After you complete a 100 mile run and someone asks 'How did you find it?', it's hard to even contemplate where to start!
Over the weekend, myself and Matt took part in the South Downs Way 100, a 100 mile trail run over the South Downs Way from Winchester, all the way to Eastbourne.
It was last year, after signing up to the SDW50, that we thought the timing would be good to sign up the 100 mile event. The 50 miler was perfect as part of the build up to doing 100 miles, so it made sense to piggy back one after the other.
The came the thought process of how to plan for such a lengthy run.
Planning and Preparation
The ultra running community are really open to offering advice and tips. One thing we've learnt is that there is a lot more strategy that needs to go in to long ultra runs. It's not a case of maintain a pace for the distance like a normal event. With huge elevation gains, a mix of running and walking, and the time the event takes, lots more detail needed to be planned in order to see us through.
Whether you've never run an ultra before, or are looking to do more in future, we'd encourage you to reach out to those who have taken part before, as you build up a huge amount of knowledge from those occasions and everyone is happy to pass on any snippets that will hep you achieve your goals.
Whether it's advice on how regularly to eat, what pace to start and maintain, or advice on the course from those who have done it before, there are so many things that yo may never have considered, but will stand you in good stead if you take the advice on board.
For me personally, having now completed two ultra marathons, I have learnt a huge amount during the two events that I can use in future, IF I ever decide to do any more and I would be more than happy to pass it on to anyone looking for advice.
It was an early start for both of us and as we were split into two different waves, Matt got the earlier start time of 5am with myself being in the second wave at 6am.
We had both planned a strategy for the race with the main aim of getting round in one piece! Having seen the number of people that fail to finish these sorts of distances, we didn't set a time we set for ourselves which was a nice way to approach the event.
Next thing, we were off.
Early morning on the South Downs Way is a beautiful place. The noise of wildlife, the peace of no traffic and the pitter patter of running shoes, accompanied by the awesome views, meant it was a lovely start.
To break up a 100 mile event, you look ahead to aid stations and crew points. Having a focus to get you through the next stage was important to have in your mind. With us both having family at set places, we were able to start covering ground at a steady pace and it really helped over the course of the event.
The aid stations were a delight!
Centurion Running are renowned for their stations where the offering was immense. Sandwiches, wraps, cakes, fruit, drinks and so much more. The main dilemma was choosing what to have without overeating!
The stations are run by volunteers. Volunteers who know the pain you're going through and will do anything you want to help you refuel and get back on your way. When you're told to stand up and go away, they mean well.
As the miles passed, you start ticking off milestones. 25 miles marked a quarter of the way, 26.2 miles is a marathon, past 32 miles meant I was on to the 2nd furthest distance I had ever run, and then at 50.1 miles, it was officially the longest distance I had EVER run.
Physically, I knew that running 100 miles was going to be tough. The one thing I wasn't prepared for was how mentally tough it was. These milestones were great to tick off but I was also calculating just how far I had left to go which was hard to believe at the time.
When you've covered 35 miles but are feeling tired, the thought of another 65 was pretty frightening. One thing I found really useful was chatting to other runners, many of whom had run lots of ultras before.
I was quite honest in sharing my thoughts (which I found quite helpful) and they were all quick to share how they break the run down into chunks, focus on the small distances until the next aid station or crew point, and not to focus on the long term mileage left. This helped improve my mindset and believe that I could do it.
Day passed and as night came, the shift turned to less running and more covering the miles in a power walk. Anyone who has run overnight knows how tiredness, and the dark, make things that little more tricky - plus the fact you've already covered 60+ miles!
The sun set at around 10:30pm and by 2am, there were hints of the sun starting come up which was fascinating to see.
Mile after mile was ticked off, the aid stations arrived and whatever food we could eat was eaten whilst also topping up on drinks and snacks to take with us.
Once the sun was up and headlights were put away, we still had a few hours left to go, but by this point, we both had the belief that we could finish.
As we had started an hour apart in different waves, we stayed in contact on the phone to help pass time. Having my AirPods on was great for listing to podcasts during the night. I gave me something to concentrate on and ignore the fact I was trudging up yet another huge hill!
Then came the final few miles down into Eastbourne and around to the finishing line in the athletics stadium.
I won't lie. Leaving the hills behind was relief to say the least. The 11,800ft of elevation was tough. Very tough. So to hit the pavements of Eastbourne was a great feeling, plus the thought of seeing my family at the finish line was enough to motivate me to cover the last 2 miles.
Once at the track, it was a dash (OK, more of a stumble run) round the 400m and cross the finish line in 27hrs 23m with Matt finishing earlier in an impressive 26hrs 49m.
Buckle in hand, we'd done it. 100 miles. Over 26/27 hours of running and walking, along with constant eating, drinking, chatting, moaning at the hills, taking in the views and trying to enjoy the occasioning between the harsh reality of running 100 miles.
For me, on of the most important things was getting my training right in the first place. Lots of hill reps meant my legs were much more used to the elevation than previously.
I knew fuelling was really important so I made sure I was eating, or at least trying to eat, every half hour whilst drinking all the time to stay hydrated. I found this hard at times as when your tummy starts feeling iffy, eating is the last thing you feel like which meant my energy levels took at hits at times.
Once you know you have a solid training plan behind you and a fuelling plan for the race, your mental approach before hand, and during, is key.
Believe that you've done everything right in the build up.
Believe that you have the ability to cover the distance.
Believe that you can get up and down those nasty hills.
It was a hard event but looking back, it was an awesome achievement and one that I think I'll look back on over time and have to pinch myself that I actually completed.
If anyone reads this and wants to ask any questions or quiz us on how we found it, then please get in touch via any of our social channels or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.