchy tape and you need to be careful not to over-stretch it


Cutting into toe-sized pieces


One down, many more to go - I also added the tape along part of my instep and around my heels


I'd already practised running ultras in my toe socks and found them very comfy but they felt different with the extra bulk of the tape


Then some lovely thick socks to finish

I did a 10 mile run in them and then wore them around the house for the rest of the day to get used to how they felt.

Then there were lists to make with headings such as Tops, Tights, Undies, Socks, Jackets, Head/Neck & Hands, Shoes, Bits and Bobs to carry, Toiletries, Medicines, Bags/containers, Torches/Batteries, Bits for in my Drop Bag, Bits to carry (eg spare batteries, wetting phials for my contact lenses), Fuel (for evening & breakfast in the hotel as I was driving over the night before, plus food for during and after the event on Sunday), Other essential items.




2.5 sides of detailed notes for me plus a double-sided 'Support Crew' list for Mike with details of his meals for 3 days, cat/bird feeding regime, instructions on how to cook the pizza base I'd made and frozen ready for him to add a topping etc etc.  I got a bit sad because the list no longer included a horse-feeding regime.

I can't stress how important it was to have made those lists as it really made me focus and when I packed the day before I just ticked each thing off as it was packed.

I also had lots of advice from people who'd done 100 mile events before and I have to say a massive thank you to Traviss and Kirsty, aka Crustie, who gave me so much useful advice and kept checking up on me too.


The Day Before


This was a day for packing, checking and double checking every little thing.

The course was 16 laps x 6.25 miles so I divided up my food into 4 portions and used 4 x clear zip-lock bags to put a portion of food to eat on each lap.  This ensured I was getting enough calories in right from the start so the food was going through my system and I didn't run out of energy. It also meant that I didn't have to go to the aid station after each lap which saved quite a lot of time on the day.


The dark blue bag holds my folding chair and my walking poles (just in case they were needed when I tired but they were needed long before the end as you'll understand later)


I'd had lots of lovely emails wishing me luck and Maxine and Ross had popped this sweet card through the letterbox wishing me lots of luck.





I'd booked into the Premier Inn in Herne Bay and received an email a few days beforehand which allowed me to check-in online to save time when I arrived.  I'd also chatted with the Reception Manager, Adrienne, to ask if I could leave my car there on Saturday as I was getting a lift to the event and back with James and his mum.  I offered to pay a parking fee but she said it was fine.  She was a real gem as you'll find out later!

The weather forecast wasn't good for Friday evening so I made the decision to leave mid afternoon but sadly I still didn't miss some of the heavy rain and my journey took an extra 30 minutes.  No worries though as I reached the hotel before the main mad Friday getaway time and then settled down for the evening in my room.

I watched a bit of TV, taped my feet and put on my toe socks, ate my food then after a nice long chat with Mike I settled down with my book before getting a nice early night to be well rested for what lay ahead.


The Main Event, Saturday & Sunday


I was up bright and early, ate my breakfast (chocolate croissant, banana, a small rice pudding) then prepared my drinks in bottles before filling my 2 soft flasks ready for the off.  An essential bit of kit was my plastic funnel which made refilling my soft flasks so much easier.  Mike phoned and we had a nice chat and I phoned him again when we reached the barn (I'd left him a map of the route and photos of the barn so he could see exactly where I was).

James and his mum were picking me up from the hotel and he texted me when they were leaving home so I went and stood outside.  What was really nice was that many fellow runners had stayed there too and when they saw me standing outside they asked if I needed a lift.  Thanks everyone, what a lovely group of people you are.

I realised that I had enough stuff with me to run for several days but as the weather forecast has been so variable I'd taken lots of extra clothing 'just in case'!

When we got to the barn there were lots of people there already and we went and found a quieter place towards the far end.  The bonus was there was a light overhead so we could see what we were doing (except for when Andy decided to turn the light off when I was trying to put a contact lens back in after 8 laps - I might have been a bit grumpy about that!!!!!).  I set up my chair and laid out my things for ease of access - each bag had a title such as 'Wet Gear', 'Night', 'Spares' which I thought would be useful but found that I still got confused after 12 laps when my brain was all fuzzy.

As the event took place where I ran the Moonlight Challenge 3 weeks before so I knew what I was in for and given that there had been heavy snow and rain in the area the chances of the ground being dry were remote!





About 10 minutes before the start Traviss assembled us all and gave us a briefing and he asked everyone doing their  100 miler to raise their hands and I was glad to see so many people in the same boat as me.

James was a real gem and had offered to pace me through the night section as he knew that I was really worried about it because of my rubbish eyesight.  I'd targeted 1.5 hours per lap which meant I would be at the halfway mark in 12 hours so we agreed that he'd come and find me around 7pm or thereabouts.  I was a bit anxious that I would hold him back as I knew he wanted to get in under 24 hours because he would get a gold buckle rather than the silver version for the masses.  In the end he was well below 24 hours even having walked through the night with me.  Speedy boy!  More about that later.

At 8am we set off on our epic journey and I felt remarkably relaxed about the whole thing  "That's because you've done your preparation" said Traviss later in the day.  I deliberately didn't take my camera with me (and my phone isn't that advanced!) so all the photos come courtesy of  either fellow runners or Paul who was out and about snapping away for a while.

Our route of 16 laps was on land owned and operated by the Brook Farm Partnershp in Reculver and covers a vast area.





I looked it up online as I was intrigued by this old brick gateway which you can see below and wondered about its history.  Apparently this is the remains of a Tudor Gateway which I read about on the Kent Archaeology Site.





Somei and her sister Ann framed perfectly in the gateway


The weather was perfect at the start with no rain and a good temperature so I settled into my comfortable pace and just got on with business.  I ran the flat sections and walked all the uphill sections right from the start and I started eating early on so that the food had a chance to go through my digestive system.  People had warned me I wouldn't able to stomach solid food later on but I found I could.

It was an out and back route mostly on concrete tracks but with some off-road sections which were quite muddy (remember that word for later!).  One section was especially unpleasant and became known as 'mud hill' - it was equally difficult to run both going down and then going back up again.  This is what it looked like after about 4 laps.




The clay was very claggy and slippery and when you put your foot down it just slid away from you.  As a result, we started running/walking along the field margin but of course the farmer wasn't happy about this and we were told to keep strictly to the path.  We wished that the route could be changed to follow the road instead.

It was a huge relief to get down this section, head under the railway bridge and then up the lane towards the windmill.  It looked really pretty at night as it was decorated with different coloured lights which you can just make out as light marks if you look at the side of it in the photo below.









After that we turned onto the road heading towards the A299 before turning off onto another long stretch of concrete track (which seemed interminable on my last lap!).

On each lap we had to pass 'Jelly Baby Junction', a place of great happiness and encouragement manned by the lovely Sharon and Slappit who supplied us with goodies to eat and drink throughout the whole event.  You can see in the photo below that we had to go up a short, sharp incline to get there and after 16 laps it felt like a mountainside!






After Jelly Baby Junction (which I didn't stop at until after lap 10) we crossed a bridge over the A299 then down a concrete path onto a muddy section of trail (which seemed to go on forever) and eventually looped back to Jelly Baby Junction before retracing our steps to Base camp.









I was amazed to see there was still some snow lying around


After the muddy trail section we headed up a concrete track towards another farm complex with lots of agricultural buildings, a Micro-Brewery and gigantic machinery like Tonka toys for big boys!  There was a massive bank of solar panels and it was sweet to see sheep grazing beneath them:


"Hello, are you the lady who does the knitting?"


Heading back to Base camp - I think this must be lap 5 or 6

Traviss had suggested we give ourselves a treat every 4 laps, perhaps some chocolate or cake as a reward so that's exactly what I did.  In my case it was  bottle of chocolate milk, a piece of my banana cake and a small bag of salt and vinegar crisps for the salt content.


There's something very comforting about chocolate milk!


I'd just picked up my second bag of food and reached the muddy slope in the first field when the rain started. Just a bit of drizzle to begin with which then turned into more than drizzle.  By the time I got back to the afore-mentioned slope it was a quagmire.  I put a foot on on the slope and it slid away to one side.  I put my other foot down and it slid the other way.

Getting back up that slope added 10 minutes to that lap and it only got worse so at the end of lap 6 I brought out my walking poles just for that section (which was a pain in the neck as it meant I had to carry them for the rest of the lap but my goodness I was glad I'd taken them with me!).  With each lap the conditions just got worse and worse.  I saw 5 people fall over and I couldn't imagine that we could continue in these conditions, especially in the dark.

I reached the halfway point in around 11 hours and got a massive hug from Rachel but as a result of the mud I had to slow right down.  

Then the rain stopped which was a relief.  It only lasted long enough to make lots of puddles and I managed to regain a good pace for a while.


















As the light started to fade and it went dark the head torches came out.  The slope became dangerously slippery and it was really hard work getting up and down it even with poles so I've no idea how people without poles managed it.

After my next lap I decided to change my leggings, socks and shoes and that's when my chair came into its own.  It was so much easier to sit down and peel off my mud-encrusted leggings and socks than it would have been trying to do it standing up.  Oh my goodness I felt so much better after that. Thankfully I'd had the foresight to bring a couple of spare plastic bags to put wet things in.

I didn't linger as I remembered the ultra-runners mantra of "beware the chair", ie don't sit for too long or you won't want to get up!  Maryanne had reminded me of that before she left for the evening and I was very grateful to her for that.  She also told me I was going to do it and it was my mind that would get me through.  She was right.

After another couple of laps Traviss saved the day and re-routed us onto the lane, thus avoiding that dreadful slope.  There was a collective sigh of relief I can tell you!

James had said he'd come and find me when it went dark but what he didn't know was that I was still maintaining a much faster pace than expected, even with the walk breaks.  He passed me going in the opposite direction on one of the loops and we stopped for a quick hug and an update and he said he'd been trying to catch me up for ages.  We finally hooked up towards the end of lap 10 so after that stage I had 5 more laps and he had 3 to go so we walked and talked the miles away.

This was James's 9th 100 miler in a quite a short space of time. His first one was at Samphire Hoe 2016 which he completed in a stonking time of 19:54 and then I joined him a few hours after he'd finished to do an extra marathon straight after.  Yes, I know what you're thinking, that's exactly what I thought too but he jolly well did it despite the pain.  My goodness we really got some serious sunburn that day.  I'll save his finish time for this one until a bit later.

About 4am the rain came again and dampened our mood a bit.  I mean, was that really necessary?  Stupid weather!  I found by this stage that I was walking better and faster than I was running so we decided to walk the rest of it and then something unexpected happened; James started to drop behind a bit.  I wasn't sure if he needed food or sleep so let him be for a while but he didn't pick up and said he was feeling the effects of sleep-deprivation.  It was getting light by then and I really wanted to press on.

At the end of the next lap he only had one and a bit (more about that 'bit' later!) to go so I told him to have a sit down and something to eat and I asked Traviss and Rachel to make sure he had a  rest before he headed out again.

Then off I marched alone with just 3 more laps to go.  Oh my goodness my feet, or rather my toes, were feeling sore.  Each step was starting to hurt, especially my left foot. Ouch, ouch, ouch!  I always wear running shoes 1 full size bigger than normal shoes but perhaps I should have gone up another 1/2 size to allow for the inevitable swelling that would occur.  I couldn't do anything about it then so just had to get on with it as best I could.

I caught up with James a bit later after he'd finished the 100 mile event in 22:08:50 which was a brilliant time considering he'd been slowed right down by walking with me.  I was just relieved that he'd still gone fast enough to gain the gold buckle as I know how much he wanted it.  He was heading out for a few more laps as training for another ridiculously long event he's doing in a few weeks. Oh those young legs!

It's all a bit of a blur after that really.  The camaraderie amongst the runners was wonderful and there was lots of high-fiving and hugging throughout.  People kept telling me I was smiling all the time and I know that's probably true because I am a smiley person which might annoy some people if they're really struggling and I go past with a great big smile on my face so apologies if it bugged anyone.

I know that some time in the morning Sharon gave me a hug and a hot vegan sausage in a bread roll when I went past Jelly Baby Junction and it was the most wonderful thing and really lifted my spirits.  Then I was heading back to the barn at the end of Lap 16 and Rachel told me I had to do the extra bit to make up the distance after the course was re-routed.

The distance you had to make up was determined by the number of laps you'd done before the course change and I had to do 4 extra miles.  I cannot put into words the psychological effect the thought of 4 'extra' miles had on me - even though they weren't really extra miles at all.  I had to go along to the bottom of the hill at Jelly Baby Junction.  My feet were really hurting and my mindset needed a restart as I was getting whingey so I phoned Mike and tried not to cry although my voice was very wobbly.  He said all the right things and kept asking me how many miles I'd already done and when he realised I'd done about 97 by that time he was completely overwhelmed with pride and kept telling me I'd got it in the bag and to just put one foot in front of the other.  

Then I did have a bit of a cry when I crossed that stupid wooden bridge for the umpteenth time and started along that concrete section which was sparsely populated by that stage so you could see right to end and it looked never-ending (yes, I know that doesn't make sense!).  Then I passed Kirsty and we had a quick hug, exchanged unladylike banter in loud voices and agreed to set up a Facebook Group in which we would stop eachother signing up for stupid events like this ever again!  Then we stomped off in different directions and I must admit a good bit of bad language helped to lift my mood.

As I headed back for the last time I got hugged by so many people and I want to thank you all so much as I really needed those hugs then.  A special thank you to Lesley who said I was inspiring and flying the flag for the older woman which meant a lot.

After what seemed like eons I was heading down towards the barn and I saw Janet filming me and I said "ouch" several times and Maryanne was there to hug me and then I rang the bell and there was more hugging from Gemma and Rachel said something really nice to me and I tried not to sob.  








I loved that there was a packet with my name on it and Rachel said she knew I'd do it.


Then there was this magnificent buckle which seems to be a feature of 100 mile ultra-marathons. I don't know why they give a buckle rather than a medal but I absolutely loved this from the moment I saw it and I shall be getting a belt to attach to it and will wear it all the time.









Janet then took control and looked after me and made me sit down next to Jonathan and James and got me a lovely mug of hot black coffee.  I was so cold and shivery.






Then I wanted to go and get out of my cold wet shoes and change into nice snuggly dry clothes so Janet insisted on carrying everything round for me and stayed with me chatting whilst I got changed.  I kept hearing Traviss shouting my name but decided to ignore him as there was no way I was getting up.  He popped around and handed me a prezzie from Kat and Jools which really made me smile:


Oh yes! You can't beat a peanut butter/chocolate combo. Now that's proper recovery food.  Thanks guys xxx


During my sitting down phase I phoned Mike and as I'd finished much earlier than expected he was worried what I would do before my hotel room was ready (which is usually after 2pm to allow for the change over and cleaning of the room).  My brain was far too muzzy to think straight so he took over and phoned the hotel, spoke to Adrienne the Reception Manager who I mentioned earlier and explained the situation.  She then went into action and within minutes had phoned me back to let me know my room was being prepared there and then and would be available upon my arrival.  She also said she'd put me on the ground floor so I hadn't got far to walk.  What a star.  Mike was very relieved.

After a while it was time to go and after more hugging Janet took my bags to the car and Becky drove me to the hotel and James helped put my bags by my car so I could rearrange everything before heading into the hotel.  Thanks Becky and James and I hope you have a wonderful time in Marseille at the weekend xxxxx

But that's not the end of the excitement.  When I got into Reception I had a nice chat with Adrienne and the Housekeeping Manageress who kindly accompanied me to my room to make sure I was OK and when I went inside look what I found:












What a lovely gesture.  Thank you so much for making my stay there so enjoyable.

Then it was time to phone Mike, who was over the moon with pride, before I had a quick nap then a soak in a nice hot bath of Epsom salts and bubbles followed by some food and another nap.  First though I had to peel off the tape on my feet - yuck!  My poor toes were really red and swollen so I treated them to some soft and soothing foot lotion and thankfully they're almost back to normal today (Tuesday).






Mike phoned me mid evening when I was reading my book and then I just went to sleep, waking up at 3:50am.  I tried to go back to sleep but gave up and got up at 4:45am by which time I felt well rested so I had a drink and a bite to eat and decided to head for home bright and early to beat the rush and give Mike a nice surprise.  I left at 5:20am and was only 15 minutes from home when I decided I should phone Mike so pulled over and stopped only to find the line engaged as he was trying to phone me - he thought I'd had a lie-in and was delighted when I told him where I was.

It was great to be home and I couldn't wait to try on my new tee shirt which will be worn with great pride.






Time for some Stats


When I finished I had no idea how long I'd taken to complete the challenge as my Garmin had packed it at 18 hours and I couldn't be bothered to set up my next one so I was delighted to find that even though I felt like death for the lap short lap I'd managed to sneak in under 27 hours - 26:52:23 to be precise.  James had predicted I'd finish in 26 hours and I thought I'd finish in 28 hours so this was right in the middle.  I am absolutely delighted with that.

  • The first finisher came in at 17:37:07 (speedy boy - you do not want to see the state of his feet!!!).

  • The last finisher came in at 31:24:31 so well ahead of the time limit and got full value for money.

  • 89 people started the 100 mile challenge.

  • 53 people finished the full 100 miles.  That's a 59% finish rate which is lower than the usual 65-70% finish rate.  I expect the conditions underfoot might have had something to do it that.



Now for the Thanks


Thank you to Traviss and Rachel for believing in me and encouraging me to push myself further than I ever believed possible.  You truly are wonderful enablers.

Thank you to everyone who stood around for hours on end looking after us runners. Whether you were punching lap cards, handing out hugs, taking photos, serving food or marshalling, you all made a huge difference to our 100 mile experience.

Thank you to everyone who's made a donation to my fund-raising campaign.  Your continued support means a great deal to me and to Alzheimer's Research UK and will be used to fund research into the devastating disease.
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6 comments:

IanB said...

Huge respect to you ! Well done! I can’t cycle 100 miles never mind run it! I feel very humbled by your efforts.

Susie Hewer said...

Thanka Ian!

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Goodness. Only person I know who has done a 100 miler is a 20 something friend or ours...and he really struggled at the end. You make it sound so easy!
In total awe of what you accomplished. Well done you.
Julie

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Julie (although it really wasn't easy!) x

Lesley Bigmore said...

Congratulations Susie on your Viking 100.
You were awesome all the way.
A brilliant write up and some very good advice, thank you.
Hope you are recovering well. Xx ��

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Lesley for your kind words and for your support crewing on the day. I was so glad that Paul was able to finish as he really did look poorly at one stage. I chuckled when I saw he'd signed up for Samphire next year! xxx