On Saturday 11th August I took part in the Stour Valley Path 100k. I signed up to the race for a number of reasons: a few friends had taken part in previous years and recommended it, the finish isn’t far from my girlfriend Lorna’s parent’s house and I wanted to get some strength/endurance in the legs ahead of training for Munich Half Marathon. I know it’s a little different to run 100k in the build up to a quick half but I thought it would be a fun challenge to tackle.
In the lead up to race day I was excited but equally nervous. I questioned my decision to sign up on numerous occasions; I knew I wasn’t going into the race in great shape and was worried I may not be able to cross the finish line. On the other hand my motivation was to run as far as possible and enjoy a long day on the trails. I gathered my kit on the Thursday evening to give myself the chance of picking something up on the Friday had I forgotten anything.
Bag/vest: Salomon S/Lab Adv Skin 3 12L with two 500ml soft flasks. Perfect size for kit and super comfortable.
T-shirt: Iffley Road Cambrian Striped T-Shirt. I often wear Iffley Road tees on long runs because they are really soft, breathable and lightweight.
Shorts: Iffley Road Pembroke 5″ Shorts.
Socks: I opted for a pair of Stance Crew socks in the end as the route took us through long grass.
Running Cap: Iffley Road Putney Running Cap. Generous peak, really lightweight and very breathable.
Watch: Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR. Good battery life and easy to use for navigation.
Shoes: Salomon S/Lab Ultra. Great amount of cushioning and good grip on dry hard packed trails. Running 100k you would expect blisters and/or black toe nails but I had no issues.
The majority of the kit I took were favourites that I use on a regular basis. Initially I was concerned about wearing the Salomon S/Lab Ultra shoes as I had only ran in them a couple of times. I chose to wear them over the S/Lab Sense 6 because I lacked cushioning when I completed Race to The Stones in 2015. The other main change from RTTS was taking a variety of food and asking Lorna to bring me various sweet and savoury options at aid stations. I learnt that crisps and granola bars are only good for so long.
The night before the race Lorna and I stayed at her parents. On arrival we were greeted with pasta bake and steamed syrup pudding for dessert, Sheilagh knows my favourites. I double checked my bag, laid kit out ready for the morning and got an early night. The alarm clock going off at 4am was a rude awakening but I slept well. As Lorna’s brother Alex was going out on his bike he arrived early allowing plenty of time to get to the bus pick up near the finish point. It was good to speak to a number of runners waiting for the bus, one of them was aiming to compete for the win/course record and others were hoping to beat the cut off time. Arriving in Newmarket around 6am the conditions were looking good. I showed the volunteers I had the correct mandatory kit and was given my number; this was all very straight forward with less than 200 runners taking part. I caught up with James Poole, Mark Parry and Matthew Hanson before the race briefing and we all made our way up the road to the start.
As the start line was a little walk up the road only a handful of participants had made it for 7am but the organisers were happy for it to be a rolling start. It took most of us by surprise but I don’t think anybody minded, we all knew we’d be running for a fair few hours so what difference would a matter of seconds make. It’s a strange feeling starting an ultra, there’s still that adrenaline rush but everyone knows to take it easy and settle into a comfortable pace. Running up the road I was joined by Mel and Matt, having not seen them for a while it was great to have a proper catch up. Mel completed the 100k in 2017 whilst Matt was taking part in his first 100k. We settled into a good pace of around 7min/km and went through checkpoint one quickly only topping up soft flasks. Over the first 20k or so we were bunched up with quite a few runners, it was good to have a chat with some of them to hear about their racing/training. Unfortunately between the first two checkpoints Mel wasn’t feeling it so decided to join the cheer crew. At this point it was quite hot and my legs were already starting to ache a little due to the uneven terrain.
Matt and I ran into the second aid station together and grabbed some food. It was great to see Lorna, her brother Rob and friend Sasha, they all helped me fill up my flasks and I took some jam sandwiches to eat whilst walking out onto the course.
Just after the second aid station Matt decided to ease off the pace a little. As I was feeling good at this point I carried on, hoping at some point later in the race we’d be able to run a few more miles together. There was 10 miles between Clare and Long Melford, as I was on my own I checked my watch frequently to make sure I was following the blue line but also took the time to look around. Having lived in London for the last few years I really enjoy getting out onto trails and exploring somewhere new. When I ran RTTS in 2015 my right hamstring tightened just 18 miles in and I shuffled my way to the finish. I made sure to top up my soft flasks with water and SIS electrolyte tabs at every aid station.
The aid stations were excellent, they always had sweet and savoury options so I could mix it up depending on what I was craving. As there was roughly 10 miles between each of them it broke the challenge down into manageable chunks. I always felt energised leaving each aid station having eaten and seen my cheer crew. Lorna’s mum and dad walked the dogs to support me at Long Melford (at 33 miles) which was nice as I was struggling in the heat. As James Poole had ran the North Downs Way 100 miler the week before he decided to call it a day at checkpoint 3. With many Advent Runners taking part in the 100 or 50k he popped up at every aid station offering support and checking everyone was ok.
The 50k started in the afternoon and took runners along the second half of the 100k route. It was great to see friendly faces on the trail having fun, I was worried that in the latter stages of the race I would really struggle running on my own and the fatigue would take it’s toll. After my RTTS experience I was glad to still be running, albeit it slowly, 75k into the race. However, due to the undulating course my hamstrings tightened and I had to stop and stretch briefly. I knew from this point it would be a tough 25k to the finish but kept plodding away.
The food on offer at the last few aid stations was excellent and they were a lot busier with 50k and 100k runners passing through. I enjoyed salty potatoes, watermelon and flat coke to fuel the final stretch. Over the last 10k I was incredibly tired, every kilometre dragged and I couldn’t wait to reach the finish. It was frustrating wanting to run faster and get it done but my legs were so tight I could only manage a shuffle. I focused on ticking off each kilometre. Lorna, Rob, Sheilagh and Rita walked the dogs to cheer me on in the latter stages and this really picked me up.
Photo courtesy of Lenny Martin (@lennygoesoutside)
Luckily over the last few kilometres I had two runners alongside to work together. We were all so tired we didn’t speak much but just having company distracted me from how exhausted my legs were. It was a great feeling passing the 100k point and knowing I just had 2k to go. After nearly 12 and a half hours of running I finally made it to the finish at Brantham Leisure Centre
Photo courtesy of Rob Elliott (@rob_elliott_1991)
I shuffled over the line to be given my medal by Lorna, it was great to see her and friends. I was so relieved to finish the race in one piece.
Overall it was a great day out on the trails. I was really impressed with the organisation and volunteers, so much so that I will probably return next year to race either the 100k or 50k. Straight after finishing I thought about what I would do differently and how I could improve my performance, I learnt a lot taking part in my second 100k. As there is only two months to go until the Munich Half Marathon I will now focus on sharpening up with track and tempo sessions. It will be interesting to see what sort of shape I can get into off the back of the ultra.
A massive thank you to race organiser Matthew Hearne and his team/volunteers that made the day so enjoyable and congratulations to those of you that took part. I hope the recovery is going well. See some of you again next year!