“100 Miles Isn’t That Far”
Is the catchphrase of ultra-running legend Karl ‘speedgoat’ Meltzer.Karl has 30+ 100 mile wins under his belt and is one of the most knowledgeable guys in the sport………….
On everything else apart from that statement ,100 miles is indeed a long @#####$%% way!
So the Chester Ultra 100, another fine race from the guys over at GB ultras taking in the best trails that Chester has to offer,plus a sprinkle of canal………More on those later.
Avid readers will know all about my disaster at this years Chester 50,if not the short story is I quit at 20 miles due to GI troubles of the extreme variety,think THAT scene in The Exorcist.
UP BEFORE THE SPARROWS
I left my house on Saturday morning at 3.15 AM to get over to the start for kit check.Back in the good old days I would of only just of been getting home at that time,belly full of cheap alcopops and hands full of fried chicken!
I had booked a hotel for the ill-fated 50 but I didn’t want to drag my ever suffering wife over to Chester again and also waste a load of money if I was only going to make it to 20 miles! So an ungodly hour wakeup was on the menu.
I was first through the door at 4.30 AM kit checked and drop bags dropped I tried my best to get an hours kip in the car.,no such luck unfortunately due to pre race nerves and the fact that my car is about the size of a standard deck of playing cards!
Front and centre (white T) looking happy to be here!
Before I could say “I hope I have packed the immodium” it was time for the off! and we all set off into what for me was the great unknown! (well technically the first 40 miles are the same as the 50 miler but you know what i mean!).
Even though this is a trail event,the trails are really well groomed and as it had been so dry in the week running up to the event and no rain forecast for the day, I opted to wear road shoes for extra comfort,a choice I was so happy about in the later stages of the race!
RETURN OF THE FAIR WEATHER RUNNER
Now the first 20 miles of the course are pretty much pancake flat and VERY easy to get carried away on but even a few hard miles now would play havoc on the body for the later rounds,so off I trudged keeping it nice and sensible,walking if I even felt a little out of breath and never really breaking out of an easy trot all morning.I wasn’t here to race,this wasn’t my speciality. I was a 100 miler virgin and many runners greater than me have failed on the first attempt,I was here to try to complete nothing more,the theme for the day was caution!
The weather was almost perfect,dry ,cool and cloudy.I used to get called a fair weather racer as whatever event I did for years the weather always held out,last years Lakeland 50 and this years Fellsman broke the tradition but today I felt like I was earning my old moniker once more!
One mile followed another and my two jobs were fairly simple,keep fuelling and keep moving forward and before I realised it 25 miles had passed! Bar a little wobble where I had pulled out on the 50,the first quarter was fairly uneventful with only one real wrong turn in a farmers field.
Helsby (I think)
The next 25 miles brought the first real climbs of the day over Helsby hill,Frodsham hill,through Delamere forest and down towards Beeston castle. I love this section,its some great trails and with the weather being so kind leading up the paths were great and not a patch of mud in site! I spent the time chatting and joking with several other runners as and when our paces matched .Trail and ultra running is a very social affair and those who know me,know I need little persuasion to have a good old natter!The mood was good!
Leaving CP4 Frodsham
Around 40 miles in I felt like a had a bit of grit in my shoe rubbing on my big toe,road shoes were a great choice for comfort but they let all the bits of grit in a trail shoe normally keeps out. Although I couldn’t find any debris causing any issues the grit must of got into my sock as the rubbing just wouldn’t go away.I just had to get to the halfway CP and treat myself to a lovely clean pair from my dropbag.
Entering the CP ,bag half off already!
I had worked the halfway CP last year and realised the importance of getting in and out! The CP is a lovely village hall and it would be easy to spend ages in and enjoy the tranquility and the lovely food! I don’t like to hang about at checkpoints anyway and prefer to eat and move,and I NEVER sit down!My fear is that the chair will swallow me whole and that would be the end of my event!
I had a Checkpoint gameplan,
- Grab bag
- Change socks
- Refill my race vest with fuel
- scoff my fruit and custard
- down a red bull
I was in and out in under 5 mins,the staff were fantastic and really fuss over you and while I did feel a little guilty just rushing in and out,every minute sat in a CP is another minute not getting closer to the finish.A great trick is to grab a sandwich bag and eat while moving,even if you are moving at the speed of a snail,you are still moving! 10-15 minutes over 10 checkpoints on average over a race is a long long time!! (this is obviously weather dependant and choose what is best for you!). Could I move faster on average if I sat and ate? who knows,maybe but I know what works for me and at present if it ain’t broke i’m not looking for a fix.
So fresh socks on and even though I had two aggressive blisters on my right foot, I felt like a new man,said goodbye to a couple of friends who were working the CP and set off to trudge back up the hill I had just raced down.
This next section is where I made my first real nav error.I missed the trail marker and shot past the turning by about 400 metres,a quick check of my map showed I could carry on and circle the hill joining back on the trail,but to me if you are in an event you MUST follow the route provided. Turning on my heels I quickly found the spot I was meant to kicked myself for being so silly.
IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY
Shortly after, a group of runners I had left at the CP skipped past me.Notice how I said different strategies work for different people? I hung on the back chatting for a little while until my phone pinged to tell me i had a text from my mate Rob.
Rob is a quality runner,a member of the 100 marathon club and an all round decent chap,living locally he had text to say he would find me on course.Cresting the next hill I could see him waving me down at the bottom.
“Hello mate,I’ve got you a present,its in the car”
A present? what the f*** do I need midway into a 100 miler?
Of he trotted to his boot and produced something that I can only describe as magnificent,
A new pair of shoes?
A space hopper?
An electric scooter to ride all the way to the finish?
No,better than all of those,a lovely ice cold IPA!!
We have all seen the pros chugging a beer at western states,Courtney Dauwalter swears by a decent beer mid race and who I am to argue with one of the fastest female ultra runners ever??
Beer drank ,spirits recharged I had a bit of a walk and a catch up with Rob when I received the next big surprise of the day!
Walking the next hill chatting to Rob I hear “SMILE” glancing up I see my wife and mate Chris peeking from behind a tree like a pair of bloody highwayman!!
As I mentioned,my wife had stayed at home this time as I didn’t want to waste her day.My wife doesnt drive so had planned, unbeknown to me to come over via train,Chris had spoken to her and offered to drive her over instead! Chris is a top athlete,great friend and Teammate and usually responsible for me getting hammered at club events!! As much as I wanted to stay with them all afternoon,I got ordered to push on,so a couple of snaps and a couple of sweaty hugs, I was on my way. (In taking the pics my wife forgot to actually get one with me.)
Small acts of kindness like these three showed,go a long way in my book and won’t be forgotten any day soon, it almost felt like I was starting the race fresh again (I say almost,I had ran 53 miles!).
OUT AND BACK
The next section was a massive out and back,over 20 miles visiting Whitchurch and back.Now I wasn’t looking forward to this section as it was a lot of canal but on the way down I got tucked in with three other guys and we made light work of the out with only one wrong turn into a field of 3ft high nettles! As stated earlier I don’t like to hang around at CP’S so after a quick refuel and spot kit check I was off and would unfortunately not see the guys again.I did find out however that all three finished which is ace!!
From around 70 ish miles I began to run with Mark,we were both running our first 100 and as light was falling we decided two heads were better than one.
MILES OF STILES
Towards CP8 at Tilston was over a lot of farmers fields and I swear they knew we were coming and secretly erected 50 new stiles just for us (ok maybe not 50 but there was a bloody lot!) Through these fields if i said I ran then I would probably be arrested for breach of trade descriptions but we were moving and every step was a step closer to the magic 100! We spotted a sign saying ‘Tilston 1’ Now what measurements they use in Tilston im not 100 % sure but it certainly wasn’t a bloody mile! By this point due to a few nav errors and the fact that trail races are never in their nature 100% accurate I knew I was going over 100 (the CP was meant to be at 76,I had hit 79 miles).No biggie,it’s extra value for money!
THE FINAL 25%
Restocked,refueled and now with a new goal Mark and I left the CP for the final 23 or so miles. I sometimes wonder where my life has gone wrong when im classing 23 miles as the ‘final section’ of a race! We trotted off into the night and spotted a badger on the country lane,now I don’t know if you have ever seen a badger on a country lane via headtorch after moving for 18 hours.Well I have and trust me,this lad was NOT happy we were on his turf! Immediately stopping and weighing us up for his next meal! This lad was big,I think he may of just been leaving the late night badger gym and was definitely on some russian supplements,every time I turned round to make sure it wasn’t going to rob us of our race vests and pepperamis he had edged a little closer , like a striped Jason voorhees!!
Badger escaped it was off the road and back onto some more fields that had become damp with the night-time dew (or my tears from being chased by the psycho badger!).By this point conversation had wilted as both Mark and I began to feel the magnitude of the task. Mark had started to fade a little and I was worried I was pushing too fast,he mentioned I go on but I felt like a bit of a git doing so. Leaving the fields and back on the river Dee I had just got my head down and was only thinking about the final CP a mile or so away. Before I realised it a gap had formed between us and although feeling guilty,ultimately it is only yourself that will get you over the line and I had to take the burst of energy while I had it.
The new goal I mentioned? well my wife had text and said I had made the top ten? I know I said no racing BUT I am only human 😉
CP 9 done and I was assured I had 10 miles remaining,10 miles, 10 lousy miles! Piece of cake.We run ten at every sunday morning run club and I have done those in some right hungover states.10 miles is my kind of distance!
HUG A HOODIE!
Heading home now all I had to do was follow an outbound section from this morning for a couple of miles and then jump back on the canal to Waverton and the finish line, easy……
The only issue was,try as might I couldn’t get back on the fecking canal in Chester! someone had removed the markers and my gpx or map was not detailed enough to show me exactly where to go.After what seemed like hours of laps in Chester I had resigned myself to being doomed forever,lost to eternally run loops past the canal and a car park!
In the distance,my salvation appeared in the shape of two hoody wearing youts! now I know we are supposed to run away and hide from these type of people but let me tell you ,they were my guardian angels! I explained my predicament and after they made sure I wasn’t planning on jumping in the canal and ending it all once and for all,they directed me back on route with a ‘good luck fam!’
Back on track and a new found fire in my belly,I had no idea how far I had left anymore,how much time had I wasted? How many miles had I added due to my cock up? who knew but I still had my secret weapon remaining,the one thing that in emergency you smash the glass,rip the chord and just hold on.I am of course talking about an SiS double espresso gel,these things carry 150mg of caffeine and hail from Valhalla itself!
Gel popped I was off, but I was sore now and both my knees and my balls ached…
of my feet you dirty sods!!
I had a plan from the start for 22.5 hours and I hit the magic 100 in 22h34!
The only fecking problem was I was nowhere near the finish! These things happen and you have to run to the finish line,not when we hit the distance on our watches!
A text from my wife informed me that I only had the out and back section to do so,
“focus and get this done”
Our living room had turned into mission control with her tracking progress via laptop,texting me and updating our friends on my progress,all with a glass of wine in the other hand !
I spotted Mark again and gave him a bit of a fright as I screamed hello! I just couldn’t stop though,the double espresso had me in its hold and i was merely a vessel for its power!
The race team kindly/cruelly depending on your slant on life added a small out and back section in at the end and past the finish and I mean right past,I could see my bloody car! Headphones in my best rap playlist blasting I let my legs do the talking and flogged myself to hit 10 min miles! It is amazing what you can achieve when Ice cube is screaming down your lug holes!
Hitting the turnaround point was sensational ,a quick check of my watch and I could walk it back and still hit that magical sub 24h finish, but with caffeine flowing through my veins like lightning I was not in the mood for a walk,plus the fact some other runners had also started the out and back gave me a kick up the arse! I had really got used to the fact I may be top ten!
Turning the corner at the village hall I could see the finish line,my legs almost gave out underneath me. Trotting over the finish,quickly stopping the watch I glanced up to see the Marshals coming over to congratulate me on 9th place!!
Total Distance: 105 miles
Total Time: 23:32:47
The next part was silly and I do not recommend you do it but I jumped straight in my car and drove home. My reasoning was I was still shaking from 24 hours of red bulls,coke and caffeine gels and getting home to my own bed was favourable to trying to sleep in the car. Home,safely my wife helped me to bed and I promised her I wouldn’t be awake until the evening!
Sleep did not come.I was in agony,everything was aching and after a couple of hours tossing and turning I did what any self respecting athlete does six hours after the biggest race of their career….
I went to the pub to show off my medal!!
I would like to spend a second to thank everyone who came along for the ride.My wife as always for never questioning my stupid ideas,my friends and teammates for the constant text messages of support and every member of GB ultras who volunteered their time,without them events like this would not exist!
You all rock !