HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ULTRA RUNNER?
Tell them they have a marathon left to go, rather than a half marathon, when they've already run 98 miles.
This is exactly what happened to us during this 'fastest know time' attempt...read on to find out more...
This was my first attempt at running 100 miles, it was also Ben Whitfield and Adam Jacob's first attempts too. Statistics would say that at least one of us wouldn't make it!
I've had the idea of running the whole Greensand Way (111 miles) for a while, it starts in Kent and covers some lovely hills in Surrey. I know the Surrey end well and have always enjoyed the trail. I've also wanted to run 100 miles for a while, not fussed about buckles, medals and t-shirts from races, I figured that I'd just challenge myself to find a trail and go for it, the Greensand Way was the obvious choice.
I roped Ben into the challenge and recruited good friend, and ultra running legend himself, Ash Balachandran onboard as crew. His job would be to meet us every 6-8 miles with our food and kit, make sure we're still alive, point us in the right direction and keep us moving. A role he did with incredible assurance and skill!
Adam Jacobs, a pretty badass OCR racer, and newbie ultra runner, decided to join us for 'just' 50 miles at the start...we knew something was up when we turned up with 24 hours worth of food and it wasn't long before he was convinced to come to the whole way with us, something he was considering, but hadn't fully committed to.
Off we went from Hamstreet in Kent...the first part of the day was a delight, easy going trails apart from the odd bramble infested section, lovely views and orchards everywhere. We stole apples and strawberries, and skipped along the trail with endless enthusiasm. We took the odd wrong turn but soon realised thanks to our trusty Suunto 9 watches (mine had 44% battery left after 31 hours of running, before you ask!). We met Todd after 15'ish miles and it was fun to share some trails with him.
A big part of this challenge for us was to involve others, we invited anyone interested to join us and we're blown away by the support we received, loads of people appeared on the trail to run with us, and we are so grateful to each and every one of them.
While Todd was with us we enjoyed lots of chat, some silly photos and visited a bramble infested badger den (not intentional), he left us just as the sun was setting and we felt good as we grabbed our head torches, ready for a long night. Ben's mate Pete met us on the trail briefly (strongest handshake ever, unnecessary!) which was also nice. We grabbed a Pot Noodle (food of champions) at a local pub (thanks for the water) as the light was fading and from that point on we had our head torches to light the way.
INTO THE DARKNESS
I love running trails in the dark and as no one was around, we put some music on to distract us from any nighttime tiredness that might creep in. Music was followed by football on the radio but this didn't last long as the lovely Susie, Raissa and Katie appeared out of the darkness, cheering us in! It was a lovely surprise to see them all, Susie had brought a pom pom with her (but no head torch) but still gets 10/10 for effort. They joined us for 10 lovely miles and were great company throughout, loving being able to share the adventure with us. We were treated to deer sightings, and loads of badgers, so many badgers, and the odd owl!
Next we bumped into fellow Salomon athlete Dan Keeley and his lovely wife, they'd been out for a nice romantic dinner, and obviously felt that there was no better way to end a romantic evening than by standing in the woods waiting for some smelly guys to appear! It was great to see them and gave us another lift.
We continued into the night and the girls left us after going through a deer park, it was just the 3 of us again and we were running really strong, we made up some excellent time through the woodland sections and I felt that I could run forever, which is probably a good thing because I still had 15 hours of running ahead of me.
As we approached Reigate, Dai appeared out of the darkness. I'd only ever briefly met Dai before and he is a great guy. It's worth mentioning that he worked all day, came out to meet us, ran most the night with us, then went back to work! By now it was about 3 or 4am and it was getting COLD! Suddenly the temperature dropped considerably and we all started shivering. Thankfully super Ash appeared and we were able to grab hats, gloves, jackets etc...drama over.
We kept pushing and were treated to the most incredible sunrise as we hit Dorking, the start of the familiar area of the trail for us. Croissant and coffee was consumed and then Dai left us to crack on...back to the office for him. We were starting to feel tired now (22 hours in, not bad!) and slowed down a bit, running was getting harder and we knew that this would be where the challenge really started, we still had a long way to go. We battled past school kids and mums in Dorking and finally hit the trail up to Leith Hill. It wasn't long before Rach Murphy and Lofgren appreared out of a bush yelling with excitement, as me and Adam starred with confused looks on our faces! We exchanged stories and worked our way to the top of Leith Hill for a short rest.
THIS IS WHERE IT HIT US!!!
The mileages hadn't been making sense from the start, but I think we simply went into denial about it and thought it would all be ok. I KNEW that it was further than 13 miles from this point but refused to accept it. As we sat at the top of the hill, both Ben and Ash did some plotting on their phones as we discussed what was left. The news came out that we really did have AT LEAST a marathon to go, not the half marathon we thought. Can you ever imagine more draining news when you've run 98 miles already? I thought I'd be home at lunch...we had another slow 13 or 14 miles to add onto the day...depressing.
We all sat quietly, pondering what lay ahead. Until I told the guys to get up, man up, and get moving...there was no way we were giving up, we just had to suck it up and get on with it...so off we went.
Why did this happen?
Due to misleading online information mostly, watch inaccuracy may also be to blame but we all had the same distance on our various watches so I find that hard to believe. Whatever happened, and we'll never really know unless one of us does the trail again with one of those rolling things that measure distance (no thanks), the FKT attempt meant that we had to complete the whole trail, irrelevant of distance, so we had to crack on.
The legs were a bit stiff by now, and Ben was suffering with blisters, but for the most part, we were still moving well(ish). A bit slow, but not too bad. We ticked off the hills as they came and before we knew it we were out the other end where a nice chap had seen our attempt online and set up an impromptu aid station for us in Shamley Green. It was the next section where I personally struggled, from Shamley Green to Witley Station. This section drained my enthusiasm, along with still coming to terms with the extra mileage, and I was a bit grumpy! We mostly plodded in silence, with Rach desperately trying to lift our spirits and get us moving. We found Dan Brown on the trail, he'd come to find us so he could run the final bit into Haslemere. Dan had come prepared with THE MOST AMAZING Watermelon drink for us, it really lifted the spirits. Shortly after we met Tessa Rose, who had driven up from Bournemouth to support us. All this, followed by Ash presenting me with a twister ice cream really lifted the mood. I was buzzing again, ready to get this thing done.
We walked and ran the next section a bit better, ticking off the miles as we went, forever getting a step closer to the final destination, with aching legs and weary eyes.
We hiked up the Devil's Punchbowl and paused for a pic at the top. This was a big moment as it was mostly downhill from here. My favourite moment happened as a nice lady took a photo of us...'you guys have just run up that hill, you're barely even sweating!'...we all laughed and mumbled to ourselves...
'if only you knew what we'd really done!'.
We saw lovely Corina at the top of the hill and now had just 2 miles to go. We didn't hang around as we wanted this over. our crew was pretty big at this stage and we battled our way through the final section to Haslemere. We finally saw the sign to indicate the start/end of the Greensand Way, we'd done it...123 miles in 31 hours, 20 minutes and 28 seconds. A new FKT record.
Ash and some others were waiting for us down the road and we ran with a new spring in our step to our unofficial finish line (beyond the actual finish line, bad planning again!!), we all collapsed in a heap on a seat as people took photos and exchanged hugs. Our challenge was complete.
I want to say a massive thank you to Ash for being the best support crewman ever. To Ben and Adam for sharing this incredible journey with me, to everyone that came our to run with us or just say hello, to everyone that sent messages on Instagram and facebook...you are all heroes.
Recovery has been really good and I was leading Salomon trail workshops 3 days later...will I do another one? Probably. Will I quadruple check the actual distance next time? Most certainly.
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