What it took to run 100km

One of our regular clients tells us all about what it took to cross the finish of her longest ultra (yet!)………..

It’s been 2 weeks since we crossed the finish line of the toughest event I’ve ever completed, the Lakeland Trails 100km trail race.  With lots of rest, stretching and a “healthy” amount of Gin & Chocolate I thought it was time to reflect on not just the race, but what went into just getting to the start line!  

There are lots of different theories as to how far you should run each week when training for an event like this, but I think most people would be surprised at how low the mileage can be, yet still give you a solid fitness for running a 100km race.  I didn’t run much more than 30 miles in a single week before the race!

I’ve been struggling for a year or so with load problems in my knees, which becomes an issue when running over 20+ miles.  At the start of this year, Studio 121 and I agreed that the best way to try and tackle this was to increase my strength training sessions to twice a week, and to seek out a specialist sports injury physio to get checked out.

Having been told there was nothing anatomically wrong with my knees, but the issue was muscle weakness, a plan was put together which focused my gym sessions on building the muscles in my glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.  This was combined with a list of exercises I could do at home with no equipment and a running plan that focused on quality not quantity of miles.

It’s not a plan until it’s on the fridge!!

So I settled in to a routine that involved running no more than 3 (occasionally 4) times per week, with 2 interval sessions and 1 longer distance run.  My interval sessions were usually no more than 1 hr in duration and included things such as hill repeats,  timed efforts, distance efforts, or race pace efforts.  The key to gaining the most from them was to give everything during the effort and use the recovery times correctly.  For the longer distance runs, I entered a couple of marathons and used these to build my endurance fitness and the last one was 4 weeks before the race and was the furthest distance I ran before the 100.

Added to this were my 2 weekly strength/weight sessions at Studio 121 focusing on my legs and weak glutes, pilates & stretching and my 20 minute home routine which I tried to do at least 4 times each week.

However, not all good things go to plan!! Two weeks before race day, and at the end of our last reccie run I fell and twisted my ankle pretty badly! A long story short, after a LOT of painful physio, acupuncture, ice & arnica, tears and zinc tape and I decided to give it a go and start the race.

I like to think I’m determined, although my husband would probably have a case for arguing I’m stubborn, but I figured I’d put so much effort into my training, and I knew I had better mobility in my ankle than was expected so as long as I didn’t go over on it again, I “should” be ok to attempt the race. We’d already decided we would be much slower than we’d originally thought (we’d been aiming for a finish between 18-20 hours) but by that point I didn’t really care – I just wanted to start and dream of finishing!!

Our race started at midnight on the Friday night and we had until 11pm on Saturday night to get to the finish!! We had 100km (or 63 miles), 12,500ft of Lake District mountains to climb and descend and 23 hours to do it in – how hard could it be?! We knew about 45 miles of the route from previous walks/runs, we had 9 check points to pass through which would be stocked with food & hydration supplies and at the mid-way point we had a bag of clean shoes & clothes to change in to if we wanted. So, 9 x 7 mile runs to do in 23 hours – sounds easy enough!!!

The weather forecast was set to be great, if a little too sunny, and we knew we’d only be running under head torches for the first 4 & 1/2 hours. Due to my stupid ankle we had to walk a lot more of the first two mountains than we’d planned, as the underfoot paths were more technical and this would be the highest chance of my ankle causing me to pull out. I’ve never DNF’d a race before and wasn’t keen to start now so we kept it steady and safe and settled into the back of the race pack and all went well.

By the time we reached CP3 we were 33km in and knew we had bacon butties and porridge waiting for us! It was about 6am and despite having taken on board a few bits of flapjack at the previous check points I was getting hungry, and when there’s still nearly 70km to go that’s not a good thing! So a few bacon sandwiches and some water on board we left the CP at a gentle run through the beautiful Bampton valley.

Somewhere between Howtown and Glenridding our running came to an end. My ankle was ok, , but I was feeling the imbalance of my gait in my legs and knew that if I was to stand any chance of making it to the finish we’d have to switch from a jog to a power hike to the finish. I’m naturally quite a competitive person and I thought I’d be disappointed if I reached this stage and couldn’t run, but that’s not the way it went! I changed my clothes at the half way point, had a little refresh, checked my feet and bandaged up a few blisters and scoffed about 10 cheese sandwiches and a couple of peanut butter & nutella sarnies (who knew that was such an amazing combo!!) and left the mid way point feeling tired but in great spirits.

Looking back now, the next stage of the race was probably where things started to get really tough!! We were still moving well, and overtaking a lot of runners in the 55km race who were on much fresher legs, but even so we reached the next CP with only 15 mins to spare before the cut off time. They’d almost run out of food, and had just enough water left, the weather was now in the high 20’s and we’d been going for about 15hrs.

We left the 73km point feeling very tired and hungry. We managed to make it to the next CP with only 10 minutes to spare and by that point I wasn’t in the best of places, although I was kicked into reality by meeting up with a friend who was in a much worse state. He’d been sick and had a 10 minute sleep but wasn’t feeling great at all. We gathered him together and got him to set off walking the rest of the route with us, by then we “only” had 20km to go and about 5 & 1/2 hours to do it in.

Somewhere between this CP and the next one I lost myself in my own head, which after 17 hours of moving is slightly inevitable but a bit stupid! I managed to convince myself that I’d drunk too much water and was going to drown (I know, it sound ridiculous now but I was tired and not really thinking straight and being ever so slightly melodramatic!!), I was really hungry and the only food I had left on me was turning my stomach. With the exception of 2 CPs which served sandwiches everything else had been flapjack, porridge, noodles or jelly babies – none of which I really eat or enjoy and the only food I had left on me was peanut kind bars which I normally love, but I just couldn’t face any more sugar!!

Because the weather was so warm, the organisers had added an extra water station at the edge of Blea Tarn, when we reached that point our friend was done and his race was over. He was bundled up by the wonderful marshalls and taken back to the race HQ to rest and recover. We still had about 7 miles to go and I wasn’t entirely convinced I was going to make it, but the amazing marshall pulled out a bag of Babybels and I could have kissed her!! I scoffed a few, had a some water and it was like someone had replaced my batteries!!

Scott and I trudged along together, with Scott doing a fantastic job of keeping and eye on our pace and time and making sure we got to the finish before being disqualified. As we hobbled (the blisters were pretty epic by this stage!) down off the final mountain into Rothay Park to the finish line we were greeted by huge cheers from the organisers and volunteers, who despite the late hour were still there greeting everyone as if they’d just won the race! Jumpy James was there to take our finisher photos and administer hugs, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I wasn’t crying at the finish, but smiling!

We finished in 22hr and 11 minutes in 93rd & 94th place (although 14th female sounds better!!). There were 140 runners started the 100km and 102 finished it, but I don’t think I’ve ever cared less about my finishing position of a race!

So looking back, there are a few lessons I learnt during those 22 hours.

  1. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and your best laid plans go out of the window. The quicker you deal with it the quicker you can move on.
  2. I honestly believe that if my muscles & ligaments weren’t so strong from all my training I wouldn’t have been able to start let alone finish this race.
  3. Always research the food available at CPs and if it doesn’t work for you then take your own! Cheese, cheese, cheese!!
  4. Walk before you’re tired, eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty.
  5. Yes a solid running fitness is important for these events, but don’t underestimate how important muscle strength is to success.
  6. It was brutal, relentless, exhausting but I loved it!
  7. I finished saying “that’s my limit, I’m not doing that again or entering anything further”, 2 weeks later, we’ll see what 2020 brings………….
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *