I am a 27 year old teacher from Kent, a sports enthusiast and have attempted to play/participate in most sports. The expression ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ springs to mind. Traditionally a games player, the challenge of endurance events has gradually become more appealing in the last few years.
Previous to the T100, other events to note would be the London Marathon, Thames Path Challenge (100K) and Croydon Ultra, so not a vast medal collection. I was eager to take on the next event, which had to be bigger and ‘better’ than the Thames Path Challenge. I eventually stumbled upon the T-Series events (Shane, this took quite a lot of searching on Google to find these races, you may want to look into that) and was captivated by what was on offer.
Soon after I paid the money and started my training. In typical style I started to consider training after I had paid and knew I wouldn’t run more than 38 miles in one go if I increased by 10% every week. That would have to do.
Friday 29th September
My day begun Friday with a typical pre race breakfast of porridge, honey and fruit. I had planned to eat something at the cafe when I arrived, so certainly did not feel too nervous to the point I could not eat! Living 45 minutes from London meant driving from home would not cause any problems and would be more comfortable than booking a hotel. However, an early start was necessary to avoid any traffic, adding up to an 8:30am arrival, which for me is too early as that is when I begin to feel nervous. Registration was simple, even though I had initially been given a different identity but this was quickly rectified.
At this point I grabbed a cuppa and food to kill some time and convinced myself the more calories I consume before the 10:30am start would be a bonus. I eventually had a kit check, which all went to plan. At this point I was really pleased that I had upgraded my OMM 15L bag to a 25L, as there was little need to be strategic with my packing (something I would later regret). I could sense that everyone around me seemed to know what they were doing and looked experienced in the field of ultra running.
My experience is limited, completing the 100k Thames Path Supported Challenge a few years before, when my preparation and training had been written by someone with far more experience than me and they had been assisted by a professional coach. I was feeling nervous now. I had a brief look at the maps and knew immediately that not completing a recce at any stage would come back to bite me.
My preparation for the race had not been ideal but I always knew that I was going to finish this event. I entered with the attitude that I wanted to reduce the pain as much as I could but would have the mental capability to battle through the majority of circumstances.
The furthest I ran in training was 28 miles due to problematic injuries, mainly in my hip abductor. This was my biggest concern but thought I would battle through the pain if necessary. I had a blase attitude towards preparation and thought everything would be ok. That was foolish and I would guess I had the heaviest pack amongst all competitors (Yes, I was only doing a 100 compared to the majority and my bag was at least 14kg with water) just because I packed items to keep my mind at ease, rather than plan meticuolously.
I also panicked packed additional items rather than go with what I knew was ok, such as extra warm layers when I never run in anything more than shorts and t-shirt. What I did do well was to train in race day kit months beforehand (although this did not stop chaffing from mile 27 onwards – I will go onto this later!). My training had been basic and raw. Run 5-6 days a week, the majority were between 5-7k with a longer one on the weekend, beginning at 10k, getting to a maximum of 28 miles by increasing the distance approximately 10% every week. My job as a PE teacher means I am active throughout the day so counted this as a form of training.
I was regularly running large distances (I count anything over 10 miles quite a distance in training) after a days’ work, to replicate running on tired legs. I never stopped my regular sports, so was playing football and hockey whilst competing in triathlons and attending gym classes regularly. This may sound foolhardy due to the different physiological requirements between a 32 hour endurance event and a 90 minute football match but I was not going to stop what I enjoy. I did treat myself to a couple of sports massages leading up to the event as I always neglect flexibility training, something I must get better at if I wish to continue endurance running, if only to save on the cost of having a massage!
Fortunately I have never experienced any problems stomaching foods when participating in endurance events. Therefore, I packed food without too much consideration, although I was obviously after foods that packed a punch. I made the decision to pack a Jetboil, which I am really glad to have done. Food was made up of Supernoodles, Adventure food, peanuts, pancakes (someone on facebook recommended these, were really light and I now realise why you were looking to save weight!), Pepperami, SIS caffeine gels, flapjack, chocolate, baby food and large amounts of carrot cake that were my indulgence! I knew I would sweat A LOT so packed electrolyte tablets to add to my water. I probably needed to take double than what I did. This was obviously a lot of weight and I did dump quite a fair bit. Planning/calorie counting would have benefited me here…
OMM 25L bag
Camelbak 2.5L bladder
2x SIS water bottles
PHD down jacket
Northface Gortex Waterproofs
Berghaus skull cap
Canterbury base layers
Hilly twin skin sock x3
Adidas shirt and shorts
Any standard mandatory items, medical kit, survival foil, bivy, map bag, leggings etc.
I decided to get my back taped to help prevent my pack rubbing on my back and shoulders. So the guy from rock tape did this whilst Shane started his briefing, not ideal preparation, however, this stuff was brilliant and I didn’t have any problems in this area. Later in the race I would have done anything to have some additional taping in other areas.
Everything seemed fine in the briefing and I wrote the cut off times on my arm to keep focused and as most runners had different times I would not be able to ask them during the race. I am slightly ashamed to admit at this point I did not know the course and it was beginning to dawn on me that I was going to regret not investigating the route at any point. This was complete stupidity as I had previously ran on the Thames Path and knew it was tricky to navigate but I had convinced myself everything was going to be fine. I decided to stay with the middle runners for the first 5-10 miles to navigate parts of Central London that were not familiar to me.
This was a good choice as I was able to pick up techniques for spotting difficult signs! I ran with Ben and Kevin for short periods and this passed a couple of hours nicely, so thanks for that. It was good to chat to Kevin, a previous T184 finisher who had planned an ‘all or nothing’ race strategy that I admired. We also chatted about MDS, something I have always wanted to do. Kevin assured me the T184 is more challenging (that would be backed up by other runners along the way) and has made me consider whether I want to spend £4k plus when I could come back next year and take on the 184! Kevin had chosen a light pack and cold food. I was jealous of the light pack even at this point but certainly did not regret my decision to have hot food!
I met a number of other runners heading towards T1, the next notable body was Adrian, right by Westminster. At this point I was battling huge crowds and was not sure what side of the Thames I should be running. I checked the maps but was struggling to be sure and took 10 minutes or so to wait for another runner to pass. I was just as concerned about having something stolen from me here as the crowds were huge.
I didn’t see anyone and decided to take a punt and headed for the Southbank (I think). After a minute or so I spotted Adrian and caught him up. We chatted for a few miles and grabbed some water at the 13 mile point. At this stage I was still carrying at least 2.5 litres and quickly realised this was an area I could shed some weight. The next 13 miles to T1 were pretty uneventful and I was trying to navigate by myself as I knew it would not be long before the field spread apart and would be a necessity.
Without the GPS system I would have unintentionally ran a 184 race as I was constantly making mistakes but could check by using the GoTek App. This was beginning to frustrate me as I was running quicker than most competitors but would go off course and would be caught up. My fault for thinking I could just ‘turn up.’ At T1 I decided to eat a lot of food to reduce some weight and I had been looking forward to eating a hot meal. I felt quite tired at this point, probably because the navigation had been difficult for me and I had realised my preparation just was not good enough for an event of this kind. Here I met a runner who was kind enough to provide me with some great information regarding the next 26 miles, landmarks, water stops etc.
I think this may have been Tom…Thanks, that really helped. You must have put hours into your planning and I admit to feeling embarrassed asking where I would find water in 10 miles time. I decided to take my time at T1, probably 40-50 minutes as I had never set myself a time to finish. I also wanted to run by myself so left when no other competitors were around. I didn’t have many concerns at this point but had been experiencing a sore left foot after around 10-12 miles. I remember this now as I had stopped to loosen my trainer, thinking I had done the laces up too tight. I was completely convinced I would gradually run this nagging pain away, which never happened.
A mile in I was really suffering from chaffing in the most uncomfortable of areas and fortunately came across a toilet along the path. I decided to try and tackle this issue and spent a good 5 minutes applying Vaseline to any body parts that I thought needed it. Seemed to help initially, after 30 minutes the Vaseline had soaked into my clothing (next mistake discovered…do not use Vaseline for long distances, just doesn’t stand the test of time).
Regardless, I knew this would not stop my race but would result in a very uncomfortable 70 miles. I soon come across Gareth, who was on his second attempt of the T184. We did a lot of walking at quite a fast pace and we were both struggling with sore feet. We must have passed a few hours talking and I was glad of the company. We parted momentarily whilst I spoke on local radio in Kent, which lifted my spirits (I had been raising money for Macmillan).
We spoke about his previous races, work and laughed about a few things I will not write on here, but Gareth if you are reading you will know what I mean! I really wanted him to complete this race when I eventually decided to increase my pace and head off in front. He had said this would be his last attempt but hope to see you next year. Darkness had fallen by this point and I had been looking forward to this as I had always been strongest in training during evening runs. I enjoyed passing boats having a party and had some interesting conversations with some. I guessed that other runners had already been asked what was going on as many enjoyed offering a beer or food knowing full well that wasn’t allowed!
At a lock I spent a few minutes getting water by throwing my bottles across the river, having someone fill them up with water and throwing them back. Probably not the best idea but I was completely dehydrated (still not getting my water strategy right) and for some reason this seemed ‘fun’ and really cheered me up. Night time went well, minus getting soaked in a huge puddle in a tunnel. I was so angry with myself for having a lapse in concentration. I had done so much to keep my feet dry (including fresh sock 3 miles before) and had drenched trainers and socks. I shouted and swore for a minute or so (I think my favourite line was, “Jacobs, you’re a f**king idiot,” which also happened to be the least explicit) before composing myself and continuing to T2. I comforted myself by saying I would try and dry out at T2 whilst having 2 packs of Super Noodles!
T2 checkpoint eventually came and again, spent around 40 minutes here. It was good to see a number of race support who were all in good spirits and provided a laugh or two. Thanks for that! I ate loads of food again and took some pain killers as my left foot had been really painful for the previous 10 miles or so. I was very reluctant to take any pain killers as I was well aware this was not a good sign, especially at the halfway stage. I still thought I would eventually run this off but was very very wrong. Mentally I was stronger as I was at the halfway stage, although it was tough because I knew I could ran harder and faster if my foot would allow it to. It was here that my next bit of poor preparation would dawn on me. It was 12.:25am when Shane reminded me that T3 for the 100 mile racers would be 10:30am and was around 32 miles. Some quick calculations in my head said I would be fine but the worry of my foot meant if I could not run then I would be cutting it fine. I had not ruled out sleep by this point as many runners were arriving and getting their head down. Instead I hurriedly finished my noodles, packed my bag and got on my way.
It took at least 45 minutes before I could run and get my foot warmed up again. I knew I was going to struggle from now. I remember getting slightly lost again and came across another runner who had a very accurate Suunto GPS. Without him at this point I would have lost so much time as he was leading me in what I thought was completely the wrong direction. He assured me he had run this section previously and was correct. I was so glad I stuck with him for 2-3 miles as this really helped me out.
I believe we were somewhere near Slough at this point but could be completely wrong. I know we ran alongside a train line and across a bridge that eventually led back to the Thames. I am sorry I do not know your name; you were carrying a mascot of some sort but thanks for the help there. I tried to up the pace at this point to keep my foot from seizing, which it seemed to do when walking.
My next mistake was to not know the distance I had completed. When I had dropped to run, walk and rest I could not provide an approximate distance like you can when running a constant pace. I decided to err on the side of caution rather than be optimistic. I passed a number of runners who had were sleeping on benches and felt pretty jealous. I was scared to sleep in case my alarm would not wake me or battery died. I knew this would likely time me out so made the choice to push on and was not going to go back on this. I checked the GoTek app and could see I did not have anyone around me and chose to run a large stretch semi naked as I thought this would help the chaffing. I was wrong, the damage had been done. Clothes back on. I felt really pleased that I had not slept and when the sun came up felt a real sense of satisfaction! I had it in my head I would make a coffee when it was light and this was a big morale boost, even though I used far too much water and made a very weak drink.
Water had been a problem through the evening as I had struggled to find taps and took risks with water from toilet taps that did not look completely safe. I was still a fair few miles from cp3 when the sun had risen but was feeling strong physically and psychologically. I felt I could run 6-7mph if it wasn’t for the pain in my foot, which had slowly been getting worse. It was impacting my right foot where I had been trying to compensate. I ran the next few miles telling myself I was feeling no pain and this did work really well and allowed me to reach the town where CP3 was based. I asked a local if he knew where the location was and he sent me in the wrong direction. I realised eventually this was wrong and retraced my steps, bumping into the same individual. He questioned why I was not following his instructions but at this point I was pretty grumpy and had dropped my phone using the GoTek App so decided it was best to ignore. I eventually made CP3 where I laid down for 30 minutes just to rest. Whilst I was lying down I see Dave and Jane pass through in fairly quick time and I knew I should have done that as my body was beginning to stiffen and mentally I was losing concentration.
It was here that I expressed my pain in my foot and the torture of the constant rubbing due to the limited qualities of Vaseline. I think it was Shane who gave some good advice involving making things with tissue but like before, the damage was done. Here I ate very little, dumped a load of unnecessary food that I had carried 80+ miles and filled up my water bladder. I made an incredibly slow start for the finish…..
Once again it took incredibly to begin any form of running, I knew I was damaging something in my foot but was never going stop now, and I had left enough time to finish with a fast walk. Here I got into a 5 minute run 5 minute walk plan, although these times were constantly changing. I knew Dave and Jane had passed me during cp3 and I thought I may eventually catch up and could possibly have a chat as they seemed like they really knew what they were doing.
During the race we had crossed paths but they seemed so focused on their jobs I regrettably didn’t initiate any conversation. I did speak to Jane after the race to ask some advice regarding my feet and she was really helpful, thanks Jane! I never did catch them up, probably because I had another rest from the pain for a good 30 minutes. I was in a bad way at this point and was getting some funny looks from passersby’s as I lay by the Thames. I knew I couldn’t get collected from the finish until around 4pm so thought there was no need to finish early.
At this stage it looked like I would complete the 100 miles by about 3pm. I just didn’t expect to deteriorate as much as I did during this section. I really wanted a swim at this point, to feel the cold water but knew this wouldn’t be a good idea. I knew I was in trouble when people out for a Saturday stroll where going faster than me. At this point the motivation to not let this happen allowed me to ignore the pain with the help of the iPod I had packed. I ran/walked until there were 4 miles to go when I slowed to around 2mph. I had been warned about the hills towards Streatly and did not think much about them as inclines have never bothered me, until now. Going up was ok, down was incredibly difficult! I also found the average person has no concept of distance.
I asked three individuals how far the Swann pub was and got 2.5 miles, 1 mile and 0.5 miles as a response (they were spaced 500 metres apart!). The last 90 minutes passed extremely slowly, I felt angry as my finishing time was going to be slow, which was because my average speed had to drop due to the pain I was experiencing. I was hallucinating, seeing what I thought were rabid Dalmatians chasing me, although even this wouldn’t allow me to travel any faster! In the distance I could see what I believed to be the bridge that would take me to the finish.
For the last 400 metres I was able to put a shuffle on to give the impression I was ‘running’ but that was the fastest I had moved for a couple of hours! It was great to see family out supporting the conclusion of the race and could see how proud they were. Finishing felt a little emotional, probably as it had taken a lot to complete this race with what felt like cheating preparation but I certainly won’t make that mistake again. At the finish I was given my medal, which I did expect to be a little more impressive, however, the accomplishment means a lot more!
A seat and cuppa was more than welcome. My sister showed true love and removed my trainers and socks and by the grimace on her face knew my left foot couldn’t be looking good. The bruising was already dark red over a large patch and had swollen quite significantly. I honestly did not feel I had achieved anything special at this point, solely because the majority of competitors were running nearly double my distance. I had felt this way for about 24 of the 31 hours and I believe had made me mentally strong as I was not going to be the 100 mile competitor that failed.
Apart from eating and sleeping to my heart’s content I did begin to feel a real sense of achievement. My muscles felt fine and nothing like I imagined them to be. The trouble was in my foot and I did eventually get it X-rayed 6 days after, nothing broken but an extremely inflamed tendon. The pain has now subsided dramatically (15th September) but has been replaced by just as painful right shin. Walking is difficult and swimming painful so I am still quite a long way from being able to run.
Having read others’ T184 reports I am certainly going to enter this competition, possibly in 2016. The T100 was the next natural step and I am glad I didn’t jump straight to the 184 version as I think my failings in preparation would have undoubtedly caused great stress and damage to my body. I now realise that a self supported race is a huge challenge when comparing to the supported versions. I would guess the large weight I carted caused the damage to my foot as my body was just not prepared for this. Navigation was challenging at times and I will be ready for this in the future. There is something completely raw about these events and I certainly challenged myself more than I expected, there is certainly a sadistic pleasure realising I have got the harder event to come.