Friday, December 14, 2012

Winter 100 (in England)

Sometime in late summer I was looking at my calendar and trying to fill in some holes with races.  There were no races on the 17 Nov or 24 Nov weekends except Chimera in California which was too far away and too difficult of a race for the end of this year.  Looking on the internet for international 100 mile races I found the Winter 100 on the 24th, an inaugural race held in Streatley, England which is about 50 miles to the west of London.  It was going to be an expensive race with the airfare but I have never visited England before and decided to take some time before the race to see some of the country.  I ended up leaving on 13 Nov which was just 2 days after finishing the Wild Sebastian 100.

The trip was well worth the expense even though it was late fall and the sun was setting shortly after 4pm.  I spent most of my time in London visiting the British Museum, the National Gallery, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, some cool train stations, and much more.  I tent camped on the outskirts of London and took public transport into the city keeping my accommodation and travel costs down to about $35 per day while in London.  It was a bit cold and damp, not perfect camping weather but it worked out well financially and I had good gear to stay warm and mostly dry.  I camped at the Lee Valley Camping and Caravan Park which I highly recommend.  The office folks were very nice and the Camp was very well kept.  It was pretty quiet in the tent camping spot with it being late November:

I left this camp spot and went to another near the town of Bath where I stayed for two very rainy nights and got flooded into the campground for about 5 hours due to a swollen creek blocking the exit.  This was on Wednesday before the race.  Newton Mill Holiday Park:

This was the only way out of the park and my vehicle did not have good clearance.  From Wednesday night through Friday night I had reserved a hotel room at the Abbey House Hotel in Reading which was about 20 minutes from the start by car and also a reasonably priced hotel with very nice folks running the place.  It was very nice to be out of the tent, in a real bed with an in room shower.  I had been doing a lot of touristy type stuff, spending a lot time on my feet and doing a lot of walking.  I needed to try to dial it back some so I'd be ready to run 100 miles on Saturday.

I was fairly successful resting on Thursday and Friday and made it to the start feeling pretty well rested but still my legs were a bit tired but then again, I had 23 100 milers on them just from this year....  This race had a start time of 10am which I really liked.  It let me sleep in some and not feel rushed getting ready for the start.  Here we are gathered in the Morrell room in Streatly with RD James Elson giving us the race briefing:

I was already impressed with everything that I had seen about Centurion Running from the RD's correspondence to the sleek and well organized website.  Everything looked well thought out and very professional.  But James really showed his mettle in the way he handled some last minute course changes.  The race was supposed to be 4 out and backs of 25 miles each with two of the legs following the Thames Path and two of the legs following the Ridgeway Trail both trails being National Trails which were well used and well marked.  But with all the rain that the south of England had been having the Thames river was flooded and the Thames Path unusable.  So on the morning of the race he had to come up with a redesigned course that was both safe and at least 100 miles long.

While listening to the briefing I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about as he was referring to places and intersections and such that meant nothing to me.  He assured us that it was all well marked and in fact it was very well marked and I never had any major issues though I did wander off course for a bit many times due to my own inattention.  I never went very far off though realizing my mistakes soon or being corrected by another runner.  So what we ended up doing was roughly half of the first leg twice (27 miles), then the third leg twice (50 miles), and then the fourth leg once to give us about 102.5 miles.  I was impressed not only with how well it worked out in the end but also with James' calmness that morning.  It seemed just another day at the office for him.

So we had our race briefing and instructions and were cautioned that things could still change as the rain had already started and there a significant amount of rain forecast to fall during the event.  This was looking to be exciting!  Welcome to winter in England!

Here we are just outside the doorway of the Morrell room ready to start:

RD James Elson sending us on our way.
The swollen Thames River which we crossed almost immediately after leaving the start/finish.

A narrow footpath early in the course.

A typical section of the first 5 miles of the course.

I'm not sure what you call this kind of roof but it is some kind of thatch held in place with a kind of chicken wire with moss growing on the outside.  You don't see this in the States!
The course passed close to this double set of train tracks with passenger trains FLYING past every 10 minutes or so at what must have been 80-90mph.  No big deal to the Brits but I was fascinated.

Another thing I enjoyed everywhere in England were these red phone booths.  They were everywhere!
All of these pictures are from the first 5 miles of the course which we ended up running out and back 4 times due to the modified course.  The pictures don't show it so well but there was a fair bit of muddy single track and with all the out and backs this stretch got very sloppy as the day wore on.  It was raining lightly when we started at 10am and it barely stopped for 15 minutes at a time, raining steadily until about 2am.  Mostly it was a pretty light rain but at times it was pretty heavy and this constant rain completely saturated the ground making footing a nightmare.  I was wearing my Hoka Mafates which had 600+ miles on them and while they did well in the mud when new with the worn out tread they were slipping and sliding constantly.  Luckily in that first 5 miles there were a couple of miles of paved road and non muddy trail.

On the first out and back I was so fascinated with everything and taking so many pictures that I ended up falling all the way back to the sweep runner without even realizing it.  I really enjoyed meeting and talking with Chaitan Kerai who was sweeping the first 25 miles of the race:

 After doing the short leg twice we took a right turn at about the five mile mark to head up onto the Ridgeway Trail for another 7.5 miles to the turnaround and return to Streatley which brought us to about 52 miles.  This leg had a lot more climbing as we followed a ridge up and up on rolling trail and through two horrendously wet and sloppy plowed fields.  They weren't very wide but the footing was nasty nasty mud.  And we had to go through them four times.  Ugh.  The turnaround was quite high and exposed but very welcome and manned by an excellent aid station crew as were all the other aid stations.  Heading back from the turnaround was mostly downhill and went much quicker than the climb up though both directions were made more difficult by the saturated ground and some pretty slippery conditions.  There was one spot where I went down on my butt and slid a good 30 feet down a muddy slope and I was even warned by a runner to be careful there!  I went around the slippery bit the next three times at that spot.

Back at the Morrell room after 52 miles I finally put on some running tights as the temp was dropping and it was still pissing down rain.  This was the first time I had run in tights in a race in years but it was that cold and damp.  After donning the tights, changing socks and getting ready to leave a runner that I had chatted with a bit earlier was also about ready to leave.  When I first chatted with Sharon Walton I found out that she was a first time 100 miler and I asked her the question I liked to ask first timers to gauge their chances of finishing.  The question is "So do you think you'll finish?"  Sharon's answer was something like "I'll finish if I have to crawl over the finish line!"  That attitude and the way she said it told me that she was going to get it done.  Usually with first timers I'll give advice if it seems they want it but with Sharon I got the feeling she didn't need my advice and I found out from her husband post race that she does her research and that she was, in fact, quite well prepared physically, mentally and gear wise.

Sharon and I left the Morrell room for our third leg (a repeat of the second leg) together and ended up running together until the end.  Sometimes she'd get ahead a bit and sometimes I would but our paces seemed to match each other really well and we had a great time chatting and poking fun at each other for 15 hours or so.  The repeat of that second leg didn't seem quite so long this time since I knew what was coming and the rain did stop during this leg but boy did the wind howl.  As we were coming down the exposed ridge we were getting hit by a steady 25mph wind with probably 50mph gusts and they were coming right from the side.  I got really frustrated in this section because it was right here that we were running in a rut of a trail that was about a foot wide and cut into the ground a good 6 inches.  With my big Hoka clown shoes I had a difficult time here without the wind but going down this section getting rocked side to side by the wind I was constantly stumbling.  Outside of this rut is was very thick and long grass on an uneven tread which was even worse than the rut so we had to just tough it out.  All of the slipping and sliding and then all of this stumbling was really starting to wear me down.

By the time we got back to the Morrell room it was light out and Sharon's pacer Richard Hurdle joined us as did her husband Tim, though Tim only went a couple miles due to some low back issues he's been struggling with.  It was nice to have Richard along.  He had lots of energy and a great attitude.  He didn't coddle us but made us feel like heroes for getting this one done.  We had a great time talking about all things ultra.  Like Sharon, Richard is just breaking into ultras and very keen.  The daylight and his energy perked me up mentally but physically I was struggling.

This last leg was again on the Ridgeway trail which meant there was a fair bit of climbing.  Even though we ended up doing extra miles on the Ridgeway trail and thus more total climing there wasn't really a tremendous amount of climbing all together. It was all the slipping and sliding that had taken it out of me and I was feeling it.  As we reached the turnaround I met Tim Lambert who had asked on the race facebook page for special requests at his aid station.  I asked for bacon and Tim delivered!  I sat down and layed into a large container of bacon getting in more than enough to fuel me to the finish.  And it was here that Sharon said to me in her delightful British accent "Come on Scott, it's not a picnic!"  I just had to smile, give Tim the bacon, and carry on.

The first half of this leg had been a lot of pavement and nice smooth dirt roads but the last half had us working back and forth on grassy trails to find the least repugnant path.  Most of it wasn't very wet but the trail was often uneven and too much work this late in the race.  Eventually we got back down to the good footing and started to roll along a bit better.  I was really impressed with Sharon.  She wasn't talking much late in the race which was my only hint that she was finding this difficult.  She was moving well and never once said anything remotely like a complaint.  Perhaps she though I was doing enough complaining for both of us.  I had made a mistake with my pain meds and hadn't brought enough for the whole time.  I guess I wasn't expecting to be out for 29 hours but I ended up running the last couple of hours without pain relief.  Usually I manage my pain quite well but here I was hurting.  I was to the point where I was letting out pretty frequent grunts and sighs from the pain when I stumbled or my foot hit the ground sooner or late than I expected.  I've only gotten to that point a few times since my first 100 miler.

Sharon's crew was at many different places where they could drive to meet her and they probably think I'm standoffish not paying them any attention but I just didn't have the energy to be social.  This was a very hard run for me.  I did get to talk to Tim a bit after the run which was nice but during the run I didn't even try to figure out who was who even though Sharon had told me who they all were.  Sorry guys!

Getting to the Morrell room for the final time was a tremendous relief and I believe pretty emotional for Sharon as her first 100.  In describing what I had witnessed on her run I told Tim that she had done this run with poise and determination.  I was quite impressed with how well she handled such tough conditions on her first 100.  We managed to squeak in under 29 hours with a 28:57:34.  Official results are here.  Here's a picture of us just after finishing:

Notice the muddy legs.
And here are my shoes when I got home:

I seriously thought about throwing these away but couldn't find a shop in Atlanta to replace them before next week's Cajun Coyote 100.  I though I might need them for that.

Me with the very capable RD James Elson.  
James' race report can be found here.  I was very impressed with my experience at the Winter 100.  The aid station volunteers had to endure some tough conditions with wind, rain and cold temps and they did so without a whimper.  The second time we got to the turnaround on the first Ridgeway leg the aid station was reduced to a pile of water jugs and food containers piled in the lee side of an SUV after the canopies had blown away in the gale force winds.  But those guys were still out there braving the storm so we'd have support.  And Tim's bacon got me through that last 12.5 miles.  A huge thanks to everyone!

While I was running the Winter 100 Liz was doing the Shazaam 100 near Atlanta.  Liz did her 100 miles on a 400 meter track in freezing cold and windy conditions (but not wet!) in an impressive 23:04. I believe she is planning to write a report on that run soon.....

Race count:  Liz (33)  Scott (24)


  1. Nice race report Scott. Kudoes for another 100 mile finish! You and Liz are incredible!

    1. Thanks Kim! Will we see you in Silverton again this year???

  2. What an incredible report Scott and an honour to have you over to race with us. Your good humour and high spirits lifted our race experience and that of many of the runners. We'd welcome you back any time. All the best with the end of the year. James (RD)

    1. I really had a great time and couldn't help but smile despite the conditions. During the worst of the slipping and sliding I said "Sometimes you just have to laugh!" I will be back for sure .... perhaps in the summer. : )

  3. Great race report - so nice to hear an American perspective on running through the English countryside. And your runs this year are hugely impressive. Many congrats

  4. Great run . I am thinking about doing a 50 miler sometime next year.