Firstly, I apologise profusely to anybody who feels they have been 'missed out' from this preview. I have included only those people which I am already aware of from the UK ultra circuit. Those of you that have been 'skipped over' will I'm sure right that wrong on race day and hence write yourselves into the history books with a bang. Remaining a dark horse is no bad thing....? Please also excuse any slight errors in the information present. Whilst the US has an incredible range of databases for results and a magazine dedicated to ultrarunning alone, we are obviously not so fortunate over here so I am forced to go off of snippets of info picked up along the way.
Corrections and additions gratefully received in the comments field below this post!
I thought it would be fun to have a look at a few of the potential front runners at the upcoming TP100 in order to highlight some of the calibre we have in the field. I am looking forward to seeing how the race plays out and have a feeling there will be some super fast times laid down this first weekend in March.
Ed Catmur - Ed has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2012 season with a 5:20 something win at Go Beyonds Country to Capital 44 miler. Whilst relatively new to the sport, his results to date have been seriously impressive, capturing 1st place at the Norfolk 100km and a 2nd place at the inaugural NDW50 last August. He also holds the Course Record at the Trionium Greensands Marathon. Look out for Ed later this year also as he steps up to the full 100 on the NDW on August 11th.
Robbie Britton - A man who has spent time out on the course recently with yours truly and who has, undoubtedly got a very bright future ahead of him in the ultra game. Robbie has built up a good amount of long distance experience in the past 18 months with finishes at Caesars Camp (twice), UltraRace 100 and the GUCR but his best result came in last years NDW100 when he overturned a huge deficit at 50 miles to win in 19:47. He recently ran the TT50 in 6:40 and knows what it is like to go long. Look out for a fast second 50 at the TP100.
Craig Holgate - Until recently, unknown on the ultra circuit, having not run any before the back end of last year, he has won his first two ultras, the latter being a very creditable 5:56 victory at the Thames Trot 50. This won't be a suprise to those that have seen him post extremely quick half and full marathon times over years of top level running. This will however be his first 100 miler and there is no substitute for experience. On paper, perhaps the fastest man in the field and it will fascinating to see if he can put together a great first 100.
Graham Booty - A man at home racing cross country as he is finishing strong at 100 milers. I've had the pleasure of witnessing him run just outside of a 20 hour time at Caesars Camp, as well as chasing Ian Sharman hard for the win at the Jurassic Coastal Challenge in 2010, falling just shy. His run at Caesars, which is an extremely challenging course, is proof that he can go on to record a super fast 100 mile time at the TP100 if he has a good day. Maybe a little early in the season for a man focusing this year on the UTMB but he will be in the hunt for sure and is as strong as they come.
Martin Bacon - 2nd place at the 103 mile SDW race in 2010 and with a sub 7 time at this years TT50, another man with experience of going long and capable of holding a very strong pace for the duration. Again perhaps another one to pick up the pieces if others go out too hard in the early stages.
David Ross - Dave probably wouldn't put himself in the mix for this race, but he should do. Having suffered at the hands of a really unfair DNF at Western States last year, his first 100, he came back to record a 5th place 22:39 which included getting lost for a considerable amount of time, a habit which those of us who know Dave has caused him problems in the past (he gifted me 7th instead of 8th at the C2C by adding on a few extra miles - thanks Dave!). In his second 100, a man who runs marathons and ultras every single week will be fighting fit and ready to push himself to the max. If everyone has their best day, Dave will be in and around the top 10. If others fade, I think Dave will pick off places all the way to the line.
Cliff Canavan King - Cliff ran a 19:59 at the 2011 SDW Race for second place. He is a man with plenty of speed at all distances from marathon and upwards and will be in the hunt from the start.
Ken Fancett - Ken won't win this race but is perhaps one of the most remarkable runners we have in the field. At the NDW100 he finished in 5th place in 22:31. I don't know his exact tally but Ken has been racing 100s and 24 hr track races for many years and I believe has over 30 100 mile finishes to his name. He recently also snuck in for a super time at the Benfleet 15 showing that he is still doing it at all distances. The amazing thing about Ken is that he is 62.
There are a host of other runners who could go fast on the day including Paul Acheson 4th at the NDW100 in 2011, Richard Webster who has a big year ahead - another man to have gone sub 20 at a 100 in the past and Dale Staton and Stuart Blofeld both late entries and sub 24 hour runners the NDW100 in 2011. It is shaping up to be a great race.
Erica Terblanche - Erica and I ran the first 60km of the Sahara Race long stage together in 2009 and I discovered somebody who is 1. as tough as they come but more importantly 2. totally and utterly has her pacing down to a fine art. Those subtle adjustments that allowed her to go on and win that event and kept her running almost the entire duration were gained from years of adventure racing, often where Erica would be the only female in a team. Steady pacing at 100 miles is crucial and Erica has that skill as well as plenty of experience of going long in abundance.
Mimi Anderson - Where to start. A lady who has been winning ultras for years, who regularly beats the men as well as the ladies, who has set records at the most difficult ultra running challenges around the world including but not limited to: Bawdater, Double Badwater, the MdS, female record holder at double Comrades, female record holder for John O'Groats to Lands End, until recently the world record holder for a 7 day treadmill run, fastest Brit at the Spartathlon in 2011, winner of the Seni-Extreme 200 mile race the list goes on and on. Mimi will start at her own pace and indeed finish at her own pace. The one thing that's for sure is that she will finish as strong as she starts.
Sandra Bowers - Sandra was this months female winner and new course record holder at the TT50 and has the pedigree of representing her country multiple times. There is no doubt that she is on form and whilst a late entrant, will be one to watch after her show of recent form.
Jen Bradley - Perhaps not entirely focused on this race with other goals in mind for 2012, Jen won the 12 hour hell on the humber last year and has the potential to go fast here.
In amongst the others Trinity Booth and Wendy Shaw both had great races at the C2C, showing that they are coming to form at the right time.
All in all both races are lining up to be fascinating at the front end. Where ever you are looking to finish, finishing is the number 1 priority and the aid station teams will do their best to get you to that line.
Please feel free to add yourselves or recommend others I've missed into the comments section below.
Texas in February. I'm going to start this post in the style of a true Englishman, talking about the weather. I first came out to run Rocky in 2009. It was my first 100 miler and I was greeted with glorious sunshine, 65 degree temperatures and low humidity. It felt like a summers day. Last year, I found a quarter of an inch of ice secured to the exterior of the car on race morning thanks to an ice storm and a temperature of minus 5 degrees. This year we had the most specatacular thunderstorm I have ever seen. I was rooming with Ian Sharman at Motel 6, last years course record holder and joint coach on our new Centurion Running coaching program. When we opened the motel room door on Saturday morning his first words to me were 'well I guess there won't be any records today'. The drive to the state park was like being on a Hollywood movie set, lightning illuminating the sky every 90 seconds and rain falling so heavily on the windscreen ('shield') that I was sure I'd missed the exit to the park and was heading back towards Houston and the airport. I probably would have just carried on if I hadn't seen the giant statue of Sam Houston leaning white out of the darkness signalling the turning in to the park entrance.
On the Friday afternoon we'd gone down to the park for the race briefing with Ian's crew chief and previous RR100 finisher Meredith Terranova. Just before the briefing, there was a kids 1 mile race and we ended up marshalling the half mile turn around point whilst Ian handed out the medals to the finishers at the end. We hung around and chatted with Bob the chief over at Drymax socks for a while whilst Ian got called away for signatures and photo ops which he clearly found quite surreal but we thought very funny. I even got to hold his water bottle a few times. The briefing was short and we didn't stay long before we grabbed dinner and an early night.
The course at Rocky Raccoon consists of 5 x 20 mile loops. There are quite a few out and back sections and consequently the opportunity of seeing other runners on course isn't just a possiblity, it is a guaranteed certainty. The course is all trail, with 5500 feet of climbing and no strictly technical sections. That being said there are a couple of short steep ascents which certainly get you working and lots of rolling terrain which as per usual, turns from easily runnable to positively mountainous by the 5th loop. The course also has one more significant card up it's sleeve - roots. They are absolutely everywhere and especially at night they are out to get you. I don't know anybody who's run this race and not ended up on the floor at least a few times. It's easy to look at Ian's 12:44 last year and think that the course represents a guaranteed PB opportunity. It's undoubtedly quick and many come out here looking for it, but those who don't train on the trails come away sorely disappointed at the level of concentration they need to apply to get around in one piece and in good time. How Ian turned in a 12:44 around there is, however, completely beyond me. I think if the trail were crushed gravel, even with more climb I could understand it better but it isn't. You can't switch off even for a minute and concentrating hard while moving that fast takes a real level of skill.
This year there was one much more significant issue to face and that was the mud. As we arrived at the startline, the tarps that had been laid down for our drop bags had turned into paddling pools. I dumped mine under a disused barbeque instead, reluctantly removed my jacket and ran to the startline. I stood cowering behind Ian, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer and the 2011 Badwater champ Oswaldo Lopez and and 90 seconds later we were off into the abyss.
Rain anybody? RR2012 start c/o Bob at Drymax.
I had a very clear target in mind for this race based on the training I had been able to log. During November 2011 I had banked precisely zero miles in recovery from a bad bike crash. I had started training in early December and had 8 weeks of solid base training under my belt, ranging from 55 to 105 miles per week, averaging out at maybe 65-70. I had included no speed or hill work at all prior to the race and the only tempo sessions to speak of were the workouts I had at the CC to GE marathon, Country to Capital and one other longer run on the Thames Path. My expectations were based on my legs feeling strong, but having no significant speed. I felt that a good day would be good enough to get me a time some way under 18 hours and that even a poor run would see me under my 2009 time on this course. My plan was to pace for 18 hours, pick it up if I felt strong and take what I could get if not. I was absolutely determined, however, that I would ignore everybody elses pace and run my own race. The importance of doing that in a 100 mile race, in particular over any other distance, is enormous. Scanning the results yesterday it is amazing to see how many people lay down crazy fast first loops before spiralling out to 4th and 5th loop times almost three times slower. Even pacing throughout the race is arguably the only way to have a successful and certainly the only way to have an enjoyable day.
I found myself running early on with a Russian guy calle Dima who had finished last years Tor Des Geants and a couple of Americans shooting for 18 hours too. We formed a nice pace group, sensible through the first hour of darkness and staying upright through the streams and open water ponds that had formed on various sections. Keeping anything dry was a joke and certainly prudence was required through the thicker sections. Whilst it was undoubtedly the wettest period of the day, the worst of the mud was yet to come, as 600 runners behind us were yet to go through it, on each of 5 laps and multiple times per lap. It became a real mess. Very quickly I realised that it was taking more energy to move over the terrain that it had last year and an increase in effort yielded slower times. I made it through loop 1 significantly slower than 2011 in 3:07 and as per last year saw Ian hotly pursued by Oswaldo, Hal and Karl around 5 miles ahead as I came through 17.5 and they through 22.5. To run a 3:07 felt like a 2:55 in 2011 terms and Ian felt the same way. The next time I saw him was on another section of out and back towards the end of his second loop. He shouted out to me that the mud was making it very difficult to stay in touch with the time he wanted to run and it was quite obvious we were all going to have to re-evaluate our goals. Still that's what happens in trail running and highlights the importance of having a Plan B. Having lost significant time against my pre race target even in the first 2 loops, I switched my focus towards a 20 hour finish instead.
I came through the 40 mile start finish out on to loop 3 in 6:39 for just under 10 minute mile pace and felt confident with no problems to report. My legs felt great and I knew I had a lot of running left in them. Loop 3 was again relatively incident free but the pools of mud out on the course which I had powered through earlier, had become soup like and extremely tricky to negotiate without having a strong core/ stabilising muscles. Indeed Ian tweaked his hip flexor in the mess and sadly had to pull out just past the end of lap 3. He will be back again and on a clear day I have no doubt that the course record would have been in his sights once again. I reached the 60 mile point in a good level of daylight with 10:28 on the clock requiring a very straight forward 9:32 final 40 miles to come in under 20 hours. I could see the carnage unfolding around and a lot of people had chosen to stop on account of the conditions exacerbating the inevitable issues commonly faced during a 100 mile run. In fact on the womens side, I had already passed Liza Howard and Jill Perry the two favourites who were on their way out too.
I grabbed my headtorch and my next 20 miles worth of gels and went out on to loop 4 with a spring in my step and felt good. My aim was to bank as much as I could mileage wise before the sun went down and made the roots and mud/ water even more tricky to negotiate. I had in my mind that a 4 hour loop, a paltry 12 min mile pace would get me in a good position to tackle loop 5 with plenty of time in the bank. The middle part of every loop is a 6 mile section called the Dam Road loop, it is more remote than the rest of the course and probably the trickest section. As I came back through Dam Road aid station at mile 72 I began to experience some pretty severe chest pains. I shrugged them off and put it down to indigestion as I switched the lamp on and made it back to the 80 mile point in 14:50.
By now the temperature had dropped significantly and as people's pace dropped in the dark and added distance, so did their core temperatures and there were a few very sorry looking souls out on the course even at a point less than half way through the race. I set off on loop 5 with strong legs and with plenty of energy but as soon as I picked up my walk into a run, my chest felt extremely tight and frankly I was concerned. I continued with prudence and power walked my way through the first 3 miles or so. Slowing down, cooling down and with pretty severe blisters the last lap was set to be rather less pleasant than the preceeding 4. By the back side of the Dam Road Loop at mile 90 I was having real trouble breathing deeply and knew that my running was done. Even dropping into a power walk I found myself cruising past a lot of people still run-shuffling in that all too familiar ultra style. I feel bad about saying it, but knowing that you are lapping people, some of them for the second time does make you feel better about your own position. It certainly made me realise that suffering it out for 15 miles was pretty insignificant vs spending another 15 hours out in the mud bath.
By now my Garmin had died and when I reached Park Road aid at mile 95.6, they told me the time was 1:09am, 19:09 into the race. I wish I could say that I had it in me at that point to dig out a 51 minute finish, but I aboslutely didn't and so I stuck my freezing cold hands in my pockets and strolled it in. I really enjoyed that last section reflecting on the enormity of the distance put behind, knowing that I was going to finish and under no real time pressure.
In the end I crossed the line in 20:19 for a PB but a mile away from what I had hoped to achieve. Certainly there are mixed emotions coming away from the race. Turning up to 'run a time' is against the principles of most of my training where I log miles when I want and do so without the pressure of a watch, pace or splits. That being said there is a time for running against the clock. In the end you have to take the conditions handed to you on the day. Race enough and you are going to be handed golden days where everything is set up for you to race to your full potential and capitalise on it for a 'PB'. Other days, like Saturday, you can have the race of your life and bank a time 1/2/4 hours slower than you would have under the right conditions. That's life and a huge part of why trail running is so much fun.
I'm pleased I was able to switch to plan B without losing focus but disappointed that I was forced to slow down in the final quarter by something 'out of my control' such as nutrition/ hydration/ leg strength. It was undoubtedly the onset of asthma as the temperature dropped during the night time stage that made my chest contract. I probably could have run through it had I not harboured a lingering concern that it might just be something a little more serious.... In the end it looks like 45% of the runners dropped which I guess shows just how important it is either to re-evaluate your goals and carry on pushing even when it might seem pointless, after all a 100 mile finish is still a 100 mile finish. Or to enjoy running around in a lake.
Another good year in the books for this race now 20 years old. In the end Hal Koerner won the men's race with a 13:24. That is a truly astounding time on a course playing maybe 5% to 10% harder than 2011. Could he have gone sub 13 on a clear day? I think so. Sadly for him rather than being able to celebrate he found out at the finish line that his rental car had been towed with all his stuff in it and having left his car keys on the front tyre. Not ideal after a 100 mile run. Karl Meltzer and Oswaldo Lopez secured ver respectable 2nd and 3rd place finishes in the mid 14 hour range. After the top 2 girls dropped, it was left to Sabrina Moran to run in with a 17:09, winning by almost three hours. The 2nd and 3rd place girls were the two finishers in front of me.
Ian will be back next year. So will a host of top guys and girls shooting for hard early season racing and potential course records. I think I will be too, it's hard to say why but the race really has something about it, especially if the weather is good and hopefully there'll be a few more Brits there too. Who knows I might even be able to run a bit faster....