Sorry again for how sporadic my blog posts are recently, really need to get back into the habit of actually writing posts instead of half-planning them then never getting round to actually writing any! But took part in the amazing Viking 100 SVN event over the weekend which was awesome, intense and mega tough in probably equal amounts, and definitely think it deserves a blog post. It feels a bit weird trying to write about it because the whole event seems to be stuck in ultrarunning brain scramble and there are parts of it that I can’t really remember or that seem totally confused in my head so this might be a bit of a disjointed account but I’ll try to remember as much as I can. I’m also still totally exhausted and physically and emotionally drained so sorry in advance if it doesn’t make a lot of sense!
First and most important thing is a massive THANK YOU to all the amazing race organisers and volunteers at Saxons, Vikings and Normans. If anyone hasn’t come across them before, they are among the friendliest, most inclusive and generally awesome running events I’ve ever taken part in. The race organisers and volunteers are amazing and the whole atmosphere is so friendly and supportive, and I wouldn’t have even got halfway through the 100 miles without the amazing encouragement and support. All the runners are equally amazing and supportive, and I’ve met so many incredible and inspirational people through running SVN events- you are all awesome!!
The run started at 8am which meant there was lots of time in daylight to get used to the route and get into the run which was definitely a good thing! Weather at the start of the run was pretty much perfect for running- not too cold or windy, no rain (yet!!) and even occasional breaks in the clouds to see some blue sky. It was a massive contrast to the absolutely FREEZING Moonlight Challenge on the same course three weeks earlier which had temperatures well below freezing and was so cold that I lost all feeling in my arms from the elbows down even with multiple pairs of gloves and it literally took fifteen minutes just to open some hand warmers to try to warm up! Three of my fingers were white and it was the most painful cold I’ve experienced in years, and it took over seven hours just to complete a marathon so I was a bit worried about the weather being the same for the 100 miles but luckily it wasn’t and temperatures stayed several degrees above freezing even overnight which was a mega relief.
Partway into the first lap, I was lucky enough to end up running with the awesome Nick Nicholson who is one of the most crazily inspirational people I’ve ever met running. For people who haven’t come across Nick, he’s the current Guinness World Record holder for the most marathons in a year and most 50ks in a year and is currently improving on these, so he’s a pretty awesome guy to run with! Definitely helped to keep me sane on the first few laps when I hadn’t totally processed the fact that I was actually attempting 100 miles and considering the crazy amount of running Nick does, 100 miles in one weekend really shouldn’t be that scary…
The first part of the race was pretty uneventful; bit of rain but nothing major and the course was awesome. The first part was muddy which became more of a challenge as the run/rain went on (more about that later!) then it was uphill to the windmill farm, back down to run down a path between fields and a main road, up to jellybean junction then down to a hilly two mile loop around the farm and back past jellybean junction to the barn which was the base aid station. Really nice course- lots of scenery, mix of paths and fields, up and down to break up the longish flat stretch from jellybean junction to the windmill farm and nothing majorly technical apart from the mud. Also impossible to get lost even for me which was a big bonus! Having an extra aid station in the 10k route was also really, really helpful especially towards the end of the race when you’re absolutely exhausted and need as many positive boosts as possible.
The first major milestone in the run was passing marathon distance and was still feeling pretty good by then. I’d got Harry Potter on my ipod and was enjoying the relative brain quiet that you only really get several hours into an ultra, and was it nice to get totally immersed in Harry’s attempt to find the diadem of Ravenclaw while the rest of the school were preparing for the Battle of Hogwarts. I’d forgotten how many genuinely hilarious moments there are even in the most intense parts of the whole Harry Potter saga and was laughing a bit hysterically at some of the lines which *might* have looked a bit odd to anyone who saw me! Looking back now, I think this might have been the start of when I was beginning to get a bit too hyped which didn’t kick in properly till early evening but at that point, it was just awesome to relax into the running and enjoy it.
The hardest part of long ultras for me is the fuelling bit- I can never seem to get it right and I hate how ridiculously stressful it is. I have no idea how people can just seem to ‘get it’ without even thinking and I’ve never managed to get it properly sorted. It’s also the first ultra I’ve done since I came off medication which seems to have had a big impact on that side of running too- usually my brain has ‘shut up’ enough by then so that I can eat things that I’d never normally eat without feeling sick or horrible but it hadn’t happened this time and I had no idea what or how much I should be eating. From talking to other runners, I know that you should eat little and often but that didn’t seem to have any meaning whatsoever and by about six hours in, I was feeling a bit nauseous and couldn’t work out if it was from not eating enough (I’d only been fuelling at the base aid station and that was causing so much anxiety that I wasn’t even sure if I’d eaten anything at all) or from eating too much because again I wasn’t sure what I’d actually eaten! By about 50k though, I knew I had to eat something other than salted peanuts and had two rice krispie bites which caused brain overload but did help to stop the nausea.
The sun was starting to set by then and it was nearly headtorch time which always makes me a bit nervous but luckily the timing was pretty much perfect and the next lap coincided with Nick coming out for his second 50k of the day (!) to start the pacer event. The first lap (or two maybe?) went pretty well and was nice to chat to Nick, and he is a pretty amazing person to have as a pacer because he’s bloody brutal and kept telling me to ‘get off my fucking phone and fucking run’! It really did help though- I have a habit of checking/rechecking my phone during the night part of ultras because usually I’m on my own and it freaks me out, and I find nightrunning really hard because everything seems a million times worse and harder but an awesome part of this sort of run is that there are usually people around or not too far away so if something did happen, someone would probably find you. Doesn’t stop you getting paranoid though!
When we got back to the base aid station, they’d ordered Domino’s pizza. For some totally unknown reason, I decided to have half a slice of the vegetable one (although I didn’t go as far as the cheese) and weirdly it tasted amazing. Won’t go into too much detail but that caused complete mental overload and confusion, no idea why I even thought that pizza would be a good idea but it did give me an energy boost…to the point of going full-on hyped by halfway through the next lap. God knows what was going on in my brain- I genuinely can’t remember it properly but I know I was talking way too much and too fast at Nick (sorry!!) and kept running too fast so I left him behind several times when he’d offered to pace me which was a bit rude and probably defeats the point of having a pacer! I realised pretty quickly that I needed to do something about it though (possibly the only benefit of having been in A+E after going hypomanic after ultras in the past is being hyper aware of it) so I stopped at the next aid station to take Nytol and a small amount of quetiapine which I came off a couple of months ago but had some with me just in case since it was because of getting too hyped after an ultra that I was prescribed it in the first place so I always have some with my emergency first aid stuff.
I was still a bit hyped for the next lap or two but thanks to Nick’s awesome pacing, I managed to keep a relatively consistent pace over the next few hours and felt pretty good going into the night section. Thankfully the medication worked and the hypedness didn’t go into full on over-hyped chaos but I had a bit of a weird experience where I was still a bit hyped and definitely talking way more than I usually would or should do (especially to people I hardly know 16 hours into a pretty gruelling ultra) but was also starting to ‘crash’ at the same time which is hard to describe but it’s like being simultaneously hyperactive and wanting to crawl in a bush and disappear, kind of like when you’re laughing and crying at the same time. I think a lot of it was mid-ultra exhaustion and was definitely more emotional than I usually would be which is unusual for me during a run but not particularly unusual for a lot of people during ultras so hopefully no-one thought I was too weird or annoying! Apart from maybe Nick who definitely had to put up with more annoyingness than anyone should have to especially at midnight in the middle of an ultra.
Just realised I’ve forgotten to mention the mud issue! At the start and end of the route, there was a particularly muddy stretch of grass which gradually got worse as the run (and rain) went on with standing water and people running through it making it more like mud sliding than even walking. So about halfway through the event, the route was changed to avoid the really muddy stretch which was a massive relief- I’m not coordinated even running on normal terrain and it was definitely not my favourite part of the course. Good experience to practise on it though, and was kind of fun even though it sapped a ridiculous amount of energy. But by most of the night laps, it had was mostly road or paths which was a lot less risky.
Nick finished his second 50k around 1am and left to get seem sleep before driving to another one in the morning (!) which is crazy and amazing in equal amounts. Definitely owe him massively for the pacing and for putting up with me over the previous few laps- without the relatively even times I’d managed to make over the laps I’d run with him, I don’t think I’d have even passed 50 miles given how erratic and inconsistent my running was by that point and it definitely helped that I had that as a ‘buffer’ when my knee started to play up later on in the race and I had to walk almost an entire lap. Thanks so much Nick! The next couple of hours went OK; I was still listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and it was getting to the real intense battle part which was an intense enough distraction from the dark, and chatted to a couple of other people at various points during the laps which was also really nice. I was still having fuelling issues though and didn’t want to risk another pizza issue so was back to salted peanuts and jelly babies for energy which I was really starting to hate! But coffee really, really helped and needed the heat and caffeine boost.
By 3am though, my mood had started to drop and the on/off rain in the dark probably didn’t help. I can’t remember a lot about 3am-6am apart from really struggling, finding it really difficult to keep moving and being very cold and wet. I know I definitely cried over someone at least once but can’t remember who it was or what I said to them but I’m really sorry- I’m not usually like that!! Was having a lot of horrible negative thoughts which didn’t help and I’m not sure if it was exhaustion, cold, quetiapine (having not taken it in two months), residual pizza anxiety, sleep deprivation or a combination but it was seriously horrible. I did at least one lap in my dryrobe to try to stay warm and switched from Harry Potter to Alanis Morissette in an attempt to boost mood a bit but weirdly the thing that really did help was when I got to the aid station after a particularly horrible lap and had a bit of a meltdown about what to eat- my brain was total fuzz and I couldn’t even speak properly, and someone suggested eating toast. I didn’t even have the brain power to think about it at the time so I had toast and jam which must have done something magical because half a lap later, I felt relatively human again and started to get back into the running. I can’t remember who it was that gave me the toast but thank you so much!!
The last 20 miles were HELL. I was so so tired, my left knee was starting to get really painful and every part of my body hurt. I walked/jogged a lap to try to get back into it which helped a bit to loosen up now it was starting to get light again, and it always helps when it starts to get light. My brain was still a bit scrambled and I was totally convinced I wouldn’t finish in the time but one of the organisers pointed out that even if I was moving at 2 miles an hour, I could still finish before the cut off and I was determined to keep moving even though by then I wanted to hide under a dryrobe and never come out. I was relying on coffee and sweets to function by then and I’d worked out how many I needed to get round a lap so fuelling for once wasn’t really an issue, I think maybe because I’d already fried my brain with pizza and toast!
The last two laps seemed to take forever but I had a knee support and was taking it really slowly, and it was weirdly starting to seem like I might actually finish which hadn’t seemed like a real possibility before then. I was absolutely exhausted and felt like I was forcing my body to keep moving every step but was back on Harry Potter and compared to fighting Voldemort, getting through less than a half marathon in six hours should be totally achievable! It was so, so painful though and seemed to take ten times as long as it should have, and the rain really didn’t help- for a while, it was horrible steady drizzle which soaks you even though it’s not that heavy but thankfully it didn’t last too long and once it stopped, it was pretty much ideal running conditions again which also really helped.
By the last few miles, I actually felt like a normal human being again which was a massive relief! I kind of enjoyed the last bit- partly relief that it was nearly over and that I could actually finish it, and also nice to enjoy the scenery without the stress of ‘OMG I’ve still got XXX miles to go’. I finished in under 29 hours which was 2 hours 40 minutes faster than Samphire 100 two years ago so I was massively happy with that! The race organisers and volunteers are genuinely amazing- I could not have done it without the support and encouragement, and thank you all so so so much. Also massive thank you to the amazing people taking part in the run- you all did amazingly and huge WELL DONE to everyone!! Thanks so much for the encouragement, chats and hugs from everyone during and after the race- anyone who knows me will know that I’m not a hug-type person in any way at all but I really needed it during what was a seriously tough run and thank you all so much. You are all incredible!!
I’m still completely overwhelmed and can’t fully process it, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention lots of awesome parts of the run so might end up editing this blog post at some point or adding to it but it really was an amazing event and such an incredible challenge. 100 miles is a bloody long way and it’s a really up and down experience for anyone, even people who have done it several times before. MASSIVE congratulations to anyone who took part and to everyone doing the challenge runs- it wasn’t the easiest course and conditions, and everyone did so so well. THANK YOU to Traviss and Rachel for organising it and to all the amazing volunteers who made it possible and made it such an amazing experience. The atmosphere at SVN events is always awesome and I loved every minute of it however painful the run was at times. Thank you all so much ❤