Wednesday 30 October 2013

Stort30 Race Report - 27th October 2013

Last weekend I was all set to run the Caesar's Camp 100 miler. Caesar's is somewhat of a UK ultra running institution, and is one of the tougher events on the calendar - largely due to the Race Director, Henk, who likes to make things difficult for his runners. I worked with Henk at the North Downs Way 100 last year, and we had slightly different perspectives on how to run an Aid Station; I felt that we should be aiding the runners, whereas he thought we should be calling them all c*nts and kicking them out. Both perfectly valid techniques! But as we approached the race I was shitting myself.

Unfortunately, I don't mean that figuratively.

About two days before the race, I came down with a pretty nasty gastro-enteritis bug. Very unpleasant, and very much not the ideal way to prepare for running 100 miles. In the end, I couldn't even leave the house to go and watch and cheer other people on. The timing was impeccable, so chalk that up as another one in the "man, this year has sucked running-wise" column. Sigh.
There's a river somewhere, honest. Photo care of Karen Webber.
Determined to actually run something, I signed up for the Stort30; a 30 mile Challenge Running event organised by Lindley Chambers not too far from my house. The race is a 15 mile out and back route following along the River Stort Navigation Channel in Hertfordshire. Navigation is pretty simple (if you're not in danger of falling in the water, you've probably gone wrong somewhere), but temporary arrows had been painted on the floor at any point where you needed to do something other than "keep going straight", so navigation certainly shouldn't be an issue - a dangerous claim for me.

I still wasn't feeling great, and this wasn't helped by the fact that my daughter had also caught it. I have spent a little too much time covered in vomit and poo for my liking this week... I had had a few stomach issues a few days earlier, but was determined not to miss another race. I had no real plans to race (not that I would have a chance against some of the faster runners anyway), but was just going to head out, have some fun, and see what happened.

It was that magical time of the year when we finally make up for the evil time elves stealing an hour of our lives in spring, but apparently my 8 month old daughter didn't get the memo about the extra hour in bed due to daylight savings. However, despite getting up an hour early, I still managed to almost miss registration. Whoops! It was great to see lots of ultra-friends out there, including Paul Ali, Karen Webster, Lindley Chambers, Sue Albiston, Simon Edwards, Liz Grec, Keith Godden, and Richard Ashton. Paul pointed out that I apparently had a döppelganger rocking the sideburns look. They're coming back into fashion I tells ya!

I had awoken to a downpour of monumental proportions, but was sad to arrive at the start line greeted by beautiful blue skies. Where's the fun in that? At least it would be nice and muddy out there. We set off with two laps of the field, where I attempted to reduce wind resistance by tucking in behind Richard Ashton, the winner of last year's event. Unfortunately his petite stature didn't provide any meaningful respite, so I gave up and decided to let him go... ;)
Nicely muddied legs. Photo care of Karen Webber.
As we headed out from the field and followed the road down to the river, we formed a small breakaway pack of around 8 runners. I was quite happy at the back, and was running a nice comfortable pace. The checkpoints were about 5 miles apart, and were on the other side of the river, but they could be bypassed if you didn't want to stop. The first section was quite slippery in places, but wasn't as bad as it could have been considering the rain. I was a little worried that it might get a little churned up by 150 runners for the return journey, but would worry about that later.

I ran straight past the first checkpoint having not touched my water bottle at all. The next section eased out into much more runnable paths, where we were able to pick up the pace a little more. I wasn't using the Garmin and was instead sticking to running on feel which usually works well for me. By the time we hit the next checkpoint, I still hadn't drunk much so headed straight through again and cracked on. The navigation was absolutely fine and there were no issues at all, which makes a big change for me.

The weather had completely taken me by surprise and I was absolutely boiling. I had my usual shorts and t-shirt, but had a thin long-sleeve base layer underneath with the sleeves rolled up which was warming me up far too much. I reached the turn-around point in about 1:50 (faster than I was anticipating which was nice), and since I wasn't really in a hurry stopped briefly to have a chat with Lindley and Karen, and gave the ladies there an impromptu strip show as I got rid of the base layer. However, given that most of the ladies were young girls helping out most admirably with their Dad, this was probably highly inappropriate...
"Looking for some hot stuff baby this evening. Looking for some hot stuff...". Yeah, good luck with that. Photo care of Karen Webber.
After being promised some cake at the end by Karen, and eating a single chicken nugget (my stomach wasn't feeling its most willing to be stuffed with food after my illness), I headed off for the return journey. Rich had been running neck and neck with Craig Holgate (the super-fast winner of the Thames Path 100 miler last year and numerous other races since), so I was interested to see how it would pan out. In the end, Craig would end up pulling out an impressive negative split and won the event in 3:23:21, over 10 minutes ahead of Rich. But a second place trophy is nothing to sneeze at. As Rich said at the end, "Another ultra, another trophy". Yeah, yeah. Smug bastard!

It was generally going well, and I was having a lovely day out. That is until about a mile from the next checkpoint when my stomach decided it didn't appreciate being jiggled about quite so much (given what it had been through recently) and did everything it could to stop me. I stopped briefly at the checkpoint to take an Immodium and see if I could settle things down, but the next 10 miles proved to be a completely different race. I had gone from 7 min/miles to about 10 min/mile, and was having to stop and walk every so often digging my fingers into my gut to stop the cramping. Perfect treatment. Trust me, I'm a doctor....

Another factor that was affecting me was the ban on headphones. I typically listen to things like audiobooks when I run, because I cannot be left alone in my own head. Nobody deserves that. The fact that I was now running a lot slower than I had anticipated meant that I was having to work hard to fill the time. The problem with having a young child is that your head becomes full of nursery rhymes, and there's only so many times you can sing "My Grandfather's Clock" to yourself before you start to go a little bit mad. The last five miles I found myself running behind another guy, Richard Robert-Jones, who seemed to be struggling a little like me. I ran to catch up with him and asked of he wanted some company. Despite the fact that we were both suffering in different ways (him with a pulled hamstring, me trying not to crap myself), we actually enjoyed the rest of the race and just chatted our way to the finish. This was actually his first ultra, having recently started running marathons and coming within seconds of beating 4 hours at the London marathon. He'll be running it again next year and should easily smash the 4 hour time!

As we came back into sight of the Bishop's Stortford Running Club, we were a little peeved to find a final sting in the tail, as we were made to run a final loop around the field. So near and yet so far! As we came down the final stretch, I managed to convince Richard to pull out a final sprint finish. We went through the line together in 4:23:40. Not a terrible time at all considering how slow things had been in the last third, and only 23 minutes over my target time of 4 hours. A rather impressive positive split! So a good run and a bad run ended up averaging out to a mediocre run.
Holy crap, a photo of me actually running! Photo care of Liz Grec.
But regardless of the results, I really enjoyed myself. Now if I can just run a race without worrying about bodily functions I will be very happy. Next up for me is the Piece of String Fun Run at the end of November. I'm sure I will have plenty of other things to make me miserable there. Bodily functions will be the least of my worries. Bring it on Messrs Adams and Elson!


  1. Great running. Admire the dedication and mentality to keep signing up for new runs.

  2. Great commitment - and write up. 4:23 is a great time (I can't do a marathon anywhere near that time - envious!) Good luck in the Piece of String "Fun" Run.


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